"If that clock should strike thirteen - beware!"
H. Bala | Carson - hey, we have an IKEA store! - CA USA | 03/24/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The code of the Crooked Circle: "To do for each other, to defend any brother - a fight to the knife and a knife to the hilt." Honestly, I don't know that this code has that direct of a bearing on the film, but, damn, if it doesn't sound cool.
The notorious Crooked Circle of Criminal Masterminds, comprised of four hooded men and one woman (also hooded), has had enough of the meddling of the Sphinx Club, that band of amateur criminologists. Eager to send a message, the Circle targets the Sphinx Club's leader, Colonel Theodore Wolters, for execution at the stroke of midnight. But because, for a bunch of so-called "masterminds," they turn out not to be so bright, the Circle boasts of this intended act to Colonel Wolters himself.
The main character is Brand Osbourne (Ben Lyon), who's about to retire from the Sphinx Club to get married. Along with the other members of the Club, Brand vows to protect the Colonel's life at all costs. They plan to meet at Long Island's Melody Manor, newly owned by the Colonel, to await the assassination attempt. Things soon take an even more inauspicious turn as Brand's fiancee Thelma Parker (Irene Purcell) begs him not to show up at the Manor. Also, it seems that Thelma and oily new Sphinx member, Mr. Yoganda, are acquainted with each other. Later Brand is held at gunpoint in his own apartment as he's again cautioned not to show up at Melody Manor. Brand doesn't listen.
The venue now moves to the Melody Manor, a dark and dreary place with a menacing history. There, a leering hunchbacked butler lurks and a ghost plays haunting music on the violin. Or, as the fretful maid Nora (Zasu Pitts) is wont to proclaim: "And every time the ghost plays that violin, something always happens to somebody." Since THE CROOKED CIRCLE is firmly planted in the Old Dark House style, it's no shock that the characters soon bump into that sub-genre's signature contrivances, from hidden passageways and moving furniture, to frightful shenanigans and, naturally, a murdered corpse.
THE CROOKED CIRCLE is a 1932 black & white film straight from Poverty Row, so the stuff we're treated to is strictly no-frills and bare bones. It's a low budgeted sucker; the atmosphere isn't moody as much as it is just plain dark. These B-movie offerings usually don't come with a lengthy running time, and, at 59 minutes, this film doesn't give its stock characters a chance to develop. In fact, the most interesting character turns out to be the sinister Hindu seer, Mr. Yoganda, slated to be Brand's successor in the Sphinx Club and who several times warns that "Evil is on the way." The bulk of the plot is dedicated to a whole lot of the cast frantically running around from one room to another as various spooky sequences surface. In the last 10 minutes or so, the script writers finally seem to recall the Crooked Circle, and so that nefarious bunch is thrown back into the mix.
Zasu Pitts receives top billing, probably because she's the most well-known name here at the time. Yet she doesn't bring much to the table as she's perfectly fine with sticking to her normal Nervous Nellie act. James Gleason also shows up as a bumbling policeman. He, too, does his usual shtick. Their brand of comedy isn't really the reason to check out this film.
It's no The Cat And The Canary or The Old Dark House, but if you're a straight-up fan of this grand old sub-genre and you've got an hour to kill, THE CROOKED CIRCLE isn't a bad way to go. With this film being over 70 years old, be aware that there's an audible audio crackle in the background, although, to me, this actually contributes an added quaintness to it all. And, for what it's worth, the film even has a nice twist near the end."