I’ve always been a sucker for old time-y crime capers. Seriously, this is the same guy who owns every cinematic incarnation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None as well as over 15 gigabytes of “Suspense Radio Theater.” So when I heard that MGM was giving the DVD treatment to one of their older crime stories, The Mystery of the 13th Guest, I was more than a little excited. In fact, I think the professional term for what I did is “geeking out.” After taking a look at the movie, it’ll be good to know, my geeking out was not for nothing.
The Mystery of the 13th Guest revolves around a young woman who returns to her grandfather’s abandoned estate on her 21st birthday to read his final will and testament. It isn’t long before a gunshot rings out. With that, the mystery is set into motion as a police officer, his bumbling sidekick, and a charming private investigator try to uncover the murderer. But it isn’t that simple. These types of movies are known for their twists and turns and The Mystery of the 13th Guest is no exception. Motives are questioned, murderers are double-crossed, and victims are found to be not quite who they seemed. Of course, these are all telltale signs of a solid murder mystery, but The Mystery of the 13th Guest is certainly a cut above the rest.
The film, which clocks in at a little over an hour, is a briskly paced adventure. True, the film stumbles and falters in certain moments when it backtracks, but that shouldn’t stop fans of the genre from checking it out. No, what is easily most memorable about the film is its dance between cold-blooded crime story and an unlikely macabre and mad-cap romp. The dark humor of the film brings to mind the type of fast-talking antics of classic dark comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace. The Mystery of the 13th Guest may not pack all the charm that Cary Grant and Priscilla Lane can squeeze into the Frank Capra classic, but it packs just as much of a punch.
While The Mystery of the 13th Guest features a capable cast, the acerbic wit of Private Detective John Smith and Police Lt. Burke and the bitter barbs traded between family members steal the show. A movie like this, which is admittedly low-budget, thrives on the material that they are working with and The Mystery of the 13th Guest more than makes up for its budget with devilish wit. The movie flirts with a campier tone in some parts, particularly the over-the-top Speed Dugan, but its charm and willingness to not take itself too seriously provide a tremendous amount of heart. Some people may think of the film as dated, but if you’re looking for a brief trip to the Hollywood of yesteryear or just in the mood for an old-school whodunit, The Mystery of the 13th Guest is a fun time.
The Mystery of the 13th Guest is one of MGM’s made-on-demand releases. While the DVD has no special features to speak of, it is an impressive transfer for a forgotten film from 1943.