This week’s mystery movie was the 1935 Warner Bros. film “The Florentine Dagger,” with Donald Woods, Margaret Lindsay, C. Aubrey Smith, Henry O’Neill, Robert Barrat, Florence Fair, Frank Reicher, Charles Judels, Rafaela Ottiano, Paul Porcasi, Eily Malyon, Egon Brecher, Herman Bing and Henry Kolker.
Screenplay by Tom Reed, additional dialogue by Brown Holmes, dialogue director Arthur Greville Collins. Edited by Thomas Pratt, art direction by Anton Grot and Carl Jules Weyl, photographed by Arthur L. Todd, gowns by Orry-Kelly and musical direction by Leo F. Forbstein. Directed by Robert Florey.
“The Florentine Dagger” has never been commercially released on VHS, DVD or Blu-ray. There are a few clips online, but that’s all. It was last broadcast on TCM in 2015.
I picked “The Florentine Dagger” based on a comment during a recent Daily Mirror Zoom session about “I Am a Thief.” Both films were directed by Robert Florey at Warner Bros. and there is some overlap of the cast (Robert Barrat, Frank Reicher and Florence Fair).
The plot, highly modified from a novel by Ben Hecht, is strange and convoluted, involving a high-strung, temperamental young man (Donald Woods) who attempts suicide on a pilgrimage to visit the ruins of the Borgias’ castle because he is convinced he’s a descendant – if not the reincarnation – of Cesare Borgia. When the young man’s suicide is averted, a wise and patient psychiatrist, Dr. Lytton (C. Aubrey Smith), advises him to write a play about his feelings and in a stunning coincidence, a play producer (Henry O’Neill) happens to be there. The young man writes the play, casts the producer’s daughter (Margaret Lindsay) as Lucrezia Borgia and from there the plot runs off in strange directions. A murder is involved.
The film is mainly interesting for its visuals. Unfortunately, the unusual, often angled photography and dramatic, shadowy lighting are poorly represented in my murky print recorded from TCM. Florey and the cast do their best to make sense of the script, but it’s a pretty hopeless task.
Harrison’s Reports (April 13, 1935) said:
Evidently the Warner Bros. production executives aspired to produce one of those horror murder melodramas that Universal has been producing for years successfully, but it seems as if they have failed, in spite of the fact that death hovers all over it. The only feeling that the picture has succeeded in creating is one of revulsion, the result of a character’s hideous face. (Note: I’m not sure the person who wrote this review saw the film as the — spoiler alert! — disfigured face is never shown. At least not in my copy).
Motion Picture Herald (May 4, 1935) said:
An intriguing and active murder mystery has been constructed from Ben Hecht’s story of the same title. It is filled with atmosphere giving rich background to the crime in setting and situation. There may be real selling value in some situations in stressing the origin of the film….. Well paced and with a totally unexpected conclusion, the film may be sold as effective melodramatic mystery material, acceptable at any showing during the week.
Picture Play magazine (July 1935) said:
Unusual without being strong entertainment, this murder mystery has much to recommend it. One attraction is a foreign background for a change. Another is a psychological story instead of merely a killing.
And let’s see which New York Times critic hated it….
Writing in the New York Times (April 27, 1935), HTS said:
Ben Hecht used an ingenious device to cloud the identity of the murderer in his novel “The Florentine Dagger.” There were only three suspects, but, to baffle the reader, he gave each a dual personality. The reader who tried to solve the killing of Victor Ballau, bankrupt art collector, had to guess not merely which of the three was the murderer but whether he (or she) had committed the crime as himself or as his other self…..
The result is that the picture is neither worse, nor better, than most mystery tales; it is not too complicated and gives the audience slightly more than a 50-50 chance of beating the screen sleuths to the correct answer.
For Monday, we have a mystery gent and Back of the Head Guy, who will appear Friday.
Update: This is Charles Fallon with Donald Woods as Back of the Head Guy.
For Tuesday, we have three mystery women. The first is the mysterious cat lady.
Update: This is Betty Farrington, who played the Dietrichsons’ maid, Nettie, in “Double Indemnity.”
This is mystery woman No. 2.
Update: This is Rafaela Ottiano.
This is mystery woman No. 3.
Update: This is Ruthelma Stevens, previously seen in the 2020 mystery film “Life Begins.”
For “Hm Wednesday,” we have this mysterious gentleman.
Update: This is Henry O’Neill, previously seen in the 2020 mystery film “Gentlemen Are Born.”
We also have this mystery woman and Back of the Head Police Inspector.
Update: This is Florence Fair with Robert Barrat as Back of the Head Police Inspector.
And finally, we have this mysterious woman.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Anne Papineau (Tuesday’s mystery woman No. 2), Mike Hawks (mystery movie, Monday’s mystery druggist and Back of the Head Guy, and Tuesday’s mystery woman No. 2) and Sheila (Monday’s mystery druggist and Tuesday’s mystery women Nos. 2 and 3).
For “Aha Thursday,” we have a mysterious police inspector and a mystery assistant.
Update: This is Robert Barrat, last seen as as the maniacal baron in “I Am a Thief,” as an amorous police inspector. Also Ferdinand Schumann-Heink. Barrat also appeared in the 2016 mystery movie “The Silk Express,” another Warner Bros. film involving a train.
We also have this mystery guest and a mysterious life mask.
Update: A fine example of the moody photography and lighting with C. Aubrey Smith. The mask is a clew.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (mystery movie, Monday’s mystery druggist and Back of the Head Guy, Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s mystery guests), Howard Mandelbaum (Wednesday’s mystery guests), Chrisbo (Wednesday’s mystery weird veiled lady), Mike Hawks (Wednesday’s mystery play producer, Back of the Head Guy and weird veiled lady), Sheila (Wednesday’s mystery guests), B.J. Merholz (Wednesday’s mysterious play producer), David Inman (Wednesday’s mysterious play producer), Anne Papineau (mystery movie and Wednesday’s mystery play producer and weird veiled lady) and Megan and Thom (mystery movie, Monday’s mysterious druggist, Tuesday’s mystery guests, Wednesday’s mysterious play producer and weird veiled woman).
For Friday, we have our mysterious leading man.
And finally, for our last mystery movie of the year, here is our mysterious leading lady.
Update: This is Margaret Lindsay, previously seen in “Gentlemen Are Born.”
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (Thursday’s mystery guests), Floyd Thursby (mystery movie, Wednesday’s mysterious play producer and Thursday’s mysterious psychiatrist), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery guests), Funky PhD (mystery movie, Monday’s Back of the Head Guy and mysterious druggist, Tuesday’s mystery actress who wasn’t cast in the mystery play, Wednesday’s mysterious play producer and mysterious weird lady, Thursday’s mysterious psychiatrist and mysterious police inspector), B.J. Merholz (mystery movie), David Inman (mystery movie and Thursday’s mysterious psychiatrist), Mike Hawks (Thursday’s mystery guests), L.C. (mystery movie and mystery cast), Sue Slutzky (mystery movie, Monday’s and Tuesday’s mystery guests, Wednesday’s mysterious play producer and mystery weird lady, and Thursday’s mystery guests) and Tucson Barbara (mystery movie, Monday’s mystery druggist and Back of the Head Guy, Tuesday’s mysterious innkeeper’s wife, Wednesday’s weird veiled lady and Thursday’s mystery psychiatrist).