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A man predicts his own death from an ancestral curse and winds up dead and Ralph Bellamy is the detective who has to solve the crime in the 1933 Columbia quasi-horror film Before Midnight, co-starring June Collyer, Claude Gillingwater, and former silent film star Betty Blythe.
Ralph Bellamy had begun his film career in 1931 with The Secret Six with Jean Harlow and Clark Gable. By 1933 Bellamy had been signed by Columbia and was playing the Inspector Trent role (not to be confused with Edmund Clerihew Bentley's Philip Trent) in four films. In the first of the series, Before Midnight, Trent must prove that someone in a spooky old house is the killer.
Before Midnight, directed by Lambert Hillyer with a screenplay by Robert Quigley, was a quick 63 minute programmer shot in a nearly record-breaking 12 days (October 5-17, 1933) and released a month later on November 18, 1933. It did not receive a favorable review from Mordaunt Hall in The New York Times, who wrote, "another one of those synthetic murder mysteries [...] is never exciting, not even when the attractive Janet Holt screams or when the grandfather clock stops. It's just a puerile puzzle in which a zealous attempt is made to deceive the audience." Bellamy himself came in for a drubbing from the critic. "Ralph Bellamy struggles with the part of Trent, but the dialogue often is unintentionally humorous."
Columbia didn't seem to take the review too seriously; they cast Bellamy in three other "Inspector Trent" films, One Is Guilty, Crime of Helen Stanley, and Girl in Danger, all in 1934. Bellamy shouldn't have minded Hall's review his career was on the upswing and by the end of the decade, he was firmly ensconced in Hollywood as "the guy who didn't get the girl". He would also play another detective, the more famous Ellery Queen for Columbia and on television from 1949-54, as Mike Barnett in Man Against Crime.
Director: Lambert Hillyer
Screenplay: Robert Quigley (screenplay and story)
Cinematography: John Stumar
Film Editing: Otto Meyer
Cast: Ralph Bellamy (Inspector Trent), June Collyer (Janet Holt), Claude Gillingwater (John Fry), Bradley Page (Howard B. Smith), Betty Blythe (Mavis Fry), Arthur Pierson (Dr. David Marsh).br>BW-63m.
by Lorraine Lobianco
Hall, Mordaunt "Before Midnight. The Screen: Witching Hour Murders" The New York Times 10 Jan 34
Pitts, Michael R. Famous Movie Detectives III
The Internet Movie Database