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The Thirteenth Chair

The Thirteenth Chair (1929) starring Bela Lugosi, directed by Tod Browning

To enjoy  The Thirteenth Chair, the audience has to bear in mind that this is a  very early sound picture, and make appropriate allowances. If you do that, you can enjoy the murder mystery — and especially the sight of Bela Lugosi as the police Inspector Delzante, who berates and threatens the witnesses to a murder. Thirteen witnesses, at a seance, sitting in thirteen chairs — hence the title. It should be mentioned that  The Thirteenth Chair is directed by Tod Browning (Dracula, Freaks) — who brought Lugosi to worldwide fame only 2 years after this movie.

The Thirteenth Chair (1929) starring Bela Lugosi, directed by Tod BrowningThe movie begins with a murder — followed by a seance, where  Madame Rosalie La Grange (Margaret Wycherly), a supposed psychic, first does some parlor tricks to show her “authentic” abilities, such as levitating a card table, etc. It would take Harry Houdini about two minutes to point out how the fake “psychic” does her feats — but he wasn’t invited. Soon, the seance begins, with the people in the chairs in a circle around the psychic, with the lights out. The psychic tries to contact the murder victim, who apparently will only reveal his murderer’s identity to one of the group — and that one is then murdered with a knife in the back.

The police are  called, and Bela Lugosi takes the screen — and his personality largely takes over the movie. Despite his thick Hungarian accent, he’s quite understandable — and enjoyable to watch, as he peels away alibis, proves the lies of the “psychic,” and — with her assistance — puts on a second seance, to reveal the murderer — or murderess.

 

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