Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Dickens at MoMA: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
is dead—apparently. Unfortunately, his
creator, Charles Dickens, also died before he could reveal both the location of
young Drood’s body and the identity of his murderer. It has become a literary guessing game performed
on stage and screen, including the current Broadway revival and a BBC production
recently seen on Masterpiece Mystery. Somewhat underappreciated, Stuart Walker’s 1935
adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood
kicks off MoMA’s Dickens on Film series
tomorrow, in celebration of the Dickens centennial.
Jasper seems to be a mild mannered provincial choirmaster, but he knows his way
about London’s opium dens. He is a profoundly
flawed man, but his affection for his ward, Edwin (or Ned) Drood, is genuine. He also harbors a darkly consuming love for
Rosa Bud, the young man’s intended. It
was a Dickensian engagement negotiated by their late fathers and subsequently
nurtured by their guardians, Jasper and solicitor Hiram Grewgious. In addition to Jasper’s unwelcome attentions,
fiery new arrival Neville Landless also falls for Bud, hard. Pretty much the only one not hopelessly
smitten with her is Drood, which leads to all kinds of hard feelings. Then one dark and stormy night, Drood
disappears under mysterious circumstances.
in the village naturally falls on Landless, the aptly named Christian orphan
from Ceylon, but Dickens left plenty of evidence to incriminate Jasper with
readers. Of course, the whole question
of habeas corpus is key to mystery.
Walker and a platoon of screenwriters provide a reasonably workable answer
to that riddle.
it is a bit surprising Walker and company do not play up the gothic elements
more, especially considering the 1935 Drood
came out during the golden age of Universal horror movies and features
several of their franchise stars, including first and foremost Claude Rains,
the original Invisible Man and Larry Talbot’s father in the first Wolfman.
Exceeding expectations, David Manners (the bland protagonist of Dracula and The Mummy) excels at the entitled attitude and drunken misbehavior of
the ill-fated title character, while E.E. Clive (the Burgomaster in Bride of Frankenstein) plays another
ineffectual local authority as Mayor Sapsea.
there are many perfectly nice supporting turns in the 1935 Drood, it is unquestionably Rains’ picture. His Jasper is definitely a brooder in the Invisible Man tradition rather than the
continental smoothy of Casablanca. Watching him leer at Bud and drug himself into
oblivion is quite good fun. Recommended
for fans of Dickens and Rains, The
Mystery of Edwin Drood screens tomorrow (12/20) and Saturday (12/22) as part
of Dickens on Film at MoMA.
Labels: Charles Dickens, Claude Rains