The Witching Hour (Henry Hathaway, 1934)
[note: review originally published 1Dec2008]
Interesting thirties flick, all the more so because it’s one of the first courtroom dramas as we know the term today (where any kind of mystery angle is tossed out in order to examine the ramifications of a given crime). Of course, in a climate where one can turn on a TV at almost any time and find Law and Order reruns, there’s not much here that’s going to surprise the viewer, but it’s great stuff nonetheless, and if you’re a fan of the genre, you’re going to see a lot of things in this movie that are still part of films and TV shows like this over seventy years later.
Jack Brookfield (The Age of Consent‘s John Halliday) is a psychic whose gifts come in quite handy when he’s playing cards, but his soon-to-be son-in-law Clay Thorne (Anne of Green Gables‘ Tom Brown) remains skeptical until he witnesses Brookfield hypnotize someone else. Unfortunately, Thorne falls under the spell as well, and during a phone conversation, Brookfield inadvertently plants a post-hypnotic suggestion in Thorne’s mind that leads to him committing murder the next day. Thorne’s fate looks sealed, but Brookfield, sick with guilt, wants to do everything he can to assist with the boy’s defense, including bringing a salty old defense attorney, Martin Prentice (The Lives of a Bengal Lancer‘s Guy Standing in one of his final film roles), out of retirement. Hathaway (The Sons of Katie Elder) was one of Hollywood’s most solid directors for decades, though only a handful of his films are remembered these days for the classics they are. I’d suggest adding The Witching Hour to the list; it may have been made in 1934, but it’s just as gripping today as it was then, Law and Order reruns or not. ****