A Shriek in the Night (1933) Review

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Screaming Backwards and in High Heels

A Shriek in the Night (1933): 8 out of 10: A late night apparent suicide of a penthouse denizen brings out both the police and the press to investigate. But as other bodies pile up and mysterious calling cards are left, it becomes obvious that all is not as it seems.

The Good

The Good: Are you a fan of The Thin Man movies? Well, you are in for a treat. (If you have never seen a Thin Man movie, stop reading and go see one. Trust me.) A Shriek in the Night actually came out a year before 1934’s The Thin Man, so this is not a mockbuster quickie riding on the coattails of that hit. Instead of The Thin Man’s Myrna Loy and William Powell, we have Ginger Rogers (Yes, that one) and the prolific Lyle Talbot (I am going to go with Plan Nine from Outer Space. What can I say know your readers.).

Ginger and Lyle are fantastic in thier roles giving thier all in a what is a basically a poverty row quickie. While the story has some serious issues which I will talk about below, the script is fantastic with great banter between the leads and fantastic lines for both of them. (This is where The Thin Man comparisons come in).

The relationship and story between our leads is the main reason to recommend A Shriek in the Night. Ginger and Lyle are not the only actors fed excellent comedic lines and bits, however. Purnell Pratt as Police Insp. Russell and his bespectacled, timid assistant Arthur Hoyt wouldn’t be out of place in the movie Fargo. With Hoyt getting one of the best scenes of the movie.

Despite A Shriek in the Night being a Poverty Row quickie, the director Albert Ray uses darkness to great effect and manages some genuine tension and scares in the penultimate scene.

The Bad

The Bad: A Shriek in the Night has some genuine scares and a lot of witty banter and bits. Alas, not everything works. Severus Snape’s business card being left at the scene of every murder is more of a head scratcher than something that promotes terror. Some of the ancillary characters (The foreign hysterical maid and the African American maid) are one note stereotypes, that while not in the same class as say Eulabelle from The Horror of Party Beach, still disappointingly eat up a lot of screen time.

It isn’t just the help on A Shriek in the Night that is not compatible with modern viewing. The pacing can be as well. The film seems to hit dead points particularly towards the middle, where it tries to focus on the mystery side of things rather than the comic or the horror.

The Ugly

The Ugly: And it is the mystery that lads squarely in our ugly column. Poor Lyle Talbot spend four minutes at the end of the film explaining to both Ginger Rogers and the audience how all the murders took place, who was sleeping with whom, who was the innocent man executed on death row, why there were snake sounds, how taxicab stands work… It is… a lot. And we are not really all that much more in the clear than we were when he started.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: A Shriek in the Night is a fun low-budget movie hitting squarely above its pay grade. A must see for fans of thirties’ romantic banter and, to a lesser extent, German expressionist influenced horror. Just don’t expect A Shriek in the Night to end with an Agatha Christie style explanation. Think more like someone who is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning after watching a nature documentary on snakes while playing Clue.

Car 54, Where Are You?
Love the Art déco chair and other period details.
Ruh Roh.
How did anyone even get their mail in the early thirties? Harker Apts. The City sounds like somewhere The Tick would live.
Well, the ankles are crossed so that may be allowed post Hays Code?
Really not doing a good job disguising the bad guy there movie.
Detective Fiction Weekly alas has no Batman. In fact, you can pick up an issue from the early 1930’s in decent shape for about $25.
My murder basement is right this way, mam.
I swear this looks like a still from a fifties sitcom.
A Clue.
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