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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Movie: The Silk Express



The Silk Express
from a story by Houston Branch
1933


When I set out to watch The Silk Express I had no idea that it contained a locked room murder, but lo and behold, there it was. Which didn't count for much before it was all said and done though I can't really elaborate much without introducing a semi-spoiler.

It's actually more of a locked train car mystery, to be precise. The victim is knocked on the head and tossed into the car just before the train departs. It's carrying a valuable load of silk across the country and there are a pair of thugs on board to see that it doesn't make it or is significant delayed. Which all has to do with a group of mill owners banding together to import their own silk, thereby sidestepping the unscrupulous practices of a gang of textile importers.

Turns out the victim died about ten hours after the train departed, in a car that had since been sealed. Which leaves it up to railroad detective McDuff to sort out exactly what happened. Unfortunately, the good detective doesn’t appear to possess any real knack for crime solving. Another murder follows, or at least it appears to be a murder, though the doctor who's aboard is not completely clear as to how the victim died.

Which is about all that I can say without throwing spoilers into the mix. What I will say is that even though this was not a very "good" whodunit it was nicely paced with a few wacky plot points tossed in for good measure and a small assortment of reasonably interesting characters. Like the archaeologist who's on board with his daughter and the aforementioned doctor and who's suffering from a rare "Oriental sleeping sickness." If he falls asleep he'll apparently turn to stone (gradually become paralyzed, to be a little less purple with the prose) but I guess it beats having to contend with the likes of Freddy Krueger.

Overall I'd recommend this as a nifty bit of somewhat lightweight entertainment but not so much as a whodunit. Here's a contemporary review from the New York Times.

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