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The Phantom of Crestwood

The Phantom of Crestwood(1932)

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The Phantom of Crestwood (1932)

Bartlett Cormack's screenplay for The Phantom of Crestwood (1932) was standard fare for its time, a crosspollination of Old Dark House thriller (in the familiar mode of Paul Leni's The Cat and the Canary) and drawing room mystery (typified by Frank Capra's The Donovan Affair). To give the production an edge over its competition, RKO Radio Pictures engineered an unusual publicity stunt that involved adapting Cormack's script as a radio serial, titled The Phantom, broadcast in six installments by NBC between August and October 1932. The question "Who Killed Jenny Wren?" was pitched nationwide to radio listeners and prospective ticket-buyers, who were invited to write their own ending to The Phantom of Crestwood, with the promise of cash rewards for correctly identifying the killer of the pretty blackmailer played by Karen Morley. Whether RKO paid off is another mystery entirely but the film earned a tidy profit after its October 14, 1932 rollout and remains decades after the fact a spry and not infrequently creepy whodunit. Top-billed Ricardo Cortez was fresh from playing Sam Spade in the first movie version of The Maltese Falcon in 1931 and appears here as one of Hollywood's most unusual sleuths: a hired gunman who must turn detective when locked in for the night with a house full of potential killers and a possible vengeful ghost.

By Richard Harland Smith

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