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Arthur Shields intimidates Jacqueline White in 1947.


Given that the studio retained the rights to the property, it’s a mystery RKO didn’t refurbish it as a vehicle for an in-house comic leading man during the revival of its genre inaugurated by the Para- mount remake of THE CAT AND THE CANARY in 1939 with Bob Hope. There were many follow-ups and imitations, drawing on Broadway perennials (THE GORILLA, THE GHOST BREAKERS) or cob- bling together something with secret passages (added to Baldpate in the 1935 film) and a hooded fiend (HOLD THAT GHOST, ONE BODY TOO MANY, WHISTLING IN THE DARK). Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, George Sanders or Robert Montgom- ery, all under contract to RKO, could easily have played Billy Magee, with character players from Val Lewton’s unit filling out the rest of the cast. How- ever, the studio left it until 1947, very late in the day, to mount their final SEVEN KEYS TO BALD- PATE, directed by B handyman Lew Landers (THE RAVEN, THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU, THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE). Lee Loeb (ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE


MUMMY) essentially retypes the Veiller-Smith script, with the insured diamonds macguffin, the secret passages and the curtailed, non-twist ending car- ried over—even the piccolo player gets another work- out. Loeb probably could have done the job inside 24 hours. Among the angles he adds is a running joke about the title: previous versions are cavalier about who precisely has which of the seven keys


(more than seven folk effect entry or escape and those who use the windows don’t need keys) but here they are ticked off as Magee keeps retyping his title, which is originally A KEY TO BALDPATE and rises from TWO KEYS TO BALDPATE to SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE by the fade-out. Though Philip Terry (THE MONSTER AND THE


GIRL) plays the rechristened Kenneth Magee with a bowtied Fred MacMurray sort of weediness, Landers goes even further than Hamilton and Killy in turn- ing farce into near-horror. Connie (Margaret Lindsay), the equivalent of Myra Thornhill, is shot for real this time. Landers and Loeb add to the body count as Cargan (Eduardo Ciannelli), who com- bines the crooked mayor/mob boss with the mock- sinister caretaker of earlier versions, casually murders an accomplice to establish his venomous nastiness. Arthur Shields (DAUGHTER OF DR. JEKYLL) is less comical than Eric Blore as the bogus professor/real dick, and Jimmy Conlin (THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY) is a less eccentric hermit. This Mary Jordan (Jacqueline White) has to chivvy the less manly Magee into heroism in a way that Cohan (or Rich- ard Dix) would have scorned; Terry does Bob Hope- Jack Benny scared-by-the-scowling-man spit takes as Ciannelli leers, whereas previous Magees would have refused to take a stone killer seriously. Jason Robards, Sr. (ISLE OF THE DEAD), a Lewton regu- lar, does find a place at the inn; Pierre Watkin (Perry White in the 1950 serial ATOM MAN VS.


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