The Phantom in the House (1929)
Article 5546 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Phil Rosen
Featuring Ricardo Cortez, Nancy Welford, Henry B. Walthall
What it is: Crime drama
An inventor takes the fall for a murder committed by his wife. When he is paroled fifteen years later, he discovers his wife has made a fortune from his patents and changed her identity so as to avoid the stigma of having been married to a convict. His plan to keep out of her life changes, though, when she decides to keep their daughter from marrying her true love, and he stays around to defend his daughter.
Of all the words in movie titles that conjure up visions of the fantastic, I’d have to pick “phantom” as the most deceptive; there are quite a few movies with that word in the title which contain little or no fantastic content, and this is one of them. Here the word is metaphorical; the convict’s decision to hang around makes him an unwanted “ghost” of the past. Here is another one I wouldn’t be covering if it weren’t on my suggestions list. On its own terms, however, it’s actually pretty decent, especially considering its creakiness as an early talkie. Walthall is the convict, and he should get top billing because he’s the main character, and he gives the best performance here. The thing I admire most is how concise the story is; the plot is pretty involved for a movie that runs only about 58 minutes. In fact, when the movie throws in a major plot turning point with only about three minutes left to go, I found myself wondering how in the world they were going to resolve it all with the limited time left. Still, this is one of those movies where the primary plot motivation throughout involves people trying to keep the truth from being known, and I always find such stories to be a little suspect.