User Reviews (12)

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  • jcog11 January 2007
    Back in the mid-1990s, while researching, along with Greg Mank, the biography of Dwight Frye, it was believed that "By Whose Hand?" was a "lost" early talkie. Therefore, we were not able to screen it for the book. A few years later (approx. 1998), it was learned that the film, along with a number of other early Columbia titles, had been preserved but was unlikely to ever be released on DVD or shown on TV. That was until this morning, when TCM ran a beautiful print of "By Whose Hand?" The film is a breezy murder mystery (working title was "Murder Express") with Ben Lyon doing a fine job as the lead Jimmy Hawley, a crime reporter, who boards a train more to pursue the beautiful Barbara Weeks than to follow a lead that the escaped Killer Delmar (Nat Pendleton) might be on the train. There are many suspicious characters aboard the train, including Ethel Kenyon as a jewel thief, Kenneth Thomson as a womanizing jeweler, Helene Millard as a "grieving" widow, and the always enjoyable William V. Mong as a vengeful, bitter old man. Detective William Halligan has in his care (in cuffs) one Chick Lewis (Dwight Frye), who had squealed on his old buddy Delmar and is now being transported to prison near San Francisco. There are others on the train who somewhat spoil the mood - a goofy newlywed couple (Lorin Raker and Dolores Rey) and the usually good comic actor Tom Dugan, who somewhat overplays a drunk here and who becomes attached to Lyon. Oscar Smith plays a nervous porter with some good comedy moments.

    There are some plot twists and murders on the train which will not be revealed in case TCM airs this again. Suffice it to say Lyon and Weeks play off one another quite well. Their performances do not seem that dated for a 75 year old film. Dwight Frye is more subdued than usual and has a nice sympathetic moment with an actress playing his elderly mother prior to his boarding the train in an early sequence. Mong was beginning to become typecast as miserly old men, but here shows the skills of a veteran actor, even in a role without much dimension. Millard and Kenyon were good in their respective roles, but neither had much success in Hollywood. Barbara Weeks, however, is a fine actress who has never received her proper due from film historians. She gave up her film career (except for a few later appearances) while still in her twenties and was rumored to have died in 1954 (when she actually lived almost 50 years more - until 2003). Her grace, beauty, charm, and sense of humor all come across on screen and make one wonder why her career never really took off.

    "By Whose Hand?" is a film I have waited to see for many years and feared I'd never get the chance. Now that I have finally viewed it, I am pleased to say it met and even succeeded my expectations!
  • krorie14 January 2007
    This often neglected programmer is filled with suspense and mayhem aboard a fast-moving train and well worth a watch, even though the acting is often overwrought, a holdover from the silent film days when histrionics were sometimes necessary to compensate for the lack of sound. Being an early sound production, the dialog too is often stilted. But the crisp photography, at times reminding the viewer of a Hitchcock picture, and apt direction more than make up for the movie's shortcomings. Sometimes as exciting as today's action hits, especially during the runaway train sequence at the end, "By Whose Hand?" proves a winner all the way.

    Though Ben Lyon was a fine actor, he did much better as a second lead. He never had the charisma nor the looks to play top banana as he does in this film. The drunk played by Tom Dugan was probably a laugh riot to audiences in 1932 but by today's standards becomes a bit grating after a few minutes. Intended mainly for comic relief, the part should have been whittled down considerably. Otherwise, the casting is first rate with standout performances by the vivacious Barbara Weeks, the always delightful Dwight Frye, William V. Mong as a crotchety old man, and the versatile Nat Pendleton. The racial stereotyping that was rampant in Hollywood at the time is omnipresent, but if the viewer keeps an open mind this aspect is also tolerable.

    The plot involves a hotshot reporter, Jimmy (Lyon), who takes a train ride to scoop a story on Chick Lewis (Frye), the man who plea-bargained with the police and is therefore the target of an escaped killer, Delmar(Pendleton), who stabs his victims. And there are two steak knives missing from the kitchen! Jimmy accidentally meets Alice (Weeks) and falls madly in love with her (who wouldn't!). All the while the locomotive speeds full throttle toward San Francisco.
  • This film was shown on Turner Classic Movies in the early hours of the AM and I was very glad to have been able to view this nice Classic Film from 1932. The story is all centered on a train ride with a prisoner aboard the Steam Engine powered train and some very shady characters both men and women. A detective on the train loses his prisoner and everyone went crazy trying to locate him, they searched the Pullman car with its bunk bed arrangements with a drawn curtain over each bunk. Some of the passengers were lovers and some couples were newly-weds and they all had to get out of their beds. There is lots of comedy even though there is murder, funny cigarettes give out and a few jewel thieves. Ben Lyon, (Jimmy), Hell's Angels" played the role of a reporter along with Barbara Weeks (Alice),"One Man Justice" who gave a great supporting role. There seemed to be plenty of blonde women on this train, it was during the 30's and everyone wanted Jean Harlow in their pictures or someone who looked like her. Ben Lyon was the star of "Hell's Angels" produced and directed by Howard Hughes. If you can catch this film on TV, you will enjoy a Classic Great Film from the PAST.
  • A Little Spoiler - Every pre-code fan should catch this movie, "By Whose Hand?". It was a very entertaining and rare 65 minute classic movie that was shown on Turner Classic Movies. This movie is another example of pre-code greatness. Crime, Love, Betrayal, and Murder all takes place on a train ride. Slick and Smooth Ben Lyon plays Jimmy Hawley, a newspaper reporter who is always got his eye out for a story. He gets kissed accidentally by pretty Alice (Barbara Weeks) and because of that he follows her to California on a train where a big story evolves right before his eyes. The train ride has plenty of suspects with a shady past, a jewelry distributor (Kenneth Thomson), a gorgeous moll named Eileen (Ethel Kenyon), a criminal, a bitter man, and the wife of a criminal who's going to help her husband get even with the man who framed him who's on the train. The jewelry man is killed and the beautiful moll is suspected because of her being seen with him and because of her past, the bitter guy who the jewelry man fired is suspected of killing out of revenge. The convict and his wife are suspects too even Alice (Barbara Weeks). Ben Lyon plays detective and points out the guilty and innocent. I won't give all all the details in case some of you haven't seen it.

    There is mention of dope cigarettes - weed - which was given to the man to fall asleep so he could be killed. There is also plenty of sexual innuendos that pre-code movies were known for. The newlywed couple was cute, especially, the blonde, little cutie. During the drama, the funny part is when the detective tells everyone to come out of their sleepers and he ask the newlywed couple what they were doing during the murder and the newlywed couple starts to blush and look guilty and giggles because they were having sex during the murder - they didn't say that but their face told it. That's what I like about pre-code, pre-code didn't have to be filthy and vulgar to be entertaining and sexy like movies today. Movies today should learn something from pre-code movies. This movie has everything and it's jam-packed for being just a 65 minute movie. That's what I love about pre-code, pre-code proved a movie doesn't have to be 2 hours long to be entertaining or to tell the story fully. There was a beginning, middle, and end, the pre-code movies get to the point without a lot of unnecessary parts which is good for an impatient person like me. Pre-code is entertaining all the way through. Please see this movie, I personally recommend it!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The credits end with a murder and the oft used line (in 1932), this time by an engine driver of "nothing ever happens on this line"!! The victim is a Mr. Chambers and in keeping with Kenneth Thomson's usual movie persona, while he is a jeweller and married he still has an eye for the ladies - and how!!

    I agree with most of the reviews - just a superb fast paced whodunit set on the Los Angeles to Frisco train. Time winds back to 8 pm with Chambers kissing his wife goodbye but already eyeing off an enticing beauty boarding the train. She is no "wide eyed innocent" - she has been given instructions to get, by all means at her disposal, a diamond and sapphire bracelet that Chambers is eager to show her.

    The proper star is Ben Lyon as likable reporter Jimmy, pursuing cutie Alice (Barbara Weeks was a Wampas Baby Star but it didn't help her much in her quest for film glory) when he is not chasing down escaped killer Delmarr (Nat Pendleton). Delmarr is figured to go after the train because Chick, a felon whose evidence led to the capture of Delmarr, is on it. Again, as Chick, Dwight Frye adds another characterization to his unique gallery. As well, there is Mr. Martin (William V. Mong) a grumpy passenger who has more to do with the plot than is first revealed, Helene Millard who even though in her late 20s seemed destined to play matrons and designing women throughout her short career. She plays a widow in this - but does she have a secret?? Also in the cast was Tom Dugan, a popular support actor at this time, playing a particularly annoying drunk who seems to attach himself to Jimmy, no doubt to give him a buddy!! As well there is delightful Polly Walters as - not a telephone girl this time but a cigar store girl who sees in Jimmy all the possibilities of a steak, mushroom and onion dinner!!!

    As with a few other pre-code films - those "funny cigarettes" come into play. They play a vital role in establishing just which of the train travellers (who denied having any knowledge of Chambers) were really quite chummy. It doesn't take the police long to follow the trail left by Chamber's distinctive cigarette to Eileen!! This proved to be Ethel Kenyon's last role in a mysterious film career. She had come to the movies after appearing in "Strike Up the Band" on Broadway but her films were few. With director Ben Stoloff drawing creditable performances from all players as well as bringing out the suspense from every angle, it's the fastest 63 minutes you'll ever spend!!

    Highly Recommended.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Actually, I'd give this one a 10 when judged against other B mystery/crime thrillers of the 1930's, but it loses an entire star due to the presence of an obnoxious unnamed drunk (Tom Dugan) who begins following ace reporter Jimmy Hawley (Ben Lyon) after he runs into him outside of a phone booth at the train depot. The drunk continues to follow him around the train yards, and on the train, as Hawley is on the trail of not only a story on the escaped "Killer Delmar" but an attractive young lady (Barbara Weeks as Alice Murray) as well. I've seen the annoying drunk "joke" taken too far in several films made 1929-1933, and maybe Prohibition era audiences thought it funny - public drunkenness when drink is technically illegal - but today the joke is tiresome after about ten seconds, and this one struggles to go on for half the film.

    This film is structured unusually as well. The first scene of the movie shows the first murder onboard the train - in the end there are five. The victim is seen reading a newspaper in his berth and we are given several hints as to why this particular victim may have been killed, but you do not see the killer. Then the film goes backwards in time to the events leading up to the killing. After Jimmy gets on board the train and begins pitching woo to Alice all the while trying to avoid the drunk that seems to think they're pals, we also meet the rest of the passengers of note - a lady con artist and thief, a womanizing jeweler, a widow taking her husband's coffin back to be buried, a newlywed couple, an old curmudgeon who initially doesn't seem to have a place in the plot, and a cop taking a con (Dwight Frye) to the big house. All of this is done amidst Jimmy's hunch that Killer Delmar is on this train.

    After dinner the passengers retire to their berths. The kitchen workers also report two steak knives are missing. You'll see one stolen and by whom, but not the second knife. The convict escapes from the cop and tries to make his getaway. The careless cop then thinks somehow his incompetence gives him the right to rouse the whole train and be rude about it at that and, once the first victim's body is found, to bully the rest of the passengers regarding the killing. Lucky for the clueless cop that Jimmy is on board because he pretty much figures out the whole thing.

    This film has everything - passengers smoking custom made marijuana cigarettes, a runaway train coming to a dangerous curve, the lids of coffins opening slowly and mysteriously like something out of Dracula, and - Jimmy was right - Killer Delmar IS on the train, lumbering about and even dressed like Frankenstein's monster, even mute like him until the last 10 minutes or so, then he has plenty to say. There's even the flirting Jimmy and Alice sleeping in berths one above the other sharing a rather sexy though innocent good night scene.

    Ben Lyon did a great job here as a credible romantic lead, ace reporter, solver of mysteries, and saves the day as well. Also deserving honorable mention is Polly Walters as the cigar stand attendant who first catches Jimmy's eye until the sound of police sirens attracts his attention. Polly often played rather dense sounding telephone operators in the 30's and added real atmosphere wherever she showed up.
  • If you like movies that take place on trains, you might get a kick out of this Columbia programmer, in which a wide cast of characters become the usual suspects when murder is committed on an L.A. to San Francisco sleeper. Ben Lyon and Barbara Weeks make attractive leads, and some of the supporting players (Ethel Kenyon, Dwight Frye) are interesting to look at. Less successful is Tom Dugan's "comic" bit as a drunk who for obscure reasons attaches himself to the newspaper reporter hero outside a phone booth in Union Station and makes a general pest of himself. Rather below the standard set by Warners for this genre of picture, but entertaining nonetheless, and about 90% of the picture takes place on the train itself, for which Columbia had provided quite nice sets.
  • Murder mystery B-movies are a dime a dozen and they must have made thousands of them in the 1930s and 40s. Because of this, I had low expectations for "By Whose Hand?"....fortunately, my first instinct was wrong!

    The story begins with a man being murdered while aboard a train. Soon, you see newspaper headlines announcing that 'Killer' Delmar, the escaped maniac, is responsible! The scene then cuts to a train station and a bunch of different folks and their stories are introduced...much like you'd see in a film like "Airport". This would seem to indicate that Killer Delmar will strike on this train. But what you don't realize is that there are more evil people aboard. There's the convicted criminal being taken to prison as well as several career criminals who are hiding out among the many passengers.

    The reason why I enjoyed this Columbia movie so much was the excellent writing. I almost gave the movie an 8 but decided against it due to a couple cheesy things I saw in the film (such as the comic relief drunk)...but otherwise an excellent film. In particular, the finale is marvelous and makes such a humble picture seem bigger and better.
  • By Whose Hand? (1932)

    ** 1/2 (out of 4)

    Enjoyable mystery from Columbia, which was once thought lost until being discovered back in 1998 (so I've read). A playboy detective (Ben Lyon) with the lust for women cracks the story of a serial killer who has escaped from prison. While following a lead he ends up on a train where a wide range of suspicious character lure including a murderer. The actual mystery of this film is pretty good but there are way too many attempts at comedy. Some of it works like the drunk who keeps following the detective around but some falls flat on its face. Lyon is decent in the lead but he's never really able to pull off all the charming, lead male stuff. Tom Dugan steal the show as the drunk and Dwight Frye has a small role as a mother loving bad guy. When I say mother loving I really mean it as there's an extremely bizarre scene at the start of the film where he's holding his mother as you'd expect to see someone hold their lover. Then he plants a big, hard kiss on her lips! Directed by Benjamin Stoloff who would direct Bela Lugosi the following year in Night of Terror.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    ***SPOILERS*** Having been reported lost or destroyed for some 65 years he movie "In Whose Hand?" had resurfaced in the late 1990's and is now's being shown on Turner Movie Classics which is great news to all of us who've heard about the films demise and just about gave up on ever being able to view it. Better then average murder mystery set on a train going to San Francisco where we see the victim jeweler Chambers get it as soon as the opening credits role down the screen. Chambers smoking a joint and reading the newspaper is surprised by the unseen assailant and just before he gets it, with a knife in his chest, opens his mouth so wide, with a super zoom shot of it, that you can not only count every tooth in it but every cavity and filling as well.

    We then go back some four hours before Chambers' murder to see what lead up to it and that has to do with escaped murderer Killer Delmar who's out looking to whack that stoolie Chick Louis who ratted on him. Sneaking on the train with the help of his old lady Mrs. Delmar the killer plans to do in Chick but you wonder why then was Chambers, who had nothing to do with Delmars arrest and imprisonment, murdered instead? that's the real mystery in the movie.

    Being followed by this annoying drunk Tom, who probably thinks that he's his favorite bartender, newspaper reporter Jimmy gets himself on the train not to get the big scoop but because he's got the hots for pretty Alice who mistaking gave the guy a kiss, thinking that he was someone else, before she got on the express. Nothing really happens until Mrs. Delmar goes into the baggage compartment to check after her pooch and then planting a knife, that she histed from trains kitchen silverware, that Killer Delmar would be able to use on Chick who's also on the train being taken into protective custody by detective Halligan.

    Knocking out the conductor Delmar goes on top of the train, so he won't be spotted, and jumps from car to car to get to Chick, after killing both train conductors in the front cab, and pay him back for what he did, squeal, to him. Back on the train Chick get's away from Halligan by grabbing his revolver, and key to the handcuffs on him, while he's asleep and tries to makes his getaway only to run into, off camera, the vengeful Delmar who runs him through with the stake knife. Chambers getting high on a pot or marijuana cigarette, supplied to him by con artist Eileen, is also run through by a knife wielding killer but obviously not Killer Delmar.

    It turns out that Chambers was very critical of someone on the train, a fellow jeweler, who was cheating his customers with fake stones and gold and silver rings and necklaces who ended up behind bars and who's cell-mate was, what a coincident, Killer Delmar! Delmar not wanting to be accused of killing someone that he didn't, he gladly took credit to squealer Chick's murder, makes a break from his captors by grabbing Det. Halligan's gun, again!, but Jimmy turns the lights off and get's to train engine, where Killer Delmar had earlier killed the conductor and his helper, to stop the runaway train. Pandemonium breaks out in the darkened train car with Delmar his moll,or old lady, and everyone else in the cast having it out a wild free for all.

    It turns out, when the lights are turned on, that Delmar is recaptured the person who murdered Chambers shot and killed, by Killer Delmar, with Jimmy not only getting the big scoop but getting married to the girl of his dreams that he just met some four hours earlier, talking about love at first sight, Alice. As for the lovable and bumbling drunk Tom? he slept through all the action.
  • bkoganbing30 September 2020
    By Whose Hand stars Ben Lyon as a reporter who makes a last minute decision to board a Los Angeles to San Francisco in pursuit of an escaped criminal and a story. On the train he meets Barbara Weeks and they fall in love. But that's between two murders being committed.

    Nat Pendleton who usually plays big dumb clucks plays it straight in this film. He's escaped police custody and is on the train to escape and get Dwight Frye who stooled him out. But also on the train is jeweler Kenneth Thomson also stabbed to death.

    The film moves at a zippy pace and crams a lot of action in. Lyon's reporter is straight out of The Front Page which as we know set the standard for portrayal of the print media. It's a good programmer for a second feature.
  • AAdaSC19 October 2019
    Ben Lyon (Jimmy) is a reporter who is just a little too keen with his pursuit of a good story. His summary at the end of the film regarding 5 murders being committed is hilariously warped. What a twisted brain he has. Goody! There's been loads of murders! Ha ha. What a psycho lunatic.

    The story is set aboard a train and begins with the murder of jewellery tycoon Kenneth Thomson (Chambers). We then meet a cast of characters and the who-dunnit plays out for us in flashback. Unfortunately, this is very slow to get going and one of the characters is the terribly unfunny Tom Dugan who gets far too many scenes playing for comedy. Boring. I'm afraid you will be transported to daydream land on numerous occasions watching this tedium. Things get resolved at the end and that's that. Uninteresting main cast other than Ethel Kenyon (Eileen) who is good at being cunning, The detective at the end is appalling - straight out of the poor school of Whit Bissell acting. He shouts all his requests at the passengers and it is unintentionally hilarious. No-one talks to people like that. What a poor actor. And having journalist Ben Lyon given the ok to do the policework of searching everyone's bags - this story really is a load of nonsense, I'm afraid. I could go on, but I won't. A poor effort.