MOVIES: Black Magic/Meeting at Midnight

While holding a séance at his home, psychic William Bonner asks for questions from those present.  After a voice asks, “What happened in London on the night of October 5th, 1935?” the lights are extinguished Bonner slumps forward.  When the lights are restored, it becomes apparent that the psychic has been murdered.

As Bonner’s wife, Justine, summons Sgt. Matthews of the homicide bureau, Bonner’s assistants, Tom and Vera Starkey, who operate from a hidden room, are panicky and wish to flee.  Arriving on the scene, Matthews orders all of those present at the Bonner house, including, Justine Bonner, Harriet Green, Paul Hamlin, Charles Edwards, Nancy Wood, and Frances Chan, Charlie Chan’s daughter, along with newly hired butler Birmingham Brown, to police headquarters for questioning.  When the coroner notifies Matthews that the murder bullet cannot be found in Bonner’s body, the inspector coerces Chan, who is “on brief vacation from government work,” into joining the investigation, suggesting that he will have to hold his daughter, Frances, as a suspect.

After studying the interviews with the suspects, Chan asks to speak with Nancy Woods, informing the inspector that she must be using an alias because the monogram on her purse reads “ND.”  A conversation with the hotel clerk reveals that Nancy’s real name is Norma Duncan.  When confronted with her lie, Norma claims that she had used the alias to infiltrate Bonner’s séance and prove that the psychic had driven her father to commit suicide.

Meanwhile, at the Bonner house, Mrs. Bonner communicates to Tom and Vera through an intercom that is linked to their hidden room.  When Frances, who has come to visit Birmingham, overhears the conversation, she alerts her father.  Hurrying to the house, Chan discovers the secret room hidden behind a cabinet in the seance room.

After reassembling the suspects at police headquarters, Chan reveals that Mr. Hamilton and Mrs. Green were both being blackmailed by Bonner, and that Mrs. Bonner had threatened to kill her husband because of his infidelity.  Chan then asks if anyone can identify the speaker at the seance who has asked the question about London, however, no one offers any information.

Later, Norma Duncan sends Chan a message asking him to come to her hotel, but when the detective enters her room, he finds her in a trance. Suddenly, the lights go out, a gun is fired, and the assailant runs out the door.  Awakened from her trance, Norma is unable to remember what happened to her.  Leaving Norma in the care of Rafferty, Matthew’s assistant, Chan leaves to send a cable to Scotland Yard.

Later, at the Bonner house, Frances and Birmingham overhear Mrs. Bonner asking her unseen assistants, Tom and Vera, for their help, and Frances decides to follow her.  Following her to the Berkeley building, Frances meets her father and Inspector Matthews there and finds Mrs. Bonner’s glove on the floor outside of an office door.  Mrs. Bonner, in a trance, ascends the rooftop of the building across the street. Standing on the rooftop of the building, Mrs. Bonner hears a voice coaxing her to step over the edge.

After she plunges to her death, Chan notices a peculiar stain on her coat, and takes it to be examined at a lab, where it discovered that the residue is that of a mind-altering drug that renders its victims helpless.  Chan is then given several pills that contain the antidote to the drug.

Announcing that Mrs. Bonner had committed suicide out of remorse for murdering her husband, Matthews declares the case closed.  Dissatisfied with the sergeant’s conclusion, Chan returns to search the room in front of which Mrs. Bonner’s glove had been found.  After entering the room, Chan is attacked, manacled, drugged, and hypnotized by an unseen assailant who orders him to climb to the rooftop of the adjacent building and jump.  Having earlier swallowed one of the antidote pills (which has not yet taken effect), Chan proceeds, still under the influence of the drug and hypnotic suggestion, to the other building and ascends to the roof.

Meanwhile, becoming concerned when she is unable to locate her father, Frances notifies Rafferty.  Together they hurry to the Berkeley building where they find that Chan has gone to the building across the street. As they see Chan tottering on the ledge of the roof, the antidote suddenly begins to work and he comes out of his trance just as Rafferty and Frances are about to grab hold of him.  When Rafferty hands Chan the response from Scotland Yard, Chan reconvenes a seance at the Bonner house.

CONCLUSION:

That night, Chan exposes Tom and Vera and their secret room and then challenges the séance participants to answer a series of word association questions.  Suddenly, the lights go out and a silent shot is fired.  As the lights are turned back on, a small hole can be seen in the back of the chair in which Chan had been seated, the detective having moved during the blackout.  Chan then produces the cable from Scotland Yard imparting the information that on October 5, 1935, Chardo the Great, a well-known magician, had been gravely injured in an automobile accident.  The detective continues, stating that Chardo’s wife, Justine, had run away with his assistant, Bonner.  After undergoing plastic surgery to alter his appearance, Chardo was determined to make Justine and Bonner pay for their betrayal.

Blood is seen to be dripping from the hole in the chair that had been occupied by Chan, to which the detective deduces that a similar bullet, made of frozen blood, was used to kill William Bonner, thus explaining why no bullet was found in Bonner’s body.

Addressing Hamlin as Chardo, Chan seizes the cigar case which contains the hidden spring gun that was used to kill Bonner.