Kurt Neumann, 1933
Starring: Lionel Atwill, Gloria Stuart, Paul Lukas
Other than the numerous sequels to The Mummy, which features a character called Kharis instead of Boris Karloff’s Imhotep, Secret of the Blue Room is the first Universal horror film I’ve reviewed for this series that I’ve actually disliked (though The Ghost of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man’s Revenge are almost on that list too). More of a mystery than an outright horror film, Secret of the Blue Room is similar to the Edgar Wallace krimi films that would become popular in Germany in the ‘60s, though it lacks the zany, exploitation elements of these pulpier films.
Gloria Stuart (from James Whale’s far superior The Old Dark House, made the previous year) stars as Irene, who is having a birthday dinner with her father and three men who want to marry her. (That’s not weird at all...) The youngest is desperate to prove his bravery and impress Irene, so he decides to spend the night in the dreaded Blue Room, a locked up room in the house where several murders were committed years before at 1am. The next morning, he goes missing and they fear the worst. The second suitor locks himself in the Blue Room on the second night and is mysterious shot to death at 1am, with no trace of the perpetrator or gun. Irene’s father calls the police in, who join the final suitor and hide themselves in the room to await whatever dread will befall them.
Since no one in their right mind is going to watch this movie, I think a few spoilers are in order. Though the film tries to throw a few red herrings at us, including a suspicious butler and a car leaving the house in the middle of the night, the culprit is none other than the first suitor. He had the ingenious idea to hide out in the room and kill the other two suitors, leaving Irene all for himself. The third suitor, who is smarter than the first, replaces himself with a dummy and hides out with the police. I’m not sure why, but Universal is full of either bland leading men who do absolutely nothing, or total creeps like the young suitor in this film.
Base on a German film, Geheimnis des Blauen Zimmers (1932), for some reason Universal decided they liked the premise enough to make the film three times. Secrets of the Blue Room was followed by The Missing Guest (1938) and then with Murders in the Blue Room (1944), which is inexplicably a musical comedy that somehow shares the same plot. Director Kurt Neumann made his career with a number of sci-fi films, including one of Vincent Price’s early films, The Fly (1958), but the direction here is as pedestrian and uninteresting as the plot. Even Universal horror regular Lionel Atwill isn’t given much to do here, though he is as creepy as ever, suggesting that after dinner his daughter should kiss each of her suitors, which she does, with some uncomfortable and very public lip-locking three times in a row. To add insult to injury, we never find out what happened in the Blue Room in the first place to make it so “haunted.”
If you want an old fashioned murder mystery, check out the many versions of The Cat and the Canary or The Bat, The Old Dark House, And Then There Were None, or even She-Wolf of London before this. Secret of the Blue Room is not available on DVD, though if you really need to see it, you can find it on YouTube.