Twenty-one-year-old Marie Morgan (Helen Parrish) returns to her grandfather’s house thirteen years after she was last there. When Marie was eight, Grandfather Morgan (Lloyd Ingraham) left his death bed to host a dinner party. Around the table were thirteen chairs but only twelve people were present. The 13th chair was empty. Morgan shows Marie, and everyone else, an envelope containing his will. The envelope is given to Morgan’s lawyer, John Barksdale (Cyril Ring) with instructions to give it to Marie when she turns twenty-one. He then tells Marie that, at that time, to return to the house and open the will.
When Marie arrives at the house, she finds that, even though the house has been closed up for thirteen years, the electricity and phone are working. Marie opens the envelope and finds a small piece of paper. On the paper is written 13-13-13. When Marie hears a noise in the other room she goes to investigate. She hears a shot and falls to the floor. The cab driver waiting outside takes off and notifies the police. Lt Burke (Tim Ryan) and his partner, Speed McGinnis (Frank Faylen) are sent to check things out.
In the meantime, Marie’s Uncle Adam (Paul McVey) hires a private detective, Johnny Smith (Dick Purcell). He says he is worried about Marie and wants Johnny to keep an eye on things. When Johnny gets to the Morgan house, he finds that Marie is dead. She was found sitting in the chair she occupied at the dinner party thirteen years ago. The next person to die is the attorney for the estate, Barksdale. Then it is revealed that the woman that everyone thought was Marie was actually a fake who had plastic surgery to make her look like Marie. The real Marie is actually alive and well.
Johnny then theorizes that the people that were at the original dinner party are being killed off one by one and are being placed in the chairs they sat in thirteen years ago.
“The Mystery of the 13th Guest” was released in 1943 and was directed by William Beaudine. It is a poverty row American crime mystery comedy by Monogram Pictures. The movie is a remake of the 1932 film “The Thirteenth Guest” and is based on the 1929 novel by Armitage Trail. Armitage Trail is the pen name of Maurice R. Coons.
It is your basic slapstick comedy dumb cop style murder mystery, at times slightly confusing. It is light and typical of the comedic murder mysteries of the time. Most of the cops are stupid and the wily detective is smart and gets the girl. There are plenty of suspects but not a lot of red herrings. It is a fun little romp and short at about an hour long.
There are also a couple macguffins in the film. The will is not really a will, and the envelope is basically forgotten as soon as Marie opens it. The number thirteen plays a lot in the film, although the actual empty thirteenth chair has no importance and is never really explained. These tidbits add a little confusion to the plot but really add nothing to the film.