Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

“We cannot always do what we wish without harming others.”

An opium-addicted choirmaster (Claude Rains) is jealous of his nephew’s (David Manners) betrothal to a beautiful young girl (Heather Angel). When a stranger (Douglass Montgomery) comes to town and falls in love with Rosa (Angel), further rivalries ensue, and Edwin Drood (Manners) suddenly disappears.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Charles Dickens Films
  • Claude Rains Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Mysterious Disappearance

Charles Dickens never finished his final serialized novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, about a young man who goes missing and may or may not have been murdered. For this cinematic adaptation, Universal Studios came up with a feasible ending, one which ultimately turns …Drood into a spooky murder mystery. The first half of the film is fairly standard fare, as we’re introduced to the trio of “suitors” interested in sweet Rosa Bud: it’s clear that while she has some affection for her life-long fiancee (Manners), she’s genuinely smitten with the handsome new arrival in town (Montgomery):

… and finds the covetous stares of her fiance’s uncle (Rains, excellent as always) utterly creepy. It’s not until the second half of the film that the story’s more atmospheric horror elements come into play, as we question how and why Drood has disappeared, all while suspecting that Rains — given his shadowy dealings with a cemetery caretaker, and his addiction to opium — may play a critical part in the mystery.

While Mystery of Edwin Drood isn’t essential viewing for all film fanatics, it’s certainly recommended, particularly for Dickens fans — and Rains’ performance is, as always, well worth a look.

Note: Director Stuart Walker, who died of a heart attack in 1941, also helmed the Peary-listed titles The Eagle and the Hawk (1933) and Werewolf of London (1935).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Claude Rains as John Jasper
  • Zeffie Tilbury as “The Opium Woman”
  • Fine period detail
  • George Robinson’s atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended.


One thought on “Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935)

  1. Not a must – and in complete agreement here, so not much to add.

    There’s not really any genuine horror lurking about, but it’s an interesting-enough story, even if you may feel the occasional bland section. One of its more refreshing elements rests with the engaged couple at its center – it’s rare in film (esp. from this period) to see two people very perplexed about whether or not they should wed. (One of the film’s best scenes comes when they discover they would be so much better off – and better friends – if they changed their minds.)

    Zeffie Tilbury (lilting name!) is indeed wonderful as the opium lady – I don’t recall hearing her name before but I’m sure I’ve seen her here and there.

    Fans of Rains will, of course, want to check this out. I’ve never seen the actor turn in anything less than a very-present performance. Rains always seems to be enjoying the camera arena and always gives his all. This film is too short to allow him richer character development but it’s fascinating watching him begin to fine-tune his craft.

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