Tomorrow at Seven (1933)
“The ace of spades reveals your death!”
Director: Ray Enright
Cast: Chester Morris, Vivienne Osborne, Frank McHugh
Synopsis: People in an old, dark mansion are menaced by a maniac called “The Black Ace.”
Tomorrow at Seven is one of those vintage murder mysteries that appear impossibly dated today, with a silly plot and annoying comic relief, but they were hugely popular as second-string entertainment supporting a programme’s main feature, and provided revenue for a small army of tiny, impoverished production companies such as Jefferson Pictures Corporation. It opens quite arrestingly, with a pompous old coot showing off his new painting to an unseen visitor who promptly kills his host before stealing the painting. The culprit leaves a card with a black ace printed on it on his victim’s chest, thus earning himself the nickname of — what else? — The Black Ace.
The murder attracts the attention of pulp novel writer Neil Broderick (the lantern-jawed Chester Morris) who, while on a train journey to meet Thornton Drake (Henry Stephenson — The Prince and the Pauper), the country’s foremost expert on the Black ace murders, coincidentally meets and falls for Martha Winters (Vivienne Osborne), the old boy’s personal secretary. Martha is also the daughter of Austin Winters (Grant Mitchell), Drake’s gentleman’s gentleman, who inadvertently discovers that Drake is to become the Black Ace’s next victim by completing a jigsaw on which his boss had been working. Somehow, the killer has replaced the real remaining jigsaw pieces to be filled in with counterfeit ones which make up the shape of — what else? — a black ace.
Unfortunately, this turn of events provides the cue for the obligatory comic relief in the form of Clancy (Frank McHugh — The Front Page, The Roaring Twenties) and Dugan (Allen Jenkins — I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, Destry Rides Again), two hapless detectives who are quick to accuse Broderick on the flimsiest of evidence, and who accompany everybody to Drake’s Louisiana plantation in an attempt to escape the deadly reach of the Black Ace, who has indicated that he attempts to strike at seven o’clock the evening after his jigsaw logo is discovered. However, everyone is caught out when the lights on the plane transporting them all to Louisiana fail and Winters is stabbed to death in the ensuing confusion. The warning had evidently been meant for him, and not Drake as everyone had assumed. That obviously means that the killer can only be one of those who were on the plane when Winters was murdered…
Tomorrow at Seven provides mild entertainment, and at just over an hour long is brief enough not to outlast its welcome. The script, by veteran screenwriter Ralph Spence, is better than many you find in this level of movie, meaning that the ‘comic’ antics of Clancy and Dugan aren’t quite as irritating as usual — particularly given that Frank McHugh and Allen Jenkins would go on to become a couple of vintage Hollywood’s more accomplished and recognisable character actors — and the constant wisecracks delivered by Broderick are often quite snappy. The budget limitations are obvious from the small cast and modest sets, but Tomorrow at Seven provides reasonable entertainment for those whose expectations aren’t too high.
(Reviewed 14th February 2014)