For Reel


The Phantom of Crestwood (1932)
October 4, 2015, 7:17 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: J. Walter Ruben
3 Stars
The Phantom of CrestwoodThe Phantom of Crestwood begins with NBC radio broadcaster Graham McNamee announcing that the film is the culmination of a radio serial where listeners were encouraged to send in their own answers to the question, “Who killed Jenny Wren?” The gimmick was a success for RKO Studios, and the resulting picture is given some added interest due to this introductory direct address and the experimental intermingling between two competing genres. Aside from this historical footnote, The Phantom of Crestwood largely plays as a standard old dark house mystery, but it is significantly aided by the eery high-contrast lighting by cinematographer Henry W. Gerrard. The death mask that the killer wears–being the only prop that reflects a significant amount of light in an otherwise rustic, shadow-heavy old mansion–elicits a feeling of uncanniness. J. Walter Ruben’s direction is similarly stylish in the way that flashbacks are used, with a quick, whirling pan that makes one scene blend into the next. But the real standout of this whodunit is Karen Morley as Jenny Wren, whom the film acknowledges will be the victim in the opening minutes. She somewhat resembles Jean Arthur and yet plays a wonderfully opportunistic fatale, heartlessly wrapping a number of men around her finger with an incredible confidence. Even after she is killed, the flashback structure thankfully necessitates her post-mortem appearances.