Whodunnit, and How Many Servings of Sauerbraten Did They Eat?



Dr. Emil Brandt goes to the police at the start of The Crime of the Century. He wants them to lock him up – for a murder he hasn’t committed yet! Brandt is a hypnotist who has devised the perfect crime. He will hypnotize one of his patients into stealing $100,000, bring Brandt the money, and then Brandy will kill the patient and dispose of the body. No one would be the wiser. Brandt is so sure of this crime’s success, that he confesses to the police out of fear he will actually go through with it! The cops assure him that since he’s spilled the beans, the crime isn’t perfect anymore. But when the $100,000 goes missing, and bodies start dropping, it seems that someone is convinced they can pull it off.

The Crime of the Century is a fun little whodunnit directed by William Beaudine. Beaudine is a name those versed in the annals of bad cinema will be aware of. His filmography includes such notorieties as Jesse James Meets Frankenstien’s Daughter, and Billy the Kid Meets Dracula. But Beaudine got his start in Hollywood as an actor in 1909, moved up to assisting D.W. Griffith on Birth of a Nation, and by 1915 he was directing his own films. He was a prolific director, cranking out dozens of pictures through the 20s and 30s for the major studios. 

Crime was made at Paramount. It stars Jean Hersholt as Dr. Brandt; Wynne Gibson as Brandt’s gold-digger bride, Freda; Gordon Wescott as Freda’s secret lover; Robert Elliot and David Landau as the cops investigating the crime; Francis Dee as Brandt’s daughter; and Stuart Erwin as the smart-mouthed crime reporter who smells a fantastic scoop. Torben Meyer is Brandt’s butler, and Bodil Rosing is his wife and Brandt’s cook. She feels it’s terribly important that the police know how much sauerbraten her husband ate. “Ven it comes to sauerbraten,” she tells her husband, “You are an absolute swine!”

One element of the film that surprised and delighted: at around the one hour mark, the film pauses. An announcer comes on screen.  Books and plays, the announcer tells us, give the audience time to think things over. Not so with movies. So, the movie will stop for one minute, to give the audience time to think about the mystery and see if they can come up with a solution. It’s a fun device (and one I’m glad other movies used very sparingly). I guessed wrong, by the way.

But that didn’t keep me from enjoying The Crime of the Century. It’s clever crime, nimble plotting, and colorful suspects make this a fun watch.  Kino Lorber’s new blu-ray comes with a new feature-length audio commentary by film historian Lee Gambin and Costume Historian Elissa Rose.