Anya Karlov (Florence Lake) is on her death bed. Her father, Boris Karlov (Warren Oland), has been summoned to her side. Karlov is a scientist and a doctor. The note sent to him says she tried to commit suicide. It is eluded that she was driven to it by a relationship with a man. When he gets to his daughter’s side he demands to know the name of the man. She refuses to tell him. He finds in her possession a necklace belonging to the Royal Petroff family. The family consists of the very old grandfather, General Petroff (George Fawcett) the Uncle, Prince Ivan (Ernest Hilliard) and two sons, Prince Nickolas (Lloyd Hughes) and Prince Gregor (Wallace MacDonald), any one of which could be responsible for Anya taking the action she did.
Anya races to the Petroff home to warn them that her father is in possession of the necklace. She then dies. Boris arrives and demands to know who is responsible for his daughter’s death. He threatens to kill all of them. Karlov is arrested and sent to Siberia. He escapes and vows to make the family pay for what they have done.
The Petroff necklace has an unusual history to it. The charms on the necklace are in the shape of drums with a ruby as the drum head. The necklace is referred to as the Petroff Drums. Legend has it that whoever receives one of the drums will die in the next twenty-four hours.
At this time the Bolshevik revolution is happening and the royal Petroff family loses its power and fortune. They are also afraid of Karlov’s promise. General Petroff was sent a drum charm and killed in his sleep. The rest of the family decides to move to America to try to get away from both Karlov and their dire situation. One of Karloff’s henchman (Harry Semels) acquires a letter stating the family’s intention and that they will be sailing on the “Latonia”. Karlov is there when their ship arrives.
“The Drums of Jeopardy” was released in 1931 and was directed by George B. Seitz. It is a pre-code mystery/thriller starring Warren Oland as the unusually named Boris Karlov. The name of the main character is probably what kept this little film from being totally forgotten. It is based on a story by Harold McGrath.
What makes it pre-code is the suggestion that Anya was pregnant and the fact that she made a suicide attempt. The film really could use a good restoration. The only print available is from Alpha Video. It’s a little choppy here and there. What starts out as appearing to be a mad scientist movie quickly morphs into revenge story and ends up with a touch of ‘Old Dark House’ tossed in. You know who the killer is, and you pretty much know who the father of Anya’s baby is, you’re just waiting to see if any of them survive.
There is a lot of confusion concerning the Karlov character name vs the Karloff actor name. Some think the character was named after Karloff as an homage some think Karloff took his name from the character. Some think Karloff took his name from his mother’s family. This is also in doubt since there is no record of the name Karloff in the family. Her maiden name was Millard. Karloff started using the name when he began acting in Canada. Karloff had been using the name Karloff on stage and in silent films at least eight years before the book was published. Where he got is still unclear. As for the book, Karlov is a Russian name and perfectly suitable for the book. As for homage this is not likely since Boris Karloff did not become a well known actor until 1931. What is more likely is that both McGrath and Boris Karloff just liked the name.
It’s an interesting little film. It’s not a hidden gem but it’s well done and fun to watch. I would hate to see it lost.