Starring: H.B. Warner, Walter Bryon, Bette Davis, Natalie Moorhead, William B. Davidson, Crauford Kent, Halliwell Hobbes, Murray Kinnell, Charles K. Gerrard, Oscar Apfel, Frank Atkinson, Frank Rice
Directed by: Roy William Neill
Released by: Columbia
Runtime: 64 minutes
Release date: January 29th, 1932


The Menace is from Columbia, which means it’s currently owned by Sony. The only version of the film publicly available is kindly being shared on YouTube.

My best guess on the source of that rip is that it came from a VHS tape that someone had stored in a bucket full of magnets.

Proof That It’s Pre-Code

  • The protagonist’s stepmother murders his father. Now his sneaky plan of revenge includes marrying his own stepmother and then murdering her lover. Meanwhile, Dr. Freud was unavailable for comment.

The Menace: We Have this Licked

A quick forward on this review: as much as we like to pretend the prints we catch these movies in don’t affect our perceptions, watching The Menace is a staring at a Rorschach Test. Every character’s face is blown out to pale white halos, and the print hisses like it’s trapped in a terrarium. So, I retain the right to reevaluate this one if a better print ever arrives.

That being said, I’m not optimistic! The Menace is a convoluted revenge picture, one filled with a minefield of obvious ploys and motives, seemingly resolved more from sheer lazy chance than any action on our hero’s part. The romance is perfunctory, the exposition clunky, and the gambits all too obvious.

But, back to convoluted. Let’s start there.

Sailing back to England with a new face, Ronald AKA “Crockett” has a new face thanks to a plastic surgeon. His mission? To clear himself of his murder conviction. His wicked stepmother and her scheming lover and his brother had set Ronald up and themselves up for a huge payday. However their freeloading ways have sent them desperate for money, which Ronald, oil wealth in hand, is all too happy to use as a cleaver to separate and destroy the trio.

While he’s doing this, Inspector Tracey suspects Crockett’s true identity and lurks about disguised as a repo man casing the estate. Peggy, Ronald’s ex, and Phillips the butler, also threaten to disrupt Ronald’s plans. Kinnell, another repo man, also hangs around to execute some pratfalls. It feels like there were even more characters slipping in and out, but with the current print I may have just accidentally added one or two without realizing it.

Ronald’s plan works with almost surprising ease, despite his libido getting the better of him. A late film Halloween Party pulls in another murder and almost threatens to make the movie entertaining until about a half dozen double crosses and relocated necklaces kill the momentum. The murky print almost makes a few of the film’s lurking scenes, including ones set in a ‘museum’ filled with a coffin and looming shadowed statues, interesting, but they’re underwhelmed by the lackadaisical tension Byron brings to the lead role; Ronald is fighting for his name and dignity with about as much effort as someone picking their selections off the Burger King menu.

Most modern viewers of The Menace seek it out to see Bette Davis doing some of her earliest work before her big break in The Man Who Played God (and her subsequent bigger break in Of Human Bondage). Davis is fine, I suppose, in a role that doesn’t require much more than carrying some books and staring dreamily into Walter Byron’s eyes. It’s very funny to see her in the kind of role Joan Bennett or Loretta Young would have played at this time, completely thankless and almost an afterthought. Davis had nowhere to go but up.

Trivia, Miscellany & Links

  • Real fun is doing research and remembering this movie was released in early 1932 shortly before another movie that was, in some places, also called The Menace came out. That movie is more commonly referred to nowadays as Scarface.
  • Based on The Feathered Serpent by Edgar Wallace. The title was changed for the film version to make it sound less like a monster movie. That feathered serpent, ‘seen’ in The Menace as a large statue of vengeance, is likely referencing Quetzalcoatl.
  • The Menace was shot in only 8 days.

Audiences at the Beacon are successfully resisting the efforts of a picture called “The Menace” to bludgeon them into a state of nervous prostration. Based on Edgar Wallace’s “The Feathered Serpent,” it toys with a routine assortment of shadows and murderous symbols, showing to what extremes a young man will go to catch the murderers of his father. The imaginative adaptation and sorrowful dialogue are probably to blame for the shortcomings of this film, for the situation has elements of suspense.

What is Pre-Code?

The Divorcee (1930) Norma Shearer pre-code hollywood

Click to learn more about pre-Code Hollywood, 1930-4, when movies were sexy, smart and sophisticated.

Index of Film Reviews

Browse all of the movie reviews on the site as well as schedules and pages that detail the world of pre-Code.

Explore the Pre-Code Era

Dig through the pre-Code era through its highlights, its biggest hits, its essential films, and more.


Danny is a writer who lives with his lovely wife, adorable children, and geriatric yet yappy dog. He blogs at pre-code.com, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934, and can be found on Twitter @PreCodeDotCom.

1 Comment

Miss Maudie · April 3, 2024 at 9:15 am

You’re back!

Pre-Code.com was first classic film blog I ever read, and it introduced me to treasures like Christina Rice, MovieDiva and Shadows & Satin. Like the dvd extras and commentary tracks on the second and third volumes of the Forbidden Hollywood series, your writing opened up a whole new world of sizzle, scandal, and Depression-era social consciousness for me.

Thanks, brother. And welcome back!

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