Haunted House/The Blake Murder Mystery (1940)

Haunted House (1940)‘If he was there, it’s nothing but an alibi.’

A teenager working as an office boy on a small town newspaper is convinced of the innocence of a kindly old caretaker who is on trial for murder. When his Editor’s niece arrives on a visit, the two of them team up and try to find the real killer.

Ever felt conned coming out of a movie theatre? That must have been the experience the public had with this film when the credits rolled. If they thought about it for more than a couple of seconds anyway. There are no ghosts and there is no haunted house here, just a feeble doodle of a murder mystery with not enough comedy, not enough suspense, and not enough of anything to hold audience interest.

The film stars Jackie Moran as the typical Hollywood small town teenager. He pushes a broom in the office of the local paper but wants to be a reporter. He’s got a big heart but his impetuosity keeps getting him into trouble. Of course, the adults don’t understand and won’t listen to him most of the time. His Editor (George Cleveland) has a big heart too, but hides it behind a predictably grumpy exterior. But when his perky niece (Marcia Mae Jones) and Moran keep getting into ‘scrapes’ as amateur sleuths, he finds his patience truly tested by their constant ‘shenanigans’.

The plot revolves around the murder of the wealthy old Mrs Blake, her hidden money and the framing of handyman Olaf (Christian Rub), a man so sweet and dim that he tries to talk himself into the noose on the witness stand. Moran and Jones follow up a series of underwhelming clues (a torn piece of notepaper, a lawyer’s files, a silly poem) on their quest for the truth, which also involves breaking into the murder victim’s house. Which is dark. And very slightly creepy. They stay for about five minutes. There’s no-one else about, supernatural being or otherwise. They return for the underwhelming climax. Still no ghosts. Not even pretend ones.

Haunted House (1940)

Some of the ancient rites in the ‘Necronomicon’ were a little puzzling…

Both the film’s juvenile leads were minor child stars. Moran had first come to notice as Huckleberry Finn in David O. Selznick’s big production of ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer‘ (1938) and appeared as Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe’s sidekick in classic serial ‘Buck Rogers’ (1939). Jones had played in hit drama ‘The Champ’ (1931) and supported Shirley Temple’s turn as ‘The Little Princess’ (1939). Neither actor went onto adult stardom.

Despite an earlier role in ‘Gone With The Wind’ (1939), Moran called it quits just after the Second World War. Jones carried on acting (appearing sporadically on Television) but focused more on being a wife and mother, although she did appear in Bette Davis’ vehicle ‘The Star’ (1952) and had a featured supporting role in ‘The Way We Were’ (1973) which starred Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand.

The biggest mystery about this Monogram Studio’s second feature is why they chose the original ‘Haunted House’ title. It must have been good box office at the time. Certainly calling it ‘The Blake Murder Mystery’ on reissue is more appropriate but that still implies a level of complexity and excitement which is simply not present. Barely 18 months after the original release, the film actually debuted on local television, which probably tells you all you need to know.

A half-baked comedy-mystery slightly enlivened by the efforts of the wide-eyed Jones but doomed to miserable failure by a makeshift script and very low production values.

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2 thoughts on “Haunted House/The Blake Murder Mystery (1940)

    • I’m not sure I can take the film seriously enough to have any real ‘issues’ with it(!) but I’d be interested to hear what else about it pissed you off. To me it looked like it was probably knocked together in about a week, from coming up with the initial concept (if you can really call it that!) to the wrap party, which was probably held in a local diner!

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