Watching 1939: Mystery of the White Room (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult.

Mystery-of-the-White-Room-19391939 film:
Mystery of the White Room (1939)

Release date:
March 17, 1939

Cast:
Bruce Cabot, Helen Mack, Joan Woodburry, Constance Worth, Tom Dugan, Mabel Todd, Thomas E. Jackson, Addison Richards, Roland Drew, Frank Reicher, Frank Puglia, Don Porter

Studio:
Universal Pictures

Director:
Otis Garrett

Plot:
During a surgery in a hospital, the lights shot off and when they are turned back on, a high profile physician is dead. Dr. Bob Clayton (Cabot) helps Sgt. Spencer (Jackson) unravel the case.

1939 Notes:
• Don Porter’s first film.
• By the numbers:
– Bruce Cabot was in six films released in 1939.
– Helen Mack was in three films released in 1939.
– Joan Woodbury was in two films released in 1939.
– Tom Dugan was in 17 films released in 1939.
– Thomas E. Jackson was in eight films released in 1939.
– Constance Worth was in one film released in 1939.
– Addison Richards was in 23 films released in 1939.
– Frank Puglia was in 16 films released in 1939.
– Frank Reicher was in 17 films released in 1939.

mystery of the white room

Frank Reicher and Tom Dugan

Other trivia:
• Based on the novel “Murder in the Surgery” by James G. Edwards, MD, published in 1935.
• “Mystery of the White Room” is a Crime Club mystery film. The Crime Club was an imprint of Doubleday publishing company, and in 1937, Universal Pictures made a deal with Crime Club. The studio selected some of their published novels to adapt into films, and “Mystery of the White Room” was one of these films.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
I didn’t expect to have so much fun watching this movie.
It was funny, exciting and the murderer was not obvious – I was convinced it was someone else the whole film.

Taking place in a hospital, younger doctors are vying for the same position and neither has a great relationship with the lead physician. When the murder takes place during a surgery, the police suspect that it was a doctor or nurse in the room. The only person who saw the murder was a custodian, who had acid thrown in his face, blinding him.

mystery of the white room2One interesting aspect is that organ donation is mentioned in this film, specifically a cornea transplant. While a patient wouldn’t be able to immediately be able to see following the surgery (like the film has), it’s still interesting that organ and tissue donation is part of the plot.

There are fun lines in it like one:
Older doctor: Be sure to turn out the lights
Nurse with young doctor: Now? Or when we leave?

Tom Dugan and Mabel Todd also bring comic relief. Bruce Cabot is always entertaining in these roles.

For a quick, 58-minute mystery, this was plain and simple a good time. And who doesn’t love a good murder mystery in October?

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