Monday, June 24, 2013

The Thirteenth Chair (1937)


I think the world of the supernatural is fascinating. I like watching things about mediums and paranormal investigators. I am addicted to Haunted Collector I can never wait for the next episode. Here is the thing though I do believe in spirits, I do believe that they can be there for you like a loved one who has passed away and they watch over you. I believe that they can send messages to us. But I do not believe that there are such things as ghosts or poltergeists or demon tunnels or voices in the night. Haunted Collector is a great show but I mostly watch it for the stories and the history behind what they investigate (the best episode was when they went to a house in Florida that Wallis Simpson had lived in. That was so interesting). Mediums, however, I do believe in I do believe that they can communicate with those who have crossed over (yes, I watch Long Island Medium and absolutely love it). I am such a contradiction when it comes to the supernatural. I guess I am one of those people that would actually have to witness something supernatural to believe in it if it does exist.
            I am not a huge fan of ghost stories when it comes to movies but I do like to watch classic films that deal with ghosts and the supernatural. The ones I have watched have been so interesting and so well done. The Thirteenth Chair has a touch of ghost story but in reality it is really a mystery and a very good mystery.
            There has been a murder in the Indian town of Calcutta of a man Leonard Lee. The police do not know who the murderer is and Lee’s friend John Wales has been annoying the police inspector to find the person responsible. John tells the inspector that he wants to hold a séance in the house with a famous medium named Madame Rosalie La Grange. They know the murderer was a woman but they are having a hard time finding her. They are not thrilled with the idea of using a medium but they need a break in the case.
            John has the governor gather people for the séance. He invites the governor’s son Dick and his fiancée Nell O’Neill (Madge Evans). They want to announce their engagement that night but John tells them it would be a good idea to wait until the following day. Mme. La Grange arrives at the party. Everyone asks her who the murderer is. Before she starts answering any questions Mme. La Grange proves that she is not a phony by showing all the usual tricks other mediums use and then does something real. The men have the women search Mme. La Grange for any tricks she may have hidden in her clothes. Nell stays behind to make sure the old woman does not sneak anything in her clothes. Nell and the medium know each other. Mme. La Grange says to Nell that she never would have come to the house and for her not to say a word no matter what happens. Mme. La Grange also says there is hate in the house she can feel it in her blood.
            Mme. La Grange has all the guests sit in a circle. There are thirteen people in the circle. One of the guests, a woman, does not like that there are thirteen people in the circle she is superstitious. Mme. La Grange comforts the woman by saying there is nothing wrong with there being thirteen people it is a lucky number. Another woman named Mary is skeptical. She says she has been to séances before and that all the séances she has been to the medium has been tied to the chair. Mme. La Grange obliges and has the women tie her to the chair. During the séance Mme. La Grange is able to channel Leonard. She kept wanting to speak to John and kept repeating “ask, ask, ask.” John goes quiet. When the lights go back on they find John dead with a knife wound in his back. Mme. La Grange is still tied to the chair and the knife cannot be found.
            The inspector speaks to Mme. La Grange alone. John told him that the whole thing was a set up. John was supposed to have told Mme. La Grange the name of the woman. Mme. La Grange tells the inspector that John never told her who the murderer was. The help lets slip to the detective that there was recognition between the medium and Nell. Turns out Nell is Mme. La Grange’s daughter. They kept that fact a secret so that Nell would be respectable. The inspector next questions Mary. Leonard had notes from her. She confesses she was at Leonard’s house to get letters. He told her he had burned them. When she was walking out of his house she saw veiled woman walk into the house. Mary thinks the woman looked like Nell. A professor that was one of the thirteen in the circle tells the inspector that John wanted Nell to sit next to him because he thought she was the murderer. Nell cannot say why she was at  Leonard’s house. Mme. La Grange figures out that Nell is protecting Helen, Dick’s sister, she had gone there to get the letters that Helen had written to him. With this information the inspector thinks Nell was being blackmailed by Leonard and killed him. He then has Nell arrested pretty much on what has been said and not on actual hard evidence.
            Mme. La Grange begs to be left alone Nell and Dick to try to speak to a spirit. She has been a fake the whole time. She begs her sprit for help. Mme La Grange looks to the ceiling and finds the knife. There are no fingerprints on the knife. The inspector figures someone used a handkerchief to wipe the prints. He looks at Nell’s handkerchief because he remembered hers was on the floor. There is a drop of blood on it. Mme. La Grange again begs the inspector to give her another chance. She knows her daughter is innocent. They have everyone sit in their seats in the circle. They even stick John’s body back in his chair.
            The murderer is someone I did not see coming and I am not going to spoil the ending for you.
            The cast was not too impressive. Madge Evans I had never seen in a film before I had only ever seen her in photographs. She was very good and not over dramatic. Dame May Witty played Mme. La Grange. This was a different role than I am used to seeing Witty play she was good.

            The Thirteenth Chair was a good a film. I liked the story and I especially liked that everyone had an issue with the victim. The story comes from a Broadway play of the same name. The sets and the direction are very much like a stage play. It takes place mainly in one room where all the suspects are kept in one room which created a great tension. The Thirteenth Chair is not available on Youtube or on DVD. If TCM airs the film again give it a watch.