Tag Archives: Mystery

#19 – Skull and Jones and the Scarlet Ghost

(1940, US, 70 min, b/w) Dir Albert S. Rogell. Cast Preston Foster, Claire Trevor, Ogdon Marshall.

The fourth film in the S&B series and the first to star their longest serving Jones, Preston Foster. Filming began about five minutes after cut was called on The Laughing Darkness and this is belied by a crossover in the cast, including a tiny role for Lugosi, uncredited, as an Oriental stereotype. Not a supernatural caper, this one – Skull and Jones here find themselves on the trail of a Nazi saboteur called (as the title would suggest) the Scarlet Ghost, who is at large in LA agitating  in some manner or another.  A twist in the tale reveals it to be none other than his socialite pal from the previous feature, the lovely Claire Tracey in a mask seemingly without eye holes and a sparkling ball gown, both of which seem odd attire for a Nazi saboteur. She tumbles from some docks into thick sea fog and is presumed dead in the final act but returns as Skull and Jones’ first recurring villain in later features. A slapdash affair, not a great start to Foster’s tenure (though he equips himself well enough) nor a great introduction such a strong a character in the series history as the Scarlet Ghost. Things pick up subsequently, leaving this one for the history books and completists only.

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#18 – Skull and Jones and the Laughing Darkness

(1939, US, 73 min, b/w) Dir Albert S. Rogell. Cast Paul Fix, Claire Trevor, Bela Lugosi.

The notion with the Skull and Jones series – as popularized by Generation X viewers of the nineties such as Quentin Tarantino – is that Jones himself is insane, that Skull isn’t talking but that Jones is in fact a great detective throwing his voice into it. This theory is given credence in this, the third in the series (and the only one with a miscast Paul Fix, best known as a Western actor), where in the execution of his detective duties Jones finds himself locked in an asylum, hallucinating his cranial companion in his moonlit cell. Of course he escapes with the help of his knock-out socialite friend Tracey (Claire Trevor in a slinky silk number and ill-advised heels) and uncovers the warden’s dastardly plot to exploit the mad for his own financial gain via faux spectral apparitions. Lugosi’s casting as said warden makes the third act reveal a bit of a foregone conclusion but this is a fun romp with its eerie moments nonetheless.

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Twitter: @MadeUpFilms

#17 – Skull and Jones

(1937, US, 67 min, b/w) Dir Edgar G. Ulmer. Cast Francis Lederer, Margo, Olaf Hytten.

The first in the oddball Skull and Jones series. Lederer is the titular Jones, investigating supernatural mysteries with the aid of a skull (called Skull) that he carries around with him in a velvet sack and takes out to consult with when no one else is around. Called to the mansion of the recently deceased Hugo Noir by his daughter (Margo, the same year she and Lederer wed) who suspects that foul play and devilry were the cause of her father’s demise. His investigations take him beyond the sunny, palm-lined streets of LA and into the shadowy world of the occult, all leading to an explosive gun battle in a deserted night time Hollywood Bowl. An intriguing mix of horror and detective tropes with atmospheric direction from The Black Cat’s Ulmer and spry banter from all. Only one of two S&B starring Lederer before the torch was passed on a la James Bond – popular in its day, the series lasted for sixteen films and a short lived television series in the 1950’s. A blockbuster franchise attempt has been rumoured for the premise for some time, most recently with Johnny Depp in the lead.

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Twitter: @MadeUpFilms