Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers (1913)

Author Billy Magee, writer of light fiction, wants to write a great novel of literary quality. His plan is to spend the winter at the empty Baldpate Inn, a mountain resort closed for the season, and to which he has the one and only key. But before the first night is out, a steady stream of unexpected visitors begins to fill the hotel—each with a story—why they came to the Inn, how they obtained their key, and why they want to get into the safe. Before the week is out, there will be bribery, blackmail, and gunfire. Will that great tome ever get written?

The mystery of what’s in that safe is Bigger’s excuse for writing a mystery with plenty of action, a little romance, and lots of humor. There’s a large cast of characters who range from clever to eccentric, including a woman hating hermit, a political “boss” on the wrong side of the law, a professor hiding from reporters, and a haberdasher hiding from heartbreak just to name a few. There’s also a lot of very intriguing conversations filed with witty repartee. 

Now the but. But, it went on for far too long. The solution comes about three-quarters through and the remainder of the book is merely used to tie up loose ends. 

So, a mystery mostly done for the laughs, but still fun and entertaining.

My Judgment  – 3.5/5

Now Playing…Seven Keys to Baldpate (1929), (1935), and (1947)

I originally decided to read Keys in response to a discussion with Neeru @ A Hot Cup of Pleasure Again in which I mentioned, that while I’d never read the book, I happen to have a DVD of three of the film versions of Baldpate. Needing some entertainment, I decided to them again let Neeru know which I enjoyed the most.

The 1929 RKO production stars Richard Dix, and is, as I understand, probably the closest in replicating the stage version (written by George M. Cohan). It is very much still in the mode of a silent movie. The acting is enthusiastic and energetic, with much use of deliberate gesturing and facial expressions. There is quite a bit of snappy dialogue, which the cast delivers very well. Also, it is entertaining to watch the actors, as towards the end, they seem to forget they are doing a talkie and begin gesturing beyond belief. 

The 1935 production, also by RKO, stars Gene Raymond and Margaret Callahan. The plot is rather more simplified in this version, and much of the action from the novel is missing, which results in an ending fall rather flat. Raymond and Callahan do well with what they’re given, treading a fine line between the comedy and burlesque. The highlight though is Harry Travers. His portrayal of the hermit (and avowed misogynist) is delightful! 

The 1947 production, again by RKO, stars Phillip Terry (never heard of him!). Follows the skeleton of the book/play, but evolves into something a bit darker. The role of Baldpate’s caretaker is expanded in this version, making him the head of a criminal gang. There is less emphasis placed on the comedic aspects and more on the criminal. It was as if the producers were trying to mold the story to fit the Noir genre movies of that time. There is none of the snappy dialogue found in the previous versions, and the acting is fairly bland. In all, this version is much weaker than both the 1929 and 1935 versions.

So…of the movies, 1929 and 1935 are definitely much better than 1947. And I’d love to mash those two versions, taking the best from each, to make one great movie. But that being impossible I’d have to say that they are fairly equal and very entertaining.

But if I might make a recommendation—listen to Jack Benny’s version: Lux Radio Theater Seven Keys to Baldpate (September 26, 1938) which can be found at @ YouTube or @ Old Time Radio. It’s done purely for laughs and is fabulous!

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2013 – Scattergories: #6 Yankee Doodle Dandy – a book set in the US

Calendar of Crime – December #3 Primary action takes place in this month

One thought on “Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers (1913)

  1. Wow Laurie! This is great. I love the book though the heroine leaves a little to be desired. And your write-up on the movies is very enticing. I want to see the first two versions with all the gesturing (real comedy that must have been) and the good comic turn by the misogynist. Thanks for this.

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