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The Thirteenth Chair

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The Thirteenth Chair (1929) starring Bela Lugosi, directed by Tod Browning
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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.  He 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). He brought Lugosi to worldwide fame only 2 years after this movie.

The 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. Tricks 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.  He’s 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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