“No one with any brains would help free a killer like him.” “I guess not, except another killer.”
John Channing (Milton Parsons) is in the State Asylum for the insane. Or at least he was. His sister Lorinda Channing (Cecil Cunningham) arranges fro him to escape. Lorinda is not happy with her money hungry relatives. She devises an elaborate plan to get rid of a few of them. John is a murderer and clinically insane. It seems a lot of the Channings are. Lorinda wants John to help her kill some people. Specifically her nephews.
Lorinda has invited them and their wives to her estate for the weekend. The expected guests are Walter and Rita Channing, Horace and Estelle Channing, Dr. Lawrence Channing and his nurse Eleanor Stevens. Her brother John is posing as her butler Martin. In addition to her relatives Lorinda is expecting her secretary/companion Mary Winfield (Elizabeth Fraser) and her attorney Peter Thorne (Craig Stevens). Lorinda likes Mary and Peter, but she is not above using them as pawns in her deadly game.
Also on her hit list is a cook, Mallo (Kam Tong), who tries to poison her. The only other people in the house that is not out to get Lorinda and her money is Hattie (Inez Gay) the maid and Eustis (Willie Best) the combination butler and chauffeur.
Part of her scheme is to persuade Lawrence to give her a drug that makes her appear dead. Another part is letting John loose in the house to commit as much terror and mayhem as possible. With John running around, anything that happens can be blamed on him and Lorinda is free to execute her vengeance on her family.
“The Hidden Hand” was released in 1942 and was directed by Benjamin Stoloff. It is based on a play by Rufus King titled “Invitation to a Murder”. This lower budget “B” movie was produced by Warner Brothers. It is a sort of comedy romp with a little mystery and murder added. An Old Dark House Mystery with little mystery and lots of murder.
Parsons is perfect as a reserved homicidal maniac with a Cheshire cat smile. Cunningham is just as insane, but brilliantly so. The rest of the Channing family are not above a little homicide themselves. As long as there’s money in it for them. It’s a house full of crazy people. Comic relief is provided by just about everyone.
In most Old Dark House mysteries where everyone is gathered together, the rich old guy or rich old lady is either killed or is an innocent bystander. This old lady is just as homicidal as her brother.
All in all, the movie is heavy on the comedy and light on the mystery so don’t even think of it as a murder mystery or a horror story. Think of it as a comedy with the occasional dead body. Just the fact that the cops are clueless should tell you that. It’s mindless fun and actually done rather well.