On the 1930’s B-Movie scene, Monogram Pictures was the most consistent provider of quality stuff. Their best flicks were one hour movies that were packaged at movie theaters either as the feature presentation on a matinee bill or as part of a double or triple feature. These Monogram flicks delivered with solid production values and genuinely interesting stories. 1930’s Monogram classics included Girl of the Limberlost, King Kelly of the USA, Mystery Liner and The 13th Guest.
One reason for Monogram’s success during the 1930’s was the fact that unlike most of the other B-Movie providers, Monogram was both willing and able to attract big name actors. One such star was Lionel Atwill whose performance as deaf-mute millionaire philanthropist Jerome Breen is one of the reasons why the 1933 Monogram effort The Sphinx rises above most other mystery flicks from the same era.
The basic plot line for The Sphinx starts with a string of murders of stockbrokers. There are witnesses who saw and heard Breen at the scene of the latest murder. However, during the ensuing trial, Breen is examined by doctors for both the defense and the prosecution, all of whom testify that their examinations show that Breen is medically incapable of either hearing or speaking. As a result, Breen is acquitted.
However, newspaper reporter Jack Burton (Theodore Newton) is unconvinced of Breen’s innocence. Burton is one of those journalists who thinks that he knows more about how to investigate a crime than the cops do. Burton’s belief in his expertise is furthered by the fact that Detective Terrence Aloysius Hogan (Paul Hurst) is incredibly incompetent.
Despite the fact that Burton is both pompous and annoying, particularly in regards to his opinion of the intelligence of the average police officer, the police do little to impede him. This is partly because the police realize that Burton has a very good reason to be involved in this particular case. The gal that Burton longs after, society columnist Jerry Crane, is smitten with Breen, often visits Breen at Breen’s home and has been writing a series of articles painting Breen as a wonderful man. Burton fears that Crane is next on Breen’s hit list.
The Sphinx is a craftily made mystery thriller with some comedic relief against the backdrop of a rather ingenious mystery. Lionel Atwill as the star of the show provides a standout performance. The other actors are all pretty decent. Combined with the script and the cinematography, the end result is a great B-Movie.