Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935) – reviewed by George

On the eve of her 18th birthday Miss Rosa Bud (Heather Angel) is loved by three men. One, Neville Landless (Douglass Montgomery) loves her with the hot blush of first love, for they have met this day. Two, John Jasper (Claude Rains), the choirmaster at the local cathedral, loves her obsessively, since he is far too old for her. And three, Edwin Drood (David Manners), Jasper’s nephew, loves her dutifully but without passion, since they have been promised to each other since early childhood by an arrangement between their parents, who are now all dead. Rosa lives at a school for girls and Edwin lives in the choirmaster’s rooms in the gatehouse, and they have been assumed to become married for so long that they are both tired of the idea. But no one knows this.
Neville and his sister Helena (Valerie Hobson) are newly arrived from Ceylon following the death of their stepfather, in whose charge they had lived since the death of their mother when they were only children. The stepfather was cruel and unjust, and Neville has grown up quite wild and easy to anger.
In this movie, the basic script has come (as far as I can remember) directly from the book. Jasper is an opium addict due to frustration over an unrequitable love, since the drug makes his ardor requitable, if only for a very short time. Rosa and Neville form a steadfast bond, but only Helena knows. Neville hates Edwin’s lazy attitude toward Rosa, and they quarrel, and Edwin decides to leave the field to Neville. As Edwin prepares to leave in secret, he disappears. Rosa has to wonder, is this his manner of leaving? Or is something desperately wrong? Jasper says that Neville knows more about the disappearance than he admits, and slowly begins to make him look guilty of murder. But without a body Mayor Sapsea (E.E. Clive) says his hands are tied.
Other important characters are the woman who runs the opium den (Zeffie Tilbury), the Reverend Mr. Crisparkle (Francis L. Sullivan) who is the main clergyman at the cathedral, Miss Twinkleton (Ethel Griffies) who runs the girls’ school, and Durdles, (Forrester Harvey) the gravedigger and cemetery grounds keeper. With this cast you already know the acting is amazing. The film was directed by Stuart Walker, and the Screenplay is by John L. Balderston and Gladys Unger.
The black and white cinematography by George Robinson is excellent, the sets are outstanding (art direction by Albert S. D’Agostino), and the opium dream that opens the film is very striking (special effects by John P. Fulton). This is a faithful rendering of the tale, and it uses the most accepted ending.
Thanks, Robb and Jen!

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