Cast & Crew
Irene von Helldorf celebrates her twenty-first birthday with her father Robert and her three suitors, Captain Walter Brink, Frank Faber and Thomas Brandt. At Tommy's urging, Robert reveals the dark past of the castle's guest room, also known as the Blue Room. Three people, including Robert's sister, his best friend and a detective, were mysteriously murdered in the room, each on a different night. As the door locks from within and there are no other entrances, the murderer remains unknown. In an effort to prove his courage and gain Irene's love, Tommy challenges the other suitors to stay in the room for one night. He takes the first night and by morning, has disappeared and is presumed dead, although Robert refuses to call the police. Irene then is attacked by a stranger in the Blue Room, but when she faints, she is found alone. At midnight, the butler, Paul, signals to someone with a flashlight from the castle. The next evening, Frank goes to sleep in the room as agreed. He defiantly plays the piano, but at one in the morning, a shot rings out and the piano suddenly stops. He is found dead slumped over the piano, with his unfired gun at his side. After the butler calls the police, Commissioner Forster arrives and interrogates everyone. Forster suspects Robert because of his suspicious behavior, and Robert reveals that the stranger who "attacked" Irene is actually his brother and Irene's father, who had disappeared years earlier but has returned because he was destitute. This explained, Walter and Forster arrange a set-up to capture the murderer. Walter spends the night in the room, but at one in the morning, a shot rings out. The bullet hits a dummy of Walter, and he sees an arm holding a gun retreating from a secret panel in the wall. Walter chases the suspect while Forster follows. They are led into passageways underneath the castle, and finally capture the murderer, Tommy, who arranged the entire ruse to get rid of the competition for Irene's love. Although Tommy is arrested, the earlier murders remain unexplained.
Anders Van Haden
Carl Laemmle Jr.
Secret of the Blue Room
How could such a tantalizing tale remain untold? Based on the German film Geheimnis des blauen Zimmers (1932), written by Erich Philippi and directed by German émigré Kurt Neumann, Secret of the Blue Room (1933) features mysterious murders, secret passages, suspicious characters and a curse that is revived when a young student challenges his rivals for the hand of Irene von Helldorf (Gloria Stuart). She's the beautiful young daughter of Robert von Helldorf (Lionel Atwill), who brings her three suitors to his lavish manor to celebrate her 21st birthday party. The gaiety of the evening gives way to the ominous atmosphere of howling winds and disappearing guests after Thomas (William Janney) challenges his rivals to spend a night in a cursed room. Paul Lukas co-stars as Captain Walter Brink, Irene's eldest suitor, and Edward Arnold appears as the police commissioner investigating the mystery as the body count begins again.
Horror movies exploded in the 1930s thanks to the Universal hits Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy (1932), and Lionel Atwill, a Broadway matinee idol of the 1920s whose continental bearing and suave manner made him a natural for the movies, was making a name for himself in the genre with Doctor X (1932), Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and Murders in the Zoo (1933). Secret of the Blue Room was Atwill's first film for Universal, the reigning house of horror in Hollywood, but in this case, audiences were served up an old dark house thriller. Fittingly enough, the film, set almost entirely within the walls of the grand old mansion, was in part shot on sets from James Whale's The Old Dark House (1932), which coincidentally co-starred Stuart. According to the actress, Secret of the Blue Room recycled exterior shots from the original UFA production Geheimnis des blauen Zimmers, which adds to the expressionist atmosphere of the film.
Best known to contemporary audiences for her Oscar-nominated turn as the elderly Rose in James Cameron's Oscar-winning blockbuster Titanic (1997), Stuart was a busy young actress in the 1930s appearing in as many as eight films a year, most notably in Air Mail (1932) and The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936) for John Ford and The Invisible Man (1933) for Whale. She retired in the 1940s and remained off-screen for 30 years, pursuing a career as an artist, before returning to small roles on television in the 1970s. Within this comeback came Titanic and a sudden revival of interest in her earlier career. In her 1999 autobiography, she recalled working with her costar Atwill on Secret of the Blue Room: "Lionel was really darling! He was crazy about me," she wrote, which might explain the lingering kisses he gives her in the film, which seem more than a paternal peck.
The elegant, Hungarian-born Paul Lukas came to Hollywood from a successful stage and film career in Europe and made a successful transition from silent to sound movies. Often cast as villains and Nazis, he also applied his continental sophistication to romantic roles and won an Oscar as an anti-Nazi activist in Watch on the Rhine (1943). Secret of the Blue Room allows him to play a romantic interest and murder suspect all at once.
Director Kurt Neumann, who came to Hollywood in the early days of sound to direct Hollywood versions of German language films, graduated to B-movies, programmers and other low-budget efforts but never quite broke out. He became something of a specialist in science fiction films and is remembered for such cult films as early spaceflight drama Rocketship X-M (1950), the giant robot thriller Kronos (1957) and the original The Fly (1958). He died in 1958, just a few weeks after the release of The Fly at the age of 50.
By Sean Axmaker
Hollywood's Maddest Doctors: Lionel Atwill, Colin Clive, George Zucco, Gregory Mank. Midnight Marquee Press, 1998.
The Very Witching Time of Night, Gregory William Mank. McFarland and Company, 2016.
Lionel Atwill: The Exquisite Villain, Neil Pettigrew. BearManor Media, 2018.
I Just Kept Hoping, Gloria Stuart. Little, Brown and Company, 1999.
AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Secret of the Blue Room
A Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Lillian Bond was cast in this film, but was replaced by Muriel Kirkland. Universal's 1938 film The Missing Guest is based on the same source, as is their 1944 film Murder in the Blue Room, directed by Leslie Goodwins and starring Anne Gwynne and Donald Cook.