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On April 26, 1934, Paramount unveiled Henry Hathaway’s thriller The Witching Hour in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
One of the most beautifully photographed, most expertly produced and most deftly acted films of the season is Paramount’s The Witching Hour.
When you come right down to it, it’s a lot of hokum, but while you’re in the theatre your hands are clammy.
Using a fundamental principle of psychology as a peg upon which to hang its drama, the picture mounts to a firm seat on the theory of hypnotism and offers some rare and exquisite moments of suspense.
The title is peculiarly inappropriate — as is the scene that probably suggested it (which should be cut, by the way) — where the ghost of Sir Guy Standing’s old sweetheart wafts through the room and implores him to come out of his retirement and defend her grandson. The scene, while better done than most scenes of this type, weakens belief in the otherwise splendidly built-up story.
John Halliday, owner of an elaborate gambling house in Louisville, Ky., has, unknown to himself, the power of hypnotism. He accidentally hypnotizes Tom Brown, suitor for his daughter’s hand, the same night he tells a cheap grafter that “some day someone is going to come into your office with a gun in his hands and blow your brains out.” The next morning, after Brown has dressed to go downtown to meet his mother, he looks at the cat’s-eye ring he had been holding the night before when Halliday hypnotized him.
Immediately the power of Halliday’s thought takes possession of him, and he kills the grafter. The rest of the picture is the courtroom scene, wherein old Judge Prentiss (Sir Guy Standing) by a dramatic trick convinces the jury of the fact of hypnotism.
The film is beautifully acted. Sir Guy Standing plays with complete sincerity and strength; John Halliday’s performance is flawless, and Tom Brown is surprisingly effective as the boy. Judith Allen as his fiancee and Olive Tell as his mother are both well cast. That splendid actor, William Frawley, does a lot with a small role; Richard Carle is excellent as usual, and Purnell Pratt makes the district attorney particularly disagreeable.
Henry Hathaway directed for suspense and got it. Anthony Veiller wrote the screen play based on the old Augustus Thomas play and Salsbury Field adapted. Ben Reynolds’ photography is a work of art, no less.
The costuming of the film might have been more definitely done. One is never quite sure whether it is laid in the present day or fifty years ago. The women’s clothes, and certain atmospheric touches — like the policemen in the old patrol wagon — indicate the past, while the men’s clothing seems quite modern.
You’ve got great acting and production values here. And the faults of the film can very easily be eliminated. — Staff review, originally published April 11, 1934.
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