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Seven Keys to Baldpate

Seven Keys to Baldpate(1935)

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teaser Seven Keys to Baldpate (1935)

Charlie Chan creator Earl Derr Biggers' 1913 mystery novel Seven Keys to Baldpate effectively jump-started the Old Dark House subgenre of horror comedies, thanks in no small part to theatrical impresario George M. Cohan, who adapted the novel for Broadway later that year. Critics hated the play but the Astor Theatre remained packed for over three hundred performances. Cohan produced a silent film version of the play in 1917 and Seven Keys to Baldpate remained a reliable go-to for movie producers in the first half of the 20th Century. RKO Radio Pictures obtained the rights in 1929 and remade the film three times in little more than a decade, first as a 1929 early talkie starring Richard Dix and, slightly less than a decade later, as a more accomplished 1935 sound release featuring Gene Raymond as a mystery writer who accepts a $10,000 bet to write his latest book in twenty-four hours while holed up through a bleak midwinter's night at the mountaintop Baldpate Inn. (Cue parade of strangers through the establishment's darkened halls, each possessing what he or she believes to be the only key to Baldpate.) Seven Keys to Baldpate was photographed by Robert De Grasse, who applied his command of shadowplay to such later RKO offerings as the Val Lewton-produced The Leopard Man (1943) and The Body Snatcher (1945). The studio mounted the tale yet again after World War II and in 1983 British director Pete Walker retold the story as House of Long Shadows, featuring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Vincent Price.

By Richard Harland Smith

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