The Unholy Night

The Unholy Night is a 1929 American pre-Code mystery film directed by Lionel Barrymore and starring Ernest Torrence.

The Unholy Night
Lobby card for The Unholy Night
Directed byLionel Barrymore
Screenplay byEdwin Justus Mayer
Based on
The Green Ghost
CinematographyIra Morgan[1]
Edited byGrant Whytock[1]
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp.
Release date
  • 14 September 1929 (1929-09-14)
Running time
92 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States[1]


The well-to-do Lord Montague is assaulted on a fog enshrouded London street on his way to his club, but manages to escape death. He later learns that some unknown assailant is killing off the members of his old army regiment from the Indian War. A Scotland Yard inspector investigating the homicides asks Montague to have the nine remaining members of his regiment assemble at his estate, so as to protect them from being murdered one by one, and so that he can hopefully learn the identity of the assassin, assuming the killer may be one of them.



According to Exhibitors Herald-World published on April 20, 1929, the film began production under the working title The Green Ghost on 1 March 1929.[1] Initially, Rupert Julian was signed to direct the film as his first 100% dialogue feature.[1] The films screenplay was written by Edwin Justus Mayer and adapted by Dorothy Farnum based on the short story The Green Ghost by Ben Hecht.[3] The films intertitles were by Joe Farnum.[3]

An article in Motion Picture News, Julian voluntarily withdrew from the production stating he was not comfortable directing a sound film, and wanted to earn more experience with shorts first.[1] It has not been determined if any of Julian's work was retained in the released film.[1] Lionel Barrymore took over as director, which would be his second sound film as a director.[1]


The Unholy Night was distributed theatrically by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Distributing Corp. on 14 September 1929.[1]

Barrymore co-directed (with French director Jacques Feyder) a French-language version of the film called Le Spectre Vert (The Green Ghost) which was released in France. This French-language version was never released in the US. Dorothy Farnum and Yves Mirande adapted the screenplay. It was Feyder's first sound film, and the first French-language film ever made in Hollywood as well. It was released in France in 1930.[4][5][6][7]


Contemporary reviewsEdit

From contemporary reviews, Photoplay declared the film a "Swell mystery story, artistically directed by Lionel Barrymore. Roland Young and Dorothy Sebastian are great."[8] A review in Movie Age noted that "we have seen this on previous occasions in various forms as far as plot is concerned but treatment and direction lifts it out of the rut."[8] A reviewer from Film Daily found that "the story has been done before in various forms" but that Ben Hecht's "masterly story telling style made it appear better than the theme and plot really are."[8] New Movie Magazine stated that the film was "a bully mystery melodrama and the best of months. You will never guess the real murderer until the denouement" and praised the performances of Dorothy Sebastian.[8]

In contrast, Variety declared the film "a hopelessly involved script handled by Lionel Barrymroe in a way that would discredit a quickie director. Worse than the worst would-be thriller meller staged on Broadway and impressing as a pointless souffle burlesquing them all" concluding that the film was "a one hundred percent lemon."[8] Film critic and historian Troy Howarth, declared that "If the film is any indication of Barrymore's overall directing talent, it's no surprise that he eventually returned his focus exclusively to acting." and found the film "painfully creaky and melodramatic....unfolding in painfully static medium and long shots".[2]


Michael R. Pitts discussed in his book on obscure genre films between 1928 and 1936, that the film "consists of talk with little physical action" and that "the film moves at a fairly good pace, contains fine performances and is atmospheric in its London fog scenes and in the old mansion in which the story takes place".[3] Pitts did note that the film was overlong and "somewhat static and a bit creaky" by contemporary standards, but that "it holds up well and provides several doses of cinematic chills, especially during the climactic seance."[3]

Critic Roy Kinnard commented "This melodramatic but rather tame detective mystery relied almost entirely on dialogue to advance its plot. Boris among the supporting players."[9]

Troy Howarth commented on Boris Karloff in the role of Abdul, the Hindu lawyer, who "takes advantage of his naturally dark complexion but... struggles terribly with the thick Indian accent."[2] Leonard Maltin gave the film two stars, calling it a "stagy Ben Hecht melodrama with much hamming, especially by unbilled Karloff".[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "The Unholy Night". American Film Institute. Retrieved January 23, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Workman & Howarth 2016, p. 347.
  3. ^ a b c d Ritts 2018, p. 286.
  4. ^ Waldman, Harry; Slide, Anthony (January 23, 1996). Hollywood and the Foreign Touch: A Dictionary of Foreign Filmmakers and Their Films from America, 1910-1995. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 9780810831926 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ "Le Spectre vert (1930)".
  6. ^ Goble, Alan (September 8, 2011). The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 9783110951943 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ "Le Spectre vert - Fiche Film - La Cinémathèque française".
  8. ^ a b c d e Ritts 2018, p. 288.
  9. ^ Kinnard, Roy (1995). "Horror in Silent Films". McFarland and Company Inc. ISBN 0-7864-0036-6. Page 229.
  10. ^ "The Unholy Night". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved January 23, 2020.


  • Pitts, Michael R. (2018). Thrills Untapped: Neglected Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Films, 1928-1936. McFarland. ISBN 978-1476632896.
  • Workman, Christopher; Howarth, Troy (2016). Tome of Terror: Horror Films of the Silent Era. Midnight Marquee Press. ISBN 978-1936168-68-2.

External linksEdit