Karloff, Lugosi and Lorre sound like a dream team but is there a catch? “You’ll Find Out”, as RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES looks at this “musical-mystery” from 1940.
TITLE: You’ll Find Out
RELEASED: 14 November 1940 (premiere)
DIRECTOR: David Butler
CAST: Kay Kyser (Himself), Peter Lorre (Feninger), Boris Karloff (Judge Mainwaring), Bela Lugosi (Prince Saliano), Helen Parrish (Janis Bellacrest), Dennis O’Keefe (Chuck Deems), Alma Kruger (Aunt Margo Bellacrest), Joseph Eggenton (Jurgen the Butler), Kay Kyser’s Band (themselves), Harry Babbitt, Ginny Simms, Ish Kabibble, Sully Mason (band vocalists)
WRITER: James V. Kern (story by James V. Kern and David Butler)
Review of You’ll Find Out 1940
A popular bandleader is booked to perform with his orchestra and singers at an heiress’ 21st birthday party. What they don’t know is that the party is being held at a spooky, remote mansion house.
When the only bridge linking the mansion to the road is destroyed, all of the house guests are stranded. Meanwhile, Janis’ Aunt Margo seem to have fallen under the spell of the mysterious Prince Saliano, who (it transpires) is taking advantage of Margo’s belief in spiritualism to extort money.
Margo’s attorney, Judge Mainwaring seems surprisingly tolerant of Saliano but when Professor Feninger arrives on the scene Janis’ fears for her aunt seem somewhat allayed, especially when Kyser gets Feninger to agree to holding a fake séance in order to expose Saliano.
However, when Janis narrowly misses being killed by a falling chandelier during the ritual, it becomes clear that a person or persons unknown wants her out of the way. She is, after all Margo’s sole beneficiary…
In what is billed as “a mystery with music”, the lineup of Karloff, Lugosi and Lorre is certainly one to get horror fans excited, but this is first and foremost a vehicle for American bandleader and radio personality Kay Kyser, whose popularity at the time would spin-off into a string of big-screen outings (mainly for RKO) between 1939 and 1945.
As a typical star-driven musical vehicle of the period there’s certainly plenty here for fans of the music from that time, but those looking for Boris, Bela and Peter in their horror prime will likely want to look elsewhere. Indeed, no sooner do their efforts get into gear than the requirement to showcase Kyser’s band and vocalists performing popular numbers of the day interrupts the action and it bloats what would probably be a slim second-feature storyline to a whopping 96-minutes.
Of course, if looking at the film from the viewpoint of an American moviegoer in 1940, it could be argued that the audience for You’ll Find Out were primarily coming to see Kyser and company in the main and that the horror favourites are there as guests, for their novelty value in sending up the various old-dark-house tropes on display – one imagines RKO were looking at the immediate success of Paramount’s Bob Hope-starring The Ghost Breakers (released in June 1940) and rushed You’ll Find Out into production, hoping to tap into that same vein.
On that level, the film is not without its moments: The spectacle of Bela Lugosi conducting a séance can’t help but entertain, whilst both Karloff and Lorre draw more on their film-noir/thriller personas to crank up the sinister ante. Also, the visual effects in the creepier sequences still stand up rather well and there’s some interesting early use of Vocoder-style voice manipulation which predates the gadget’s popular use in music by a good 30-years or so.
Ultimately, the trio’s use here is certainly a fascinating snapshot of their public image at the time and the film plays on it to the hilt but it’s perhaps unfortunate in a modern light when one considers that this would be the only time that fellow Hungarian emigres Lorre and Lugosi would share the screen together. It’s not the movie’s fault necessarily, but for golden-age horror fans You’ll Find Out feels like a lost opportunity.
TRIVIA POINTS: Lorre’s next pairing with Karloff would be at Columbia for The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942).
Karloff would return to RKO for a trio of fine films under producer Val Lewton, teaming up with Lugosi for the last time in The Body Snatcher (1945).
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