For, Nov. 7, 2014

Universal's Vault Series of manufacture-on-demand DVDs continues to sneak in titles that have not been on VHS — or any other home-video format — the latest being the "Old Dark House"-themed "Secret of the Blue Room" (1933). In fact, it was filmed on the same sets built for James Whale's superior "The Old Dark House," from the previous year.

But that doesn't mean this one isn't worthwhile.

Based on a 1932 German film, "Secret of the Blue Room" gives top billing to Lionel Atwill, who is fine as, more or less, the "hero" of the piece (sporting a thick Hungarian accent that makes him sound like Bela Lugosi).

On this dark and stormy night his daughter (Gloria Stuart) is celebrating her 21st birthday and three suitors (Paul Lukas, Onslow Stevens, William Janney) are in attendance.


Soon a challenge is issued to prove their worth — each will spend the night in the where Stuart's mother died years before, a room that has remained locked after a couple of subsequent tragedies occurred there. Suffice it to say that secret passageways and mysterious goings-on follow as the melodrama's mystery unfolds.

The cast is good, especially Stuart, and it's nice to see Lukas in an early role. But the film really comes to life about halfway through the film with the arrival of the always-vibrant Edward Arnold.

"Secret of the Blue Room" is the fourth and final Universal "horror" film to use "Swan Lake" over the credits, after "Dracula," "Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Mummy."


Like those films, the atmosphere here is boosted by the lack of background music — a lesson in the power of silence in movies that modern filmmakers should note.

And "Secret of the Blue Room" was successful enough that Universal remade it twice over the next decade, as "The Missing Guest" in 1938 and "Murder in the Blue Room" in 1944.