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professor (Eric Blore, at that time a comic relief regular in RKO’s musicals) is now a fussy, eccen- tric who turns out to be an insurance investigator. The macguffin wallet full of cash is to be paid over to reclaim diamonds after the unscrupulous owner


has already collected the insurance money on their theft. Most radically, this script drops the epilogue double twist and reverts to something close to the ending of the novel: Magee doesn’t win his bet but does get the girl (Margaret Callahan). This radical alteration suggests that, between 1929 and 1935, SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE had fallen out of favor as a theater staple. If its most memorable angle could be casually dropped from a film version, the era of such endings must have been fading. It could have been that what was once a surprise was now old hat: around the same time, Tod Browning’s MARK OF THE VAMPIRE pulled its own antiquated reversal and the it’s-all-a-dream modification of SH! THE OCTOPUS (1937) is clearly influenced by Cohan’s double whammy finish.


Of all the versions, this is the one which makes the most of the hermit, Lem Peters (IT’S A WON- DERFUL LIFE’s Henry Travers), an unshaven woman-hater with a permanent earflap-hat. Still bitter because his wife ran off with a piccolo player (in a bit of innuendo, the musician said he was a saxophone player but turned out to be less en- dowed), Peters is intent on stealing Magee’s type- writer so he can finish his book on the perfidy of women (“I’ll fry ’em!”). When the shady Myra (DES- TINATION MOON’s Erin O’Brien-Moore) is seem- ingly shot dead (she’s just pretending), Peters snarls “Good—one less woman in the world!” This also has room for familiar character players Grant Mitchell (ARSENIC AND OLD LACE), Emma Dunn (SON OF FRANKENSTEIN), Walter Beresford (DOCTOR X), Moroni Olsen (COBRA WOMAN), Murray Alper (LOST CONTINENT) and Walter Brennan (as the Station Agent).


Original 1947 insert poster. 42


Only 4m shorter than the 1929 film, it feels much more like a B product—happy to be the kind of potboiler Magee is supposed to have made his for- tune with, breezily shrugging off even the joke sig- nificance to which earlier versions aspired. The directors keep it moving and present the action with more fluidity than Barker, though restaging farce as a straight-ish thriller makes for some odd mo- ments: Myra nags her gunsel boyfriend into shoot- ing her in a rising crescendo of hysteria that’s quite effective, with the killer devastated after the fact, but this is blithely taken back when she shows up alive and says she was counting on him being a poor shot. Cinematographer Robert de Grasse (THE LEOPARD MAN, THE BODY SNATCHER) makes more of the mysterioso look, shadowing the sets and employing high angles to look down from the balcony at double-dealing in the dark or out through frosted windows at figures slipping through snowy woodland.


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