Sunday, October 21, 2012
The Mystery of Edwin Drood 1935
I am so lucky to live in a town with a theatre that plays classic movies! This month, the Stanford Theatre is having a Universal Studios festival! Perfect month for it: they are playing all the classic Universal Horror films. I have already written about most of them but one film I caught at the festival I had never seen before: The Mystery of Edwin Drood starring Claude Rains. The Mystery of Edwin Drood was Charles Dickens last, unfinished novel. I have a bit of an obsession with Chuck D, especially after reading Dan Simmons novel Drood, about the last 5 years of Dickens life. And of course, who doesn't love speculating about an unfinished novel by one of the greatest writers of all time! Many have "finished" Edwin Drood, to various degrees of success. This film, directed by Stuart Walker, follows the novel faithfully, and offers a very satisfying conclusion. Although more of a mystery thriller than true horror, The Mystery of Edwin Drood delivers plenty of chills, thanks in part to Claude Rains.
Rains plays John Jasper, a Choirmaster and bachelor who also happens to be an opium addict. Although the word "opium" is never spoken, it is clear that he visits an opium den to "forget." What is he trying to forget? That his Nephew, Edwin Drood (played by Universal Horror fixture David Manners) is about to marry Rosa Bud (Heather Angel), the only woman Jasper has loved. The feeling is not mutual. In fact, Rosa doesn't even want to marry Edwin. They were betrothed as children. When Rosa meets the handsome but hot-tempered Neville Landless (Douglass Montgomery), it is love at first sight. Neville feels the same way, and decides that he hates Edwin, who is rather nonchalant about his upcoming wedding. The two men fight, and Neville, who is a hot-head, pulls a knife on Edwin. All of this is witnessed by John Jasper.
After the fight, Edwin and Rosa decide not to marry. Edwin is actually a very good man, and he wants Rosa to be happy. It is clear that Rosa and Neville are in love, so Edwin gives them his blessing. They decide to keep the news quiet, so as not to spoil the holidays. This means that Jasper has no idea that his Nephew is NOT going to marry Rosa. Unfortunately, Jasper has already set in motion a plan to get rid of Edwin, so that he can have Rosa to himself...
I don't want to spoil any more, but needless to say a lot of melodrama ensues. Again, the performance by Claude Rains is amazing. He is a very, very wicked man, but you can't help but feel sorry for him, especially when he learns about the broken engagement, a little to late...
The "ending" here is very acceptable and perfect for a Hollywood film. It is a happy ending where evil is punished and the innocent live happily ever after. Dickens had laid out the ending of his novel to a friend in a letter, so we actually do know how it was supposed to end, which is slightly different than this version. I really loved this film, although it does drag a bit in the middle. It is very atmospheric and quite romantic. I found the depiction of drug abuse interesting; it is not something that I would expect in a film from this period. And of course, Claude Rains: how could you not love him? Even as a drug addicted obsessive psychopath, he has a special place in my horror heart!