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Film / The Phantom of Crestwood

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The Phantom of Crestwood is a 1932 American pre-Code murder mystery film released by RKO Radio Pictures, directed by J. Walter Ruben, and starring Ricardo Cortez, Karen Morley, Richard "Skeets" Gallagher, Anita Louise, H. B. Warner, and Pauline Frederick.

The film was based on a radio serial, which was heard on NBC Radio's Hollywood on the Air for six weeks from August 26 through September 30, 1932, and a contest was held where listeners sent in suggestions for the film's ending.

Jenny Wren coerces banker Priam Andes to have a dinner party at his shorefront estate Crestwood, and instructs him to invite three other men, each of whom she plans to extort money from. Jenny plans to retire to Europe after a life of involvement with wealthy and influential men. Also at the party, among others, are Jenny's sister Esther and her fiance, scion of the Andes' family. But death also attends and Jenny's plans are thwarted.

Tropes used in The Phantom of Crestwood include:

  • Amateur Sleuth: Dan Curtis is a criminal hired to retrieve some incriminating letters Jenny has in her possession. However, when Jenny turns up in dead in his arms, he decides he had better solve the case before the police arrive and pin the crime on him.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: The killer decides to fall off Lover's Leap, rather than face the shame and disgrace that a trial and execution would bring to the family.
  • Blackmail: Jenny Wren gathers four of her former paramours together to blackmail them into providing her with enough money to retire and move to Europe. The total sum she demands $450,000: approximately $7.8 million in today's money.
  • Closed Circle: A landslide takes out the only road to the ranch, meaning no one can enter or leave.
  • Cue the Sun: The film ends with the sun coming up and the police planes arriving as Esther and Frank kiss.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: As Dan Curtis breaks into the house, a mortally wounded Jenny Wren stumbles down the stairs and collapses in his arms; gasping out the words "The face!" before dying.
  • Disney Villain Death: The killer jumps to their death from Lovers' Leap rather than face capture and certain disgrace.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The events unfold in less than 24 hours. It starts at about midday and ends at about 7 the following morning.
  • Female Misogynist: Aunt Faith, who believes that a woman's sole purpose is to bear healthy sons for her husband and keep his family name alive.
  • Foreshadowing: When the guests are playing darts in the games room, Mack walks in front of the dartboard and almost get hit by the steel-tipped dart. Looking at the dart, Mack comments "that could kill someone".
  • Heir Club for Men: Aunt Faith tells Esther that a woman's only function is to bear healthy sons, and that she intends to oppose Esther's marriage to Frank as she does not consider Esther's bloodline pure enough to ensure this.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Although it is never explicitly stated, this is Jenny Wren's occupation.
  • Lights Off, Somebody Dies: The killer causes a fuse to blow, plunging the sitting room into darkness. While the lights are off, they attempt to stab Esther with a dart. However, in the dark, they miss her neck and stab her in the shoulder.
  • Lotsa People Try to Dun It: Vayne was actually attempting to murder Jenny Wren when the real killer beat him to it.
  • Murder by Mistake: The killer was actually intending to murder Esther Wren, not her sister Jenny. Jenny was dressed identically to Esther, and backed out of her room, so the killer could not see her face.
  • Pretty in Mink: Jenny Wren—The Vamp—spends the early part of the film in an elaborate fur wrap as she arranges her blackmail scheme.
  • Secret Underground Passage: Frank makes a throwaway remark about the house being riddled with secret passages: a relic of the days when his ancestors had to worry about revolutions. Dan and Pete later discover a secret passage running from the cliff to the cellar, and a second passage plays a vital role in the killer's final plan.
  • Spurned into Suicide: When Jenny rejects his proposal of marriage, Allen Herrick throws himself off a cliff.
  • The Vamp: Jenny Wren is an extremely attractive young woman who earns her living through her 'relationships' with older, wealthy (and usually married) men.
  • The X of Y