The Witching Hour (1934 film)
|The Witching Hour|
|Directed by||Henry Hathaway|
|Produced by||Anthony Veiller|
|Written by||Anthony Veiller|
Salisbury Field (adaptation)
|Based on||the 1907 play The Witching Hour|
by Augustus Thomas
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
While Jack Brookfield (John Halliday) runs a gambling gathering at nighttime in his Kentucky house, his daughter Nancy (Judith Allen) is frequently visited by and becomes engaged to young Northern architect Clay Thorne (Tom Brown). His mother (Olive Tell), an old friend of Brookfield's, arrives from Baltimore to save her son from the vice of gambling, but when Brookfield shows her her son and his daughter in the garden, she is delighted. Brookfield announces to the gentlemen that for that evening the gambling is over early, due to a feeling he has.
After everybody has left, Brookfield's old friend (and customer) Lew Ellinger (Richard Carle) proposes to play poker. But Brookfield answers he is not a gambler. Ellinger deals the cards anyway. To his astonishment, Brookfield tells him exactly what he has in his hands. When it is repeated a second time, Brookfield tells him that he cannot tell what cards he has if Ellinger doesn't look at them. When this second time he tells again the card Ellinger has, Ellinger asks Brookfield how he does it. Brookfield does not know how he does it, but he does not gamble because of this gift, which saddens Ellinger.
Meantime, the police chief (Frank Sheridan) gathers his men to raid Brookfield's house. When they arrive, however, they can find no trace of gambling activity.
After Nancy turns in for the night, Clay becomes terrified when he sees a cats-eye ring (collateral put up by Lew) on Brookfield's finger. This causes Brookfield to question Clay's manhood.
Afterward, Brookfield receives a visit from Frank Hardmuth (Ralf Harolde). Hardmuth has a grudge against him and is determined to show that he is the boss of the town. When Hardmuth states he is good enough for Nancy, Brookfield punches him and tells him that one day a man will come in his office and shoot him. Clay overhears him. Brookfield tells him, after Hardmuth leaves, that his fear is absurd. He hypnotizes the young man without realizing it.
Judge Martin Prentice (Guy Standing) is Brookfield's last visitor that night. Brookfield finds in him an understanding person concerning his gift. Prentice warns him to be more careful about hypnotizing people.
Clay goes to Hardmuth's office and shoots him dead, without knowing what he is doing. His loved ones search for a defense attorney, but nobody takes hypnotism seriously or believes it is grounds for a defense. Finally, they think of Judge Prentice, who is retired, but would certainly understand how to manage the case. Prentice does not want to take the case, but the ghost of Margaret Price (Gertrude Michael), Mrs. Thorne's mother and Prentice's love, persuades him to change his mind. The trial goes badly for the defense; even the testimony of Dr. von Strohn (Ferdinand Gottschalk), an eminent expert in hypnosis, cannot turn the tide. Finally, in desperation, Prentice has Brookfield hypnotize the openly skeptical jury foreman (William Frawley) into shooting the district attorney (the gun has blanks). The jury reaches the verdict "not guilty", and Clay is a free man.
- Guy Standing as [Judge] Martin Prentice
- John Halliday as Jack Brookfield
- Judith Allen as Nancy Brookfield
- Tom Brown as Clay Thorne
- Olive Tell as Mrs. [Helen] Thorne
- Richard Carle as Lew Ellinger
- Ralf Harolde as Frank Hardmuth
- Purnell Pratt as District Attorney [Robinson]
- Frank Sheridan as Police Chief
- Gertrude Michael as Margaret Price
- Ferdinand Gottschalk as Dr. von Strohn
- William Frawley as Foreman of Jury
Author and film critic Leonard Maltin awarded the film two and a half out of four stars, calling it "[a] Minor but well-made chiller with eerie atmosphere."