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Seven Keys to Baldpate (1929): Hollywood’s Most Popular Mystery for Thirty Years, Now Unknown

Seven Keys to Baldpate (Reginald Barker, 1929)

[note: review originally published 1Dec2008]

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(Actually, considering this was the fourth version of the novel filmed since 1916, that tagline does have some validity.)

It is a measure of the overwhelming popularity of Earl Derr Biggers’ brilliant novel Seven Keys to Baldpate that this 1929 adaptation was the fourth time the novel had been made into a movie. It is similarly a measure of the overwhelming fickleness of the media-consuming public that the final of the seven (amusingly) adaptations was released in 1947, after which both the novel and, soon after, the films, faded into obscurity. That’s a crime. Both the novel and this adaptation, widely considered the most successful of the bunch, hold up quite well.

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Come on shake your body, baby, do that conga
I know you can’t control yourself any longer…

Biggers’ novel, adapted into a stage play at the beginning of the century by George M. Cohan (yes, that George M. Cohan), starts off with a bet between William Magee (Cimarron‘s Richard Dix, at the very beginning of his tenure as the biggest star in the RKO stable), a writer trying to finish a novel, and his agent, who furnishes him with “the only key to Baldpate”, a secluded off-season hotel his family owns, to give him peace and quiet. The wager: that Magee can finish his novel in twenty-four hours. As the title will tell you, however, Magee’s is far from the only key to Baldpate, and he soon discovers that the rest of the people trickling in are looking for something much larger. $200,000 worth of larger, in fact.

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“Well, you see, officer, I’m writing a novel…”

Things get out of hand quickly, and it doesn’t help that Magee meets a lovely lass (The Lion and the Lamb‘s Miriam Seegar) who takes his mind off writing easily as much as the festivities do.

It’s a wonderful novel, it’s a wonderful adaptation, and Barker (The Great Divide), a top-class director of silents, obviously made the leap to talkies well. Not quite as impossible to find as it used to be, and worth seeking out. *** ½

[2013 update: Earl Derr Biggers’ original novel is available free at Project Gutenberg, as well as the other usual suspects. I have a hardback edition I refuse to open because it’s so fragile, so I am currently rejoicing. As I write this, it only has seventy downloads at Gutenberg. Do me proud and double that number by next week!]

They call this a “preview clip”.

About Robert "Goat" Beveridge

Media critic (amateur, semi-pro, and for one brief shining moment in 2000 pro) since 1986. Guy behind noise/powerelectronics band XTerminal (after many small stints in jazz, rock, and metal bands). Known for being tactless but honest.

One response »

  1. Your style is really unique compared to other people I have read stuff from.

    Many thanks for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just book mark this web site.


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