The Sphinx (1933)
(Monogram) 64mins. BW. US.
Credits: Dir: Phil Rosen; Prod: Sid Rogell;
Ex.Prod: Trem Carr; Sc: Albert De Mond; Ph: Gilbert Warrenton; Ed: Doune Harrison; Sets:
E.R. Hickson; Mus: Abe Meyer.
Cast: Lionel Atwill,
Shelia Terry, Theodore Newton, Paul Hurst, Luis
Alberni, Robert Ellis, Lucien Prival, Paul Fix, Lilian Leighton, Hooper Atchley,
Wilfred Lucas, George Hayes.
Long thought to be a
"lost" film, THE SPHINX emerged to put another feather in the cap of Lionel Atwill's career. Atwill could always be
counted on to deliver a fine performance even if all those around him were second rate.
Although starring in top notch productions as Mystery
of the Wax Museum and Doctor X, Atwill
would also give equal intensity to his performances for the poverty-row studios who were
obviously keen to employ his services.
Jerome Breen, (Lionel Atwill), a prominent figure in his
community and a hard worker for charitable events, is seen leaving the scene of a crime in
which Garfield has been strangled to death. When the matter comes to court Bacigalupi, (Luis Alberni), a janitor, swears that Breen is
the same man who stopped to talk to him that night. Breen's defence lawyer promptly
destroys the Italian's testimony when he states that everyone knows Jerome Breen to be a
Daily Chronicle news reporter Jack Burton, (Theodore Newton), is extremely suspicious of
the circumstances surrounding the case even after Breen's acquittal and teams up with his
girlfriend Jerry Crane, (Shelia Terry), the paper's society editor when she is invited to
visit the Breen home to write about his charitable works. In the meantime
the newspaper puts up a $5000 reward for information leading to Garfield's murderer and
Jack is contacted by a man who is mysteriously killed before he can arrange an appointment
to meet him. The man's mother also identifies Breen as her son's killer and insists that
she heard him speak.
Certain of their facts, Jack
and police inspector Riley charge in to Breen's home only to find that their suspect has a
flawless alibi when Breen's servant Jenks states that his employer was home all night
resting due to symptoms of the flu. When Breen fails to react to a gunshot, Riley
approaches Breen's piano and notices that Breen has become quite agitated, however, before
Riley can voice his suspicions, he is also found strangled to death.
Jack is convinced that Breen is not a mute and despite warning his girl, Jerry insists on
returning to Breen's house to continue her article. During her visit Breen makes amorous
advances to Jerry, but when she hits the top note on the piano a secret room is revealed
and out walks another Jerome Breen. The police enter the house on cue and shoot the
"other" Breen before he kills Jerry.
Breen confesses that he has been using his twin brother, who is a deaf mute, to murder
other owners of a stock pool that he formed when they complained of his business methods
and threatened to inform the authorities. Gleefully smiling to the end, Breen evades
capture by taking poison.
Unfortunately it is the wordy
dialogue that impairs the film, but Lionel Atwill
conveys just the right measure of menace without any speech at all. The last reel provides
audiences with two Atwill's for the price of one with plenty of shocks without resorting
Director Phil Rosen (1888-1951) was considered a
prominent director during the Twenties, but later spent the remainder of his career making
B-features including Spooks Run Wild (1941), Return of the Ape Man (1944) and a handful of
Charlie Chan outings.
Photography for THE SPHINX was provided by Gilbert Warrenton who had previously
worked to great effect on Paul Leni's The Cat and the Canary (1927).
In 1941 Monogram served up more of the same with a non-horror remake titled THE
PHANTOM KILLER starring John Hamilton in the dual role.
As with many of these tightly
budgeted films of this period there is a lot of bad to be had with the good. Fortunately,
however, Atwill possessed the ability and on-screen presence to transcend the flimsily
constructed plots. If you enjoy Atwill, you'll enjoy THE SPHINX.
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Poster and lobby card stills
courtesy of Ronald V. Borst
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