Mystery of the 13th Guest

Mystery of the 13th Guest. Monogram Pictures 1943.

Before watching the movie:

What intrigues me most about this story is that it’s about returning to the case 13 years after the presumed crime happened. The girl’s father invited 13 people to a party and died suddenly shortly thereafter, and now his will has requested that she return to the house and find the truth.

I don’t expect a great masterpiece, but uncovering clues that long after the crime was committed will probably be interesting.

After watching the movie:

Marie Morgan returns to her grandfather’s house on her 21st birthday to read the will he left thirteen years ago at a dinner party with 12 members of the family and a 13th empty seat. He left those instructions in the hopes that many of his odious family members would already be dead by the time it was opened. Despite not having been occupied since his death soon after that day, the house has working lights and telephone, and when she opens the will, the only thing written inside is “13-13-13”. Soon after, her cab driver enters to check on her and finds her seated at the table where she had been at the party, dead. He calls the police, and as they are finishing their initial investigation of the scene, private detective Johnny Smith arrives, having been hired by Grandfather Morgan’s attorney Barksdale for Marie’s safety. Soon after, Barksdale is also found dead at the table in the seat he had sat at the party, and Marie turns up alive at the door.

I was surprised to see the story dispose of Marie so casually when it had sounded like she was going to be the protagonist, but then it turned out it was a double that the murder accidentally killed instead of her, so I was somewhat relieved. I don’t think they ever actually identified who the dead woman really was, just that the plastic surgeon who made her look like Marie was able to identify the man that brought her.

The story tries to assert that everyone in the Morgan family is terrible and that’s why the grandfather only liked Marie, but I didn’t see any indication that her brothers were bad guys. They seemed to really care about her and were glad to see she wasn’t dead. Additionally, most of the family was just terrible but not ultimately murderous. The setup of a patriarch with an unsympathetic family he wants to keep from getting what isn’t theirs reminded me of Knives Out, but with much less interesting characterization.

There is a lot of comic relief inserted with the police detectives, and it’s skirting the line of breaking the tone. This is definitely a light entertainment multiple homicide story. It’s not dull, but it’s not really interested in anything but the tension of wondering who the murderer is and if he’ll strike again. I can think of better things to do with 61 minutes, but I can think of a lot worse things too.

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