Dwight Frye-days is a column where I will explore the films of Dwight Frye, arguably the first method actor and a personal favorite of mine, every other Friday. This Frye-day’s film is The Wayne Murder Case, aka A Strange Adventure, starring Regis Toomey (The Big Sleep, Burke’s Law, Spellbound), June Clyde (A Study in Scarlet, Tanned Legs, Seven Doors to Death), and star of this column Dwight Frye (most well known for Fritz in Frankenstein and Renfield in Dracula).
In this first Dwight Frye-days after October we branch outside of the horror genre with the crime drama The Wayne Murder Case, also known as A Strange Adventure. The Wayne Murder Case involves a very rich man, Silas Wayne (William V. Mong) going over his will; as he is quite old and has a heart condition, and his son Claude (Eddie Phillips) who catches a glimpse of the will and doesn’t like what he sees. He attempts to steal his father’s precious jewel, the cursed Candor Diamond, but he gets caught red-handed. Instead of his father dealing with this himself, he decides to call the police. Silas then calls in all of his family members who are at the house along with the police so that they can catch whoever stole the diamond. Before that can happen, however, Silas is stabbed and detective -Sergeant Mitchell (Regis Toomey) and reporter ‘Nosey’ Toodles (June Clyde) are on the case.
The Wayne Murder Case is not a great movie. It’s not particularly bad, but it suffers from being an early whodunit stuck in one house and falling for all the tropes that we have seen in many films which followed and done it better. However, viewing it in the time of 1932, it’s still not the best.
While being derivative of other films of its ilk, the acting is not great, the writing is slow and basic, and some of the actors act as though they’ve never starred alongside human beings before, leaving great pauses between each others’ lines. On top of that, The Wayne Murder Case is full of plot holes; one big thing I didn’t like was Silas’ death. He passes out on his desk and when they go to help him he has been stabbed. Within the film there is no real way anyone could have stabbed him and it makes the movie incredibly unbelievable from the get go.
No matter what I say about the acting, though, there are more than a few incredible actors in this movie. Aside from Dwight Frye, we have Regis Toomy and June Clyde, whose chemistry together is to die for; William V. Mong’s plays a sincere old man who is also crazily suspicious and his performance is just as wonderful here as he was in The Vampire Bat; and Lucille La Verne (probably most well known for playing the Queen and Witch in the 1937 Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) has some of the best facial expressions I’ve ever seen. The cinematography and blocking are also fantastic – it may be bland and boring, but it is never bad to look at.
Unfortunately, Dwight Frye’s role is his least significant out of all of the films I’ve seen so far. He has only two or three scenes he’s really in, but thankfully he’s the focus when he does appear on screen. He too has some wonderful facial expressions, acting primarily through body language and expression, which just goes to show how great of an actor he was.
All in all, if you want a very basic crime film where everyone is a suspect, check this movie out. It’s decent, but not great, with acting that oscillates between great and horrible. It has a big fault in that it is really incredibly basic so it’s not very unique when you watch it nowadays, but watching it with the context of its time period in mind, it’s fine for what it is. It’s also very unbelievable at times, so it’s hard to say if I could really recommend it. Dwight was great, but his screen time is so limited I’d almost suggest just trying to find a clip or two online instead of watching the whole movie.
Overall, watch at your own risk.