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The Florentine Dagger

The Florentine Dagger(1935)

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The Florentine Dagger (1935)

This Warner Brothers-Vitaphone "Clue Club Picture" is based on a 1923 novel by journalist-turned-playwright-turned-screenwriter Ben Hecht (The Front Page) and is among the first Hollywood films - alongside Dracula's Daughter (1936), Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945), and Anatole Litvak's The Snake Pit (1948) - to incorporate into its standard (genre) operating procedure a nod to psychoanalysis. Adapted by the director (Robert Florey) and writer (Tom Reed) team responsible for Universal's Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), this Vienna-set whodunit stars Donald Woods (later a one-shot Perry Mason for Warners) as the last descendant of the Borgias, who has convinced himself that he has inherited an inclination towards murder. Failing a suicide attempt, Woods is persuaded to work through his anxieties via live theatre, leading to a romantic entanglement with actress Margaret Lindsey, whose domineering father falls victim to The Florentine Dagger (1935). C. Aubrey Smith, Robert Barrat, and Florence Flair lend colorful support to this mystery thriller with creepy Gothic blandishments. Writer Reed had written the intertitles for Universal's The Phantom of the Opera (1925), making it no surprise that a key plot point of The Florentine Dagger is a lifelike mask that hides the hideously scarred face of the real killer. Robert Florey would expand upon that device yet again in The Face Behind the Mask (1941), starring Peter Lorre as an immigrant driven by deformity to a life of crime.

By Richard Harland Smith

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