The Sphinx (1933)
Who will expose the phantom killer?
26 December 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Why is it that sometimes an Off Broadway play wins the Pulitzer over the biggest hit play on Broadway? Same reason that the poverty row studios output of the 1930's and 1940's stands the test of time more than the films of the major studios. Bigger isn't always better, and that is definitely reflected in the budgets of studios like Monogram, Republic, PRC and the many others. This explains why many of these classics were remade, although often with mixed results.

In the case of "The Sphinx", its 1942 remake ("Phantom Killer") isn't bad, but the original version is a masterpiece of technology on a dime. Known for his dramatic voice, veteran character actor Lionel Atwill speaks very little here, cast as a mute philanthropist who is the major suspect in a series of murders. Atwill acts through hand movements, his eyes and body language, instilling his character with heart and humor, but never without suspicion that something is up.

Only moderately creaky, this mystery features suspense, romance and humor, with Sheila Terry and Theodore Newton providing the later two as newspaper rivals who flirt in spite of their supposed animosity. It's a fast moving and uniquely original story, maybe ordinary in set up but thrilling in execution. It's completely no nonsense in characterization, combining the sensibilities of a well written stage melodrama and the raw freshness of newspaper dramas like "The Front Page".
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