The House of Fear

Screening on Film
Directed by Joe May.
With William Gargan, Irene Hervey, Dorothy Arnold.
US, 1939, 35mm, black & white, 66 min.
Print source: Universal

Joe May injected madcap comedy into his breezy remake of Paul Leni’s innovative 1928 part-talkie The Last Warning, updating and adding new twists to the whodunnit tale of a theater haunted by the ghost of a lead actor mysteriously killed on stage. May’s background in theater informed The House of Fear’s evocative rendition of the backstage mayhem and butterfly-filled dressing rooms. Lead actor William Gargan, meanwhile, brought his own pre-acting career as a gumshoe into his role as Arthur McHugh, an intrepid police detective convinced he can solve the crime by posing as a producer determined to bring the same ill-fated play back to life, in the same now-shuttered theater and with the remaining cast. McHugh seems to be onto something when the substitute lead is also killed, suggesting that someone in the cast might be guilty.

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The B–Film
Low–Budget Hollywood Cinema 1935–1959