Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


"It's a well known fact that cannibals differ from the rest of us in their dietary customs."

Anyone who makes that statement has to be a great detective, right?  In this case the great detective is Thatcher Colt, the New York City police commissioner who was featured in eight popular detective novels and to short stories written by Fulton Oursler under the pseudonym "Anthony Abbott"from 1930 to 1943.  In this case, the film was based on the Liberty magazine serial (Oursler was the editor of Liberty at the time) rather than the published 1932 novel About the Murder of a Circus Lady.

Oursler was an interesting character who would late gain fame as the author of The Greatest Story Ever Told, followed by The Greatest Book Ever Written and The Greatest Faith Ever Known.  Raised in a devout Baptist family, he became an agnostic at age 15 and a few years later became a reporter, then moving on to becomes a magazine editor and general writer.  In the 1920s Oursler was helping Harry Houdini expose phony mediums.  Before Thatcher Colt came on the scene, Oursler was best known for the twice filmed stage play The Spider (1928, written with Lowell Brentano).  In 1935 be began writing A Skeptic in the Holy Land (1936), about a tour of the Middle East and the Holy Land.  He said that he began the book as a skeptic but by the final chapter he was "almost converted." Oursler began to have a growing interest in Christian ethics, especially with the rise of Fascism and Communism, which led to the writing of The Greatest Story Ever Told (1949).  In 1943, six years before the book was published, he joined the Catholic faith.

The above paragraph has nothing to do with the film in question, but I thought it was interesting.

Adolphe Menjou starred as Thatcher Colt -- his second outing in the role, having played the detective in The Nightclub Lady the year before.  Menjou (The Front Page, Little Miss Marker, Father Takes a Wife) began his film career as an extra in 1914 and had over 150 film and television credits through 1961.  Known for his suave manner and impeccable dress, Menjou elevated almost every role he had.

Playing Thatcher Colt's secretary Miss Kelly is Ruthelma Stevens, who had originated the role in The Nightclub Lady (which was also Miss Stevens' first film).

Colt, needing a brief respite from the office after six years of fighting crime, head to the quiet upstate town of Gilead with Miss Kelly.  "But when a small time circus rolls into town they soon find themselves caught up in a sordid tale of marital infidelity, murder, cruelty to animals, and cannibalism."  (How I would have loved to be in the pitch meeting for this movie.)

The soon-to-be-dead circus queen is Greta Nissen, a heavily accented Norwegian actress who starred in Howard Hughes unreleased silent version of Hell's Angels; because of her accent she was replaced in the sound version of the film by Jean Harlow.  In incomparable Dwight Frye (ever in my heart as Renfrew in Dracula) is Flandrin, the jealous husband.   Donald Cook (Baby Face, Show Boat, The Public Enemy) plays The Great Sebastian, the third side of the triangle. 

The Circus Queen Murder is a neat little atmospheric time passer directed by Roy William Neill (Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Doctor Syn, the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films).  Jo Swerling adapted Oursler story.  Swerling had a long career writing for films and the stage.  He was one of the many uncredited writers working on Gone With the Wind and provided additional scenes for It's a Wonderful Life.  He was nominated for an Oscar for The Pride of the Yankees and won a Tony for co-writing Guys and Dolls.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy this entertaining flick.

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