Opening Statements

A murder in a locked room and a rare stamp stolen!


Today I will be reviewing The Mandarin Mystery,a light comedy/detective mystery. The film is loosely based on a novel from the Ellery Queen detective series, at the time one of the best known fictional characters in the USA. The Mandarin referred to in the title is a very rare Chinese postage stamp worth at least $50,000, a not so small fortune in 1936.

The mandarin mystery elusive mandarin Robert Odierna

The elusive Mandarin

The film starts with a group of people discussing the before mentioned stamp while waiting for passengers leaving an ocean liner. Amateur sleuth and professional girl watcher, Ellery Queen, is waiting for a friend of the female persuasion to disembark. When he realizes she won’t be arriving, he throws the bouquet away. Naturally his pitch nails the pretty girl with the stamp, right in the face. While she’s annoyed at first, his charm campaign quickly wears her down.

The mandarin mystery guess shes not showing Robert Odierna

Guess I don’t need these.

The mandarin mystery Direct Hit Robert Odierna

Direct Hit!

The mandarin mystery all forgiven Robert Odierna

All Forgiven.

The before mentioned Mandarin decides to turn up missing about the same time a man turns up dead in a nearby room, coveniently locked from the inside.

The mandarin mystery theft impossible Robert Odierna

Theft, in my hotel. Impossible!

Locked room mysteries are still a mania among mystery writers. The fun for fans of this sub-genre, is figuring out how the writer created an “impossible” murder scenario, more howdunnit than whodunnit, if you will. This story has an interesting if slightly improbable solution.

Junior investigator Ellery Queen teams up with the stamp’s owner Josephine Temple, to solve the case and prove his sleuthing ability to his police detective father.

The film is a light and fluffy movie merengue, sleuthing and murder often take a back seat to the growing romance between Queen and Temple. Even a main character getting sapped on the back of the head is treated more as a joke.

The mandarin mystery numb not dumb Robert Odierna

 I said I’m numb, not dumb!

Another murder and a bunch of jokes later, the film finishes with the classic drawing room reveal of how the killer pulled off the locked room murder.

The mandarin mystery sure about this Robert Odierna

You sure about this, boss?

The look and feel of the whole thing is a genre popular in the 1930s, characterized by light humor and snappy dialog. You never really feel that the protagonists are in any real danger, even when facing people that have killed already.

The film is fairly well edited and moves along at a good clip, running about 53 minutes long. Typical for a B picture of the era.

Visually, this is a typical early to mid-30s talkie, very set bound. The film is brightly lit and generally cheery looking, about 3/4 of it occurring in various rooms of a single hotel. Sound and visual quality on my review copy was pretty good. A little bit of fading in the print and some distortion and wah from the early recording systems used.

Verdict 2.5 Gavels out of 5

Fairly entertaining light comedy caper. Not really my type of poison personally, but worth a look if you’re a fan of the era and type of comedy. Fans of the P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves and Wooster series will appreciate the similar style.


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