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While the Patient Slept

No catching Zs during this zing-filled mystery.

Rod Lott April 26th, 2012

All the way back from 1935, While the Patient Slept begins with a logo stating it's a Clue Club Picture. Was that a regular picture-show "thing"? The Clue Club? Because if it was, I would've been a faithful follower, just based upon this good-natured mystery, recently released by Warner Archive.


The MOD DVD has the Federie clan gathering again on a dark and stormy night at the behest of patriarch Richard (Walter Walker, Dangerous) "to watch me die." But first, he has something to say to everyone. Before he can, however, it's R.I.P. via gunshot — oh, not for Richard, but one of his sons (Robert Barrat, Captain Blood).

Quickly on the case is the slightly goofy detective Lance O'Leary (Guy Kibbee, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), partnering with the family's dowdy nurse (Aline MacMahon, Gold Diggers of 1933). At the time, this had to be Hollywood’s oddest pairing for a murder mystery.

Although no longer that, this Patient still stands out as unique — as much for its unlikely detection team as for its genuinely funny dialogue. For example, O'Leary mispronounces family member Eustice as "Useless." To another, he cracks, "You seem to dislike your husband … even more than most wives." And over the phone: "I promise an arrest within the next 48 hours. Whaddaya mean? Of course it will be the guilty person."

Nurse Keate can deliver a barb just as skillfully. When O'Leary inquires about a piece of information, she describes it accurately: "Something round like your nose, not quite so red."

This is the kind of movie in which the health care provider is called upon to conduct a ballistics test — in other words, not your ordinary whodunit. That freshness, even after all these decades, keeps me from borrowing a piece of her own advice: "Ah, stick it in your buttonhole and forget it." —Rod Lott

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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