Film: Friday the Thirteenth (1933)

September 4, 2013 | By

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Film: Very Good/ DVD Transfer:  n/a / DVD Extras:  n/a

Label: n/a/ Region:  n/a / Released: n/a

Genre: Drama

Synopsis: The lives of complete strangers are interwoven in this drama prior to a tragic bus crash.

Special Features:  n/a

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Review:

“You hear of an accident – There are victims – Strangers to one another – Supposing we could put back the clock and see how chance made these strangers share this appalling moment…..”

Utterly forgotten gem of various destinies tied to a pivotal bus crash where two of the riders do not survive. Like a good mystery, each stranger boards the bus, and the identities of the victims aren’t revealed until the end – a clever device that allows the writers and director Victor Saville to ratchet the tension as we become more engrossed by the very private sagas of the affected characters.

Stacked with a star-studded cast, Friday the Thirteenth is also superbly scripted, with a great mix of bawdiness, wit, irony, and pacing – perhaps not a surprise, since the credited writers include Sidney Gilliat (co-author of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes and Jamaica Inn), and making his screenwriting debut, Emlyn Williams (Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, and the classic play Night Must Fall).

(One line of dialogue spoken by a character is sure to be a head-turner: when a banker and his fiancée chat in a subway car, she voices her admiration of his hard working “like a n*gger”!)

The intercut stories include Millie, “the non-stop” variety girl (Jesse Matthews) who may or may not abandon her pedagogical suitor (Ralph Richardson, with hair!) for a job with her teasing burlesque hall boss; an investor (Edmund Gwenn) who may lose his shirt due to a hasty investment his dementia-steeped wife is told to process; a shipping clerk unaware his wife is plotting to abandon their marriage; a married milquetoast (Robertson Hare) who meets a shady lady in a dog park; a banker whose position and marriage may be ruined by a clever blackmailer (a suave Emlyn Williams); and a Caledonian Market barker (the inimitable Max Miller, who steals the film) suspected by the police of possessing a stolen brick-a-brac.

Although made on a tight budget – the bus crash is mostly fast shots and an optically rendered ‘smashed glass’ effect – there are some unique locations within the production, especially the Caledonian Market which is shot semi-documentary style as a mass of vendors blaze through the opened gates to stake out their market turf. There’s also a few qualities which make the film very much pre-Code – namely Matthews’ character, and some dancing shots that, while straight wide shots, are perhaps a little too appreciative of Matthews’ assets – and to a much lesser degree, a rather darkly humorous quip by a boy and his aunt in the film’s last scene.

Victor Saville directed Jesse Matthews in Evergreen (1934), and after moving to Hollywood, made The Green Years (1946), Green Dolphin Street (1947), Kim (1950), and The Silver Chalice (1954).

Sonnie Hale, who plays the bus conductor, had acted with Matthews (whom he later wed) in several films – Friday the Thirteenth (1933), Evergreen (1934) – and directed her in three films: Head Over Heels and Gangway (both 1937), and Sailing Along (1938).

Note: this title is available as a free download from Archive.org.

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© 2013 Mark R. Hasan

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External References:

IMDB

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