Congratulations. Plans afoot for a small party in your honor.
Eight people receive the exact same anonymous telegram inviting them to a party in a huge penthouse. The guests are Dr. Murray Reid (Samuel S. Hinds), a college dean, Henry Abbott (Hardie Albright), a radical, Margaret Chisholm (Nella Walker), a socialite, Tim Cronin (Edward Ellis) a political big shot, Sylvia Inglesby (Helen Flint), Cronin’s girlfriend, Jason Osgood (Edwin Maxwell), a crooked stockbroker, Jim Daley (Donald Cook), an author, and Jean Trent (Genevieve Tobin') a Hollywood movie star.
When they are all gathered, a voice begins speaking to them from the radio, telling them that they will die one by one, unless they can outwit the "ninth guest," death. Each one has a secret that they hide from the world. Through these weaknesses death will attack them. Before eleven the first person will die.
The guests find that the doors are rigged with electricity. Should anyone touch them they would be electrocuted. The phone lines are cut so no one can call out. The penthouse has an outside terrace area. Laid out on the terrace are eight coffins. One for each guest. And one by one, the guests start to die.
“The 9th Guest” was released in 1934 and was directed by Roy William Neil. He is best known for the Sherlock Holmes movie series with Basil Rathbone. The movie was based on a novel by Gwen Bristow and her husband Bruce Manning titled "The Invisible Host". The movie predates Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None". One of the differences between this movie and Agatha Christie’s story is that all eight people in the movie know each other, and to some extent hate each other. That acrimony aids ‘death’ in completing his tasks. People who are angry or scared do stupid things.
There are also some similarities with Boris Karloff’s “The Man They Could Not Hang” where he traps the jury that convicted and sentenced him to death in a room and kills them one by one.
The penthouse set is Art Deco. It is rich looking but stark, expensive yet unlived in. As the cook put it, “perfect and unused”. The film is an Old Dark House movie in a modern Art Deco apartment, which adds a nice touch to the genre. The centerpiece of the penthouse is a clock in the living room that is mostly concealed behind a wall except for the face of the clock and a sliver of the swinging pendulum. And the clock ticks incessantly.
Character development is sketchy due to the movie only being 65 minutes long but you get enough information to decide you are not unhappy that most of the guests get killed. There are brief cuts of the guests receiving the invitations and some hints of their personalities. None of them are murderers or anything but for some reason death has marked them just for being jerks. Apparently death felt slighted by these people in some way.
The movie was good. Mystery lovers should enjoy this forgotten gem.