Warner Archive releasing "The 13th Chair Double Feature" on November 13, 2018 continues the grand Archive tradition of releasing two (or more) versions of the same film. In this case, the titular double-bill is two very different approaches to the titular British murder mystery.
Folks who are familiar with "Freaks" and/or other Tod Browning films can accurately predict that his 1929 production is more atmospheric and lurid than the 1937 film by George B. Seitz, whose credits include "Andy Hardy" films. The latter is lighter in tone and gives this work originally presented as play more of a live-stage vibe than Browning.
This post will respect the assumed Archive intent of wanting viewers to get the full impact of the differences in the film. A modern example of this contrast is having Tim Burton and '90s-era Ben Affleck separately direct the same story. Part of this full enjoyment relates to not spoiling the very different casting.
Both films are set in Calcutta and occur in the aftermath of the murder of an expat Brit. who is no gentleman.
The usual suspects for this type of film begins with John Wales, who is the best friend of the deceased. His literally fatally flawed plan to obtain justice for his chum includes staging a seance. Like a good Englishman, Wales hopes that stacking the deck in his favor will result in the culprit becoming a guest of the king.
We also get a royal family in the form of the Crosbys. The secretary of Mrs. Crosby planning to marry into the family contributes to the angst among the group.
The portrayals of medium Mme. LaGrange in the two films are among the most significant differences in the versions. Both are highly entertaining in that this is a very broad character. Additionally, this quirky individual shares some tricks of the trade.
The subsequent seance that inspires the title of the play and the films produces drama that greatly thickens the plot. This results in deduction that leads to the typical drawing-room scene that results in revealing whodunit. A partial spoiler is that the final scene of the Browning film greatly outshines the conclusion of the later version.
The broadest appeal of this release is the aforementioned demonstration of how the same source material can produce radically different results. The narrower focus is that this is another example of Archive facilitating modern audiences getting to see how movies should be made.
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