Cast & Crew
At the police station's detective bureau, Captain Frank Flynn tells a young man eager for promotion how tough a real assignment can be by relating the story of the Arnold case. Inspector Trent is summoned to the Forest Lake home of Edward Arnold, whose grandfather was murdered long ago. Family superstition holds that the current head of the household will die in the same way. While the window is blown open by the stormy night, Arnold suddenly dies. Arnold's physician, Doctor David Marsh, claims that his death was due to heart failure, but Trent suspects poison, and an autopsy confirms his hunch. Trent learns that Arnold had returned to his ancestral home only a year earlier, after spending thirty-five years in China, where he met his secretary and friend, John Fry. Under questioning by Trent, Arnold's ward, Janet Holt, reveals that she and David are engaged but have not yet married because Arnold disliked David. When Arnold's lawyer, Howard B. Smith, sneaks into Arnold's room, Mavis Fry, John's wife, discovers him trying to steal a woman's diary from the safe. However, she then helps Smith to escape and pretends not to know the identity of the burglar. After receiving a note from Shanghai, Trent goes to Fry and tells him he knows that he is really Arnold. In an attempt to defeat the family superstition, Arnold exchanged places with Fry. While still pretending to be Fry, Arnold tells Janet that the bulk of the Arnold estate has been left to her, and objections to her marriage have been withdrawn. Later, Trent finds the university educated houseboy, Kono, in Arnold's room, but a knife thrown through the window kills Kono before he can talk. Mavis then goes to Smith and demands that he turn over the diary, but before she can get away, it is taken by a thug who is actually a policeman in disguise. Noticing spilled ink on Arnold's desk, Trent realizes that Fry was killed when he refilled a pen that had poison placed on its tip. Arnold confesses to killing Fry and Kono, and planning to kill Smith to prevent Fry from blackmailing Janet for her estate. Rather than expose her during a trial, Arnold commits suicide with a gun Trent has left in his desk. As Captain Flynn explains to his prospective recruiter, Arnold was in truth Janet's father, but he never married her mother, and had hoped to conceal her illegitimate birth.
Ralph Bellamy had begun his film career in 1931 with The Secret Six with Jean Harlow and Clark Gable. By 1933 Bellamy had been signed by Columbia and was playing the Inspector Trent role (not to be confused with Edmund Clerihew Bentley's Philip Trent) in four films. In the first of the series, Before Midnight, Trent must prove that someone in a spooky old house is the killer.
Before Midnight, directed by Lambert Hillyer with a screenplay by Robert Quigley, was a quick 63 minute programmer shot in a nearly record-breaking 12 days (October 5-17, 1933) and released a month later on November 18, 1933. It did not receive a favorable review from Mordaunt Hall in The New York Times, who wrote, "another one of those synthetic murder mysteries [...] is never exciting, not even when the attractive Janet Holt screams or when the grandfather clock stops. It's just a puerile puzzle in which a zealous attempt is made to deceive the audience." Bellamy himself came in for a drubbing from the critic. "Ralph Bellamy struggles with the part of Trent, but the dialogue often is unintentionally humorous."
Columbia didn't seem to take the review too seriously; they cast Bellamy in three other "Inspector Trent" films, One Is Guilty, Crime of Helen Stanley, and Girl in Danger, all in 1934. Bellamy shouldn't have minded Hall's review his career was on the upswing and by the end of the decade, he was firmly ensconced in Hollywood as "the guy who didn't get the girl". He would also play another detective, the more famous Ellery Queen for Columbia and on television from 1949-54, as Mike Barnett in Man Against Crime.
Director: Lambert Hillyer
Screenplay: Robert Quigley (screenplay and story)
Cinematography: John Stumar
Film Editing: Otto Meyer
Cast: Ralph Bellamy (Inspector Trent), June Collyer (Janet Holt), Claude Gillingwater (John Fry), Bradley Page (Howard B. Smith), Betty Blythe (Mavis Fry), Arthur Pierson (Dr. David Marsh).br> BW-63m.
by Lorraine Lobianco
Hall, Mordaunt "Before Midnight. The Screen: Witching Hour Murders" The New York Times 10 Jan 34
Pitts, Michael R. Famous Movie Detectives III
The Internet Movie Database
Before Midnight was the first film in Columbia's series of "Inspector Trent" mysteries, which starred Ralph Bellamy as "Trent." There were three other films in the series, One Is Guilty, The Crime of Helen Stanley and, finally, Girl in Danger. The last three films were all released in 1934 and all co-starred Shirley Grey.