Plot: Lorinda (Cecil Cunningham) is an eccentric old woman worth a fortune, a fact which she rues at times, since she thinks her family is chomping at the bit to get their hands on her cash. But she has a plan of sorts, to gather her various relatives and give them some serious frights. Her brother John (Milton Parsons) is quite an odd duck and has just escaped from an insane asylum, so Lorinda uses his eerie presence to spook the greedy hangers-on. The plan seems to go well enough at first, as John does indeed bring some real unease to the group, but then a real killer infiltrates the house. Now that there is real danger and the evidence seems to point to John, will this twisted plan backfire and who is the real murderer?
Entertainment Value: I had a lot of fun with The Hidden Hand, an over the top, often hokey mystery in the old, dark house vein. The narrative is simple, but does what it needs to do and the movie is more about characters and their odd exchanges, rather than a complex plot. I can see how some might not appreciate the wild camp that unfolds, especially those in search of a more serious mystery yarn, but I had a total blast with this one. The movie runs at a brisk pace and clocks in under 70 minutes, so it never has time to wear out its welcome or even slow down much, given the volume of various nonsense going on. In other words, even when the humor (intentional or not) misses the mark, the film is never drawn out in the least, so a new chance to laugh or groan is always right around the corner. I love how over the top and outlandish The Hidden Hand can be, from ridiculous characters to hilariously silly physical comedy, it is just a constant source of oddball laughs. I doubt this kind of humor will land with all viewers, but if you appreciate old, dark house movies and don’t mind some wackiness, this one is recommended.
The cast here embraces the lunacy for the most part, so the performances are over the top, but a lot of fun to watch. Especially in some scenes where the performers seem to be vying for who can chew the most scenery and in The Hidden Hand, that happens on more than once occasion. The most memorable role has to be John, played with immense glee and mania by Milton Parsons. He really goes for it as the eerie, over the top maniac and this kind of ominous character would become old hat for him. Parsons has a beyond impressive resume loaded with colorful, quirky performances, but this has to rank as one of his most entertaining efforts. Another scene stealer in The Hidden Hand is Willie Best, who was often used as comic relief in movies, but here he is given more to work with than usual. As opposed to just mugging for the camera when his character was afraid, Best is involved in some more elaborate comic set pieces and he makes the most of the opportunities to shine. I haven’t seen all of Best’s work, but this is one of the best that I have been able to experience. The cast also includes Elisabeth Fraser, Julie Bishop, Craig Stevens, and Frank Wilcox.