SECRET OF THE CHATEAU (1934, d. Richard Thorpe)
If you stumbled upon SECRET OF THE CHATEAU in a 10-disc, 50-movie box set of murder-mysteries of the 1930s for $15 at a department store, you'd probably find it to be a pleasing way to spend 66 minutes on a Saturday night with the TV on and the lights off. But as a Uni horror movie, it's an irritatingly exasperating disappointment-- a quick Google of SECRET OF THE CHATEAU yields records of its appearance on a number of TV horror/sci-fi movie showcases in the 1970s (like Sir Graves Ghastly, Son of Svengoolie, and the Fearmonger) so it definitely made the rounds as a horror movie. According to IMDb, the professional liars publicity people at Universal promoted it with lines like "Shadows Come to Life! Traps Snare Women! Trunks Swallow Men! Bells Toll Out Death!," and it was packaged for TV syndication in "Shock!", so it has picked up horror movie momentum over the decades, but don't believe the hype.
The most "horror movie" thing about SECRET OF THE CHATEAU (and there is no secret about the chateau, by the way, other than it has no electricity and one bathroom for 26 bedrooms) is the threat of the infamous murderer/rare-book thief known only as "Prahec." For at least ten years, Prahec has been cutting throats to obtain rare books, and this time around she or he has set his sights on a previously undiscovered Gutenberg Bible from the mid-1400s (there's only twenty or so complete Gutenberg Bibles today) whose value is set at a million francs. The Bible is stashed at a chateau outside of Paris, and their are a couple of heirs vying for it. A charming ex-con book thief named Julie Verlaine (Claire Dodd) weasels her way into the chateau as the executor of the estate has assembled a small group of interested (but not at all interesting) persons.
Pursuing Prahec is the Sûreté inspector Marotte (Ferdinand Gottschalk); he had previously arrested Julie and he turns up at the chateau when bodies begin piling up. Marotte gets a morbid thrill from the crimes ("What a beautiful murder!" he says at one crime scene) and he likes to brag about himself in the third person singular, but his ratiocination skills aren't much in evidence --- he keeps announcing to the assembled guests "Prahec is here in this chateau!" and "Prahec is here at this breakfast table!" and "Prahec is here in this drawing room!", but there's none of the Poirot-style walk-through of the process of his little grey cells to explain how he arrived at his conclusion. In fact, he's surprised when Prahec is revealed, but the audience certainly isn't-- the fact that Prahec has been slitting throats and stealing rare books for ten years eliminates more than half of Marotte's suspects at the chateau because they would've been 12 or 14 years old at the time of Prahec's first heist. Marotte also narrowly avoids getting himself killed when he's trapped by Prahec, and only dumb luck sees him survive to tie up all the loose threads.
I wish that the chateau was given more of the "old dark house" treatment for this film (especially with the film's title), but that ain't happening. The sets are mostly unremarkable, the lighting and camera work flat (although it's tough to tell with my fourth- or fifth-generation VHS copy lifted from a 16mm print), and the acting is passable (Claire Dodd is good, though). For completists only.