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The Hidden Hand

The Hidden Hand(1942)

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The Hidden Hand (1942)

Rufus King's three-act mystery Invitation to a Murder opened and closed in short order on Broadway in the summer of 1934 and would be little remembered today had it not provided a jobbing New York actor named Humphrey Bogart with a few weeks' work while pointing him six months later to the role of Duke Mantee in Robert Sherwood's The Petrified Forest and a subsequent long-term contract with Warner Bros. When Warners finally made a film version of the King play, liberally adapted and its title changed to The Hidden Hand, Bogart was one of the studio's biggest stars and well beyond the league of this old dark house comedy. Clearly inspired by the example of John Willard's The Cat and the Canary (a 1922 stage play adapted for films four times before 1940 and revived on Broadway in 1937), The Hidden Hand folds an escaped lunatic (bug-eyed Milton Parsons) into the stormy night thriller about a clutch of greedy heirs called to their ancestral manse for the dispensation of their matriarch's last will and testament. Though the concept of a long-sequestered madman working his way home anticipates John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) by thirty-odd years, The Hidden Hand is played for laughs, with sliding panels and trap doors exposing or disposing of the more unsavory family members and Willie Best doing his trademark shtick as a frightened manservant. The film was shot by cinematographer Henry Sharp, better known for lensing the silent classic The Crowd (1928), the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup (1933), and Fritz Lang's moody wartime noir Ministry of Fear (1944).

By Richard Harland Smith

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