Watching 1939: The House of Fear (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.

1939 film:
The House of Fear (1939)


Release date:
June 30, 1939

William Gargan, Irene Hervey, Dorothy Arnold, Alan Dinehart, Harvey Stephens, Harvey Stephens, Walter Woolf King, Robert Coote, Tom Dugan, Jan Duggan, Donald Douglas, Hobart Cavanaugh (uncredited), Milton Kibbee (uncredited), Emory Parnell (uncredited)

Universal Pictures

Joe May

After an actor drops dead on stage, his body disappears and police can’t uncover any clues. The once successful theater where he died is now a ghost town and people say the theater is haunted. After the theater is closed for some time, detective Arthur McHugh (Gargan) goes undercover posing as a producer buys the theater to solve the case.

1939 Notes:
• By the numbers:
– William Gargan was in eight films released in 1939.
– Irene Hervey was in five films released in 1939.
– Dorothy Arnold was in nine films released in 1939.
– Robert Coote was in five films released in 1939.
– Alan Dinehart was in nine films released in 1939.
– Harvey Stephens was in five films released in 1939.
– Walter Woolf King was in four films released in 1939.
– Jan Duggan was in five films released in 1939.
– El Brendel was in four films released in 1939.
– Emory Parnell was in 28 films released in 1939.

Other trivia:
• Remake of the film The Last Warning (1928)
• The original film and “The House of Fear” are based on the novel The Last Warning by Thomas F. Fallon.

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
Sometimes, you just never know what you are getting into when you start a 65-minute movie that you bought from someone on eBay, but “The House of Fear” (1939) ended up being an unexpectedly fun thriller. This is not to be confused by the 1945 Sherlock Holmes film of the same title.

The film starts in an interesting way – you think you are watching a radio broadcast, but it ends up being part of a play. And right there on stage within the first 10 minutes of the film, the lead actor dies mysteriously. Then his body disappears when the police arrive. The theater shuts down and newspaper headlines flash on the screen telling that the police can’t find any leads about the case and the theater is now supposedly haunted by the ghost of the actor who is killed. It takes a detective (played by William Gargan) to pose as a producer and bring all the original actors back on stage to solve the murder.

First of all, I’m a fan of William Gargan, so I will watch pretty much any more he’s in.

The film itself actually has some pretty creepy moments. For example, Gargan and another actor stay all night at the theater in the dark, waiting to see if a ghost or criminal will emerge. Just thinking of being in a dark theater late at night where someone was murdered is pretty eerie.

Potentially most terrifying about this film is seeing actor El Brendel’s name in the cast. However, his role is thankfully small.

While I was able to partially figure out who the murderer was, there were still some surprises left at the film.

While perhaps not entirely important in the scheme of 1939, “The House of Fear” (1939) was a welcome bit of fun for the Halloween season.

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