This week’s mystery movie has been the 1931 RKO picture “Way Back Home,” which was based on a popular radio program starring Phillips H. Lord, who later created the radio shows “Gang Busters” and “Mr. District Attorney.” It was directed by William Seiter, written by Jane Murfin and photographed by J. Roy Hunt. It featured Phillips H. Lord, Effie L. Palmer, Frank Albertson, Bette Davis, Frankie Darro, Dorothy Peterson, Stanley Fields, Oscar Apfel, Sophia M. Lord, Bennett Kilpack and Raymond Hunter.
A “Way Back Home” lobby card, courtesy of Dan Nather.
Set in the small town of Janesport, Maine, “Way Back Home” draws heavily on rustic humor and can be something of a trial to the modern viewer. As Mike Hawks noted, “I remember watching part of this movie years ago and although I like movies of the 30’s this was impossible to sit thru.” A Los Angeles Times review (there were two) noted the homespun humor and speculated as to whether it would appeal to “metropolitan audiences.”
The film opened in Los Angeles on Dec. 4, 1931, at the Orpheum Theatre and the Los Angeles Times’ Muriel Babcock called it “a rural melodrama with a genuinely appealing homespun flavor. “I even observed the gray-haired, bespectacled lady sitting next to me wiping a tear away during the sentimental climax,” Babcock said.
The film received a cold response in New York. A New York Times story (Feb. 7, 1932), noting the difficulty of transferring successful radio programs to film, said “Way Back Home” played only three days on Broadway. The film ran for a week in Boston, which a radio executive considered “an appreciable success,” noting: “The people who admire [Seth Parker] on the radio are not the people who go to New York theatres.”
Bette Davis was in her early 20s when she made this film, one of four Davis movies released in 1931, along with “The Bad Sister” (her film debut), “Seed” and “Waterloo Bridge.” She had previously appeared on Broadway in “The Earth Between” (March 1929), “Broken Dishes (Nov. 5, 1929 to April 1930) and “Solid South” (October-November 1930).
“Way Back Home” was apparently released on VHS but is not commercially available on DVD. It will air on TCM on Jan. 14.
For Monday, we have a mystery woman.
Update: This is Effie L. Palmer, who played Ma Parker in the radio series.
And for Tuesday, we have a mysterious gent. The print is a little murky, so I have posted two images.
Update: This is Oscar Apfel.
For Wednesday, we have a rather rustic mystery chap. In the second photo, he has a city slicker companion in a straw hat.
Update: This is Phillips H. Lord, left, and Wade Boteler. Lord was actually in his 20s and was made up for the part.
And for Thursday, our rustic mystery chap has a young companion.
Update: This is Lord and a young Frankie Darro.
Brain Trust roll call: Mike Hawks (mystery movie and Monday’s and Wednesday’s mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie and mystery guests), David Inman (mystery movie and Wednesday’s mystery rustic chap) and Dan Nather (mystery movie and mystery guests).
And for Friday, Back of the Head Guy has a mystery companion.
Update: Bette Davis and
Brain Trust roll call: Mike Hawks (Thursday’s mystery lad), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery lad), Patrick (Tuesday’s mystery guest) and Mary Mallory (mystery movie and mystery guests).