This movie is prime for review on a number of counts, not the least of which is its poor print and sound quality. That it came out in 1936 should have no bearing, because there exist works in excellent shape from the same era. However this one suffers from an intriguing plot plagued by implausibility. It’s House of Secrets, and I’m obtaining the screen shots from Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia. Here’s a summary of the story.
Leslie Fenton is Barry Wilding, an American traveling in Europe, although the reason is never explained. Here he is on the ferry from France to England, and he has just rescued comely Julie Kenmore (Muriel Evans) from a man who was making untoward advances. Only, Barry does not know her name at the time. She refuses to tell him that or why she was in France. When Barry attempts to gain information by examining her purse, she chucks it into the Channel. Rather extreme some would think. There are more extremes to come.
Guess what. Barry has hardly checked into his London hotel when he gets a summons from a lawyer. It is never explained how the lawyer knew Barry was in London, since he only planned to stay until he could catch a boat to America. Anyhow, the lawyer is named Coventry (Jameson Thomas), and he explains that Barry is heir to a British estate. All Barry needs to do is to sign, in blood, an agreement to never sell, and the 300-year-old place is his. They use red ink instead of blood, and the lawyer assures Barry it’s all perfectly legal.
Not so fast. Barry shows up at the estate, supposedly unoccupied since the death of his relative, only to be met by guard dogs and a distinguished gentleman in the form of a Dr. Kenmore, who also has a gun—pointed at Barry. Despite Barry’s protestations, he is ordered to depart forthwith and to never return. This is a disappointing turn of events.
And if you have guessed there is a connection between Julie Kenmore and Dr. Kenmore, you are right. The good doctor is Julie’s father. The intrigue thickens, as Julie shows up at Barry’s hotel room asking him to cease and desist. Who can refuse an offer like that? Everybody, of course.
Barry stops at a local lodging near his estate and gets the lowdown. This scene also introduces some of the rare acting talent in this movie. From IMDb I learn that Mrs. Shippam is played by Rita Carlyle, who puts in a sterling character performance.
Among the documentation that came with Barry’s inheritance is half a parchment that originally gave directions to a hidden treasure. Who has the other half?
It’s necessary to introduce Sidney Blackmer as Tom Starr, an American friend of Barry’s and also a police detective, in England to ferret out a murderer who fled American law. Tom helps out and eventually plays into the plot.
It turns out the killer Tom is looking for is Dan “Three Fingers” Wharton (Noel Madison), and Dan and his gang are looking for the treasure. They have the other half of the parchment. To cut to the chase, Wharton gets Barry’s half of the parchment, and the gang raid the estate, dragging everybody except Barry (missed him in their dragnet) down to the basement. They will force them to reveal the secret treasure. They threaten to turn on the valve on that tank and then leave everybody cooped up in a closed room filling with poison gas. In fact, that is exactly what they do.
But Barry comes to the rescue. He gets the drop on the gang and breaks into the closed room He is advised to turn on the valve attached to the other tank. It contains a gas that neutralizes the poison gas.
And that’s what the movie is all about. The government (Great Britain) has been seeking to develop the poison gas neutralizer, and seeing Barry’s estate vacant they took it over to run their experiments. Now the poison gas neutralizer is proved to be successful, and the whole business can come to an end, and Barry and sweet Julie can live happily ever after in the estate. They celebrate.
But what about the treasure? They spring up and go on a treasure hunt, quickly finding the ancient loot. Barry and Julie are going to live quite comfortably ever after. Of course, this movie was put out not knowing that a major world war was about to engulf England in barely three years, and everybody’s life was going to be disrupted in horrific fashion.
What’s wrong? A short count:
Barry meets Julie on the ferry. She tosses her purse into the water rather than reveal her identity. As though nobody on the boat knew her name already. Who gets on a cross-channel vessel without entering some kind of identification into a passenger manifest?
Barry is in London and receives a lawyer’s summons while the ink on hotel register was still wet.
Barry acquires an estate by signing his name to an agreement. Really? No title transfer and lawyer stuff?
Barry shows up and gets run off his estate. Police tell him to get lost and quit troubling these squatters. Why doesn’t Barry show his title deed to the property? Because he has none.
The British government wants to conduct secret experiments, and the only way to keep the secret is to take over somebody else’s estate. That’s going to keep the secret?
The estate has been around for 300 years, and nobody has ever found the treasure under a trap door in the basement?
My knowledge of poison gas is that it kills quickly. A few seconds inside a closed room with the gas valve on, and everybody would be Dead. With a capital D.
Yeah, a lot doesn’t make sense in this movie. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Sidney Horler. I wish I could get a Kindle edition and do a review, but it’s available only in hard cover. Others share my opinion of Horler’s plots:
Literary reviewers of the time, such Dorothy L. Sayers and Compton Mackenzie, generally gave negative opinions on Horler’s fiction. Horler’s novels have not been popular since his death. Critics have taken issue with Horler’s plots, described by William L. DeAndrea as “unbelievable” (Horler himself claimed to “give old man coincidence’s arm a frightful twist”) and characters seen as cliched. David Stafford describes Horler as “among the worst” of British thriller writers.
There’s a lot of that going around even today, much of which finds its way into movie plots.