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Special Investigator (1936)
Strong plot and lively characters in compact crime drama
Crafty lawyer Richard Dix just got another criminal off the hook. The judge chews him out for being an enemy to society. When Dix's own brother says that he agrees with the judge, Dix turns thoughtful; when the brother is murdered, Dix suddenly quits his law practice and tells his friends that he is going away. He does a little research then heads to a small Nevada town on the trail of some stolen gold....
Richard Dix is solid as the self-appointed investigator who switches to the side of justice but is not afraid to mix with the crooks. Having heard that the gang is processing their stolen bullion in an old mine and then selling it as ore, he sets up a law office in the nearby town and works on infiltrating their operation.
Strong supporting characters really liven up this well-written adventure. Joe Sawyer is excellent as the tough guy who runs the mine--he wears a ranger hat, talks with his pipe in his mouth, and is suspicious of everyone. J. Carrol Naish is superb as the outfit's big boss--he's been shot and is laid up in bed but manages (barely) to maintain control over his gang. It's a small role but Naish delivers his lines in a terrific Edward G. Robinson snarl. ("Among fighters I was a fighter. But among scum like you, I'm a king.") Margaret Callahan is convincing as Naish's not easily intimidated sister. Having arrived by bus and joined the crooks to tend to her wounded brother, she gets to know Dix as well.
As Dix's investigation moves along, tension among the crooks bubbles, and it all builds to an exciting climax. Overall, this fast paced B adventure packs a lot into an hour. Very good.
Mystery House (1938)
Country house, stormy night. A company president tells the officers seated around his dinner table that one of them has defrauded the company of half a million dollars. Then he goes off to bed--and soon is found dead. The police call it suicide but the man's daughter has her doubts. She asks her old aunt's nurse if she knows of any good detectives. "Why yes," Nurse Keate answers, "I think I know one of the best. Lance O'Leary is his name."
This dialog is silly but fun, as is the idea that you would ask a nurse to recommend a private detective. However, this B mystery doesn't take itself too seriously and while it may be short on thrills or snappy dialog, it's nevertheless quite entertaining.
Ann Sheridan is wide-eyed and earnest as Nurse Sara Keate, on hand to care for the cranky old invalid aunt. Dick Purcell is just fine as Lance O'Leary, the dashing detective and sometime boyfriend who is summoned by the nurse to look into the situation. Lance picks up clues, discusses them with Nurse Keate, and draws up theories. (Is the old aunt really confined to her wheelchair? "I'm not so sure about that," he says with set jaw.)
It's a pretty standard plot with a couple of murders and a handful of shady suspects. Elspeth Dudgeon is fun as the feisty old aunt. There's also a dog that has a pretty good role--he's always sniffing around at closed doors and even gets involved in the climactic fight.
A minor entry in the old dark house genre but fun for fans.
Back in Circulation (1937)
Loud performances, annoyingly bad plot
Ace reporter Joan Blondell drives through the night and breaks some rules to get the story on the big train wreck. Back at the paper, she expects kudos--but boss Pat O'Brien does nothing but complain. Blondell is insulted, O'Brien insists that he appreciates her work, and they get all lovey-dovey for about two seconds...and then O'Brien tells her that she looks tired and she stomps out of his office, slamming the door and breaking the glass.
Both stars are energetic and talk fast but the characterizations are not subtle in this noisy newspaper drama. O'Brien is exceedingly bossy and unpleasant as the demanding editor; Blondell is just not believable as the hardboiled reporter who for some reason has a soft spot for her crabby boss.
The plot involves a murder investigation by Blondell and the paper. Having received an anonymous tip, Blondell stops a funeral and convinces the coroner to do an autopsy. Sure enough, the guy was poisoned. Could the murderer have been Margaret Lindsay, the beautiful widow? John Litel, the doctor who attributed the death to a heart attack? The paper pushes hard for Lindsay's indictment for the murder but just when it's almost too late, Blondell starts feeling guilty and wonders if Lindsay is innocent after all....
An interesting cast includes Regis Toomey, Eddie Acuff, and George E. Stone as various newspaper employees. Ben Welden plays a casino owner who, in one of the picture's many ridiculous sequences, visits O'Brien's office to help identify a suspect and then is held at gunpoint by O'Brien to prevent him leaving and talking to other papers' reporters.
A fast paced newspaper drama with these stars sounds like great fun. Unfortunately, the obnoxious characters and poor plot pretty much sink it.
Love on a Bet (1936)
Fun characters in entertaining cross country adventure
Fast talker Gene Raymond wants to produce a play. His rich uncle refuses to back the play because its plot is ridiculous: A man leaves New York in his underwear and arrives 10 days later in Los Angeles with a new suit, $100 in his pocket, and a beautiful fiancée.
It's not ridiculous, Raymond argues. He says that he could do it himself--and bets his uncle that he will. If Raymond wins the bet, his uncle finances the play. If Raymond fails, he takes a job in the uncle's meat packing plant.
Meanwhile, Wendy Barrie and her aunt Helen Broderick discuss whether Barrie should marry wealthy Addison Randall. She would rather not but they're broke so, "All right, dear," she says, "I'll marry him." Barrie and Broderick set out on a cross country drive to Los Angeles to catch up with Randall; not at all surprisingly, on the way out of town, Raymond jumps on board as a travel partner and the unlikely trio set off together.
Their adventures along the way include a lesson from Raymond on roasting marshmallows ("Just keep your head down, your eye on the marshmallow, follow through"), a cider drinking contest with a surprise winner, and an encounter with a couple of wanted criminals.
Gene Raymond is brash and funny; Wendy Barrie is a good match, feisty and energetic. The plot is nothing too original, and for the most part this picture is a pretty standard entry in the cross country romance genre. However, the characters are well drawn and the stars are fun to watch. Overall this is a fun picture.
The Beloved Brat (1938)
Very entertaining in spite of silly plot
Poor little rich girl Bonita Granville is lonely. It's her birthday but her parents are too busy even to have lunch with her. "I'm sorry, I can't make it," her father tells her casually. "Now, anything else you want for your birthday, just name it and it's yours."
Granville wanders off and makes a friend - a kid named Pinky who has a pop gun and likes to go fishing. But when Granville invites Pinky over to her house, the butler calls him a ragamuffin and throws him out. Now Bonita is mad and you can hardly blame her. One thing leads to another and soon she has set her bedroom on fire, helped to cause a car accident, and been sent to a girls' school to reform.
It's sappy and predictable but this family drama is still hard to resist. Bonita Granville pours on the wild mood swings pretty heavily, but in spite of the overblown emotions she remains charismatic and even charming. She makes us cringe a couple of times but we are certainly happy to root for her.
Donald Crisp and Natalie Moorhead give competent but thankless performances as the clueless parents. Dolores Costello is fine as the lead teacher at the school who urges patience with Granville; she strikes up a friendship with Donald Briggs, the one adult whom Granville seems to trust. A young Leo Gorcey appears in one scene and pushes Bonita into a river.
Overall, Bonita Granville is pretty much the whole show. It's a ridiculously corny plot but, surprisingly, it works.
The Patient in Room 18 (1938)
Lively mystery with some laughs
Patric Knowles is noted author and crime specialist Lance O'Leary. He has been acting strangely after failing to solve a case and winds up in the hospital with a nervous breakdown. The doctor prescribes him rest and an absolute ban on anything to do with crime solving. Ann Sheridan is nurse Sara Keate, who tends to Lance and runs the hospital ward. Nurse Keate is Lance's girlfriend, is currently mad at him, and turns out to have an investigative streak of her own.
The setup is definitely comedy, and while the plot involves murder and missing radium, the emphasis is mostly on laughs in this modestly entertaining B mystery.
A rich patient has just bought the hospital $100,000 worth of radium and then checked right in. They put him in room 18 and he goes off to sleep with the radium taped to his chest. (Yes, taped to his chest--partly to safeguard the radium but mainly for the excellent health benefits.) Almost immediately the patient is murdered by a shadowy figure; the radium disappears. Who did it?
Among the suspects are a lawyer, a doctor, and various other characters who sneak around the hospital acting suspiciously. The police are called in, of course, but they seem perfectly happy to let Lance work on the case, while Nurse Keate gathers clues as well.
The plot really isn't much but Knowles and Sheridan are fun to watch. Knowles's best trick is hiding a lit cigarette in his mouth--until Sheridan catches him at it. Like that old trick, this movie is nothing particularly original but plenty enjoyable nevertheless.
Muss 'em Up (1936)
Edgy whodunit with complex plot, the usual suspicious characters
Tough guy private detective Preston Foster is summoned via telegram. Rich client Alan Mowbray is having trouble: Someone has shot his dog and sent him a letter warning that "The next time it will be you."
Foster gets to work quickly but Mowbray's daughter is kidnapped, his chauffeur's son is killed...and the house is full of shady suspects.
Margaret Callahan is fine as the secretary who actually sent the telegram asking for Foster's help; she and the detective naturally suspect each other's abilities before teaming up. Ralph Morgan is Mowbray's sneaky brother-in-law. John Carroll is a suspicious-looking smooth talker who is involved with the daughter. Mowbray, the rich client, is known as "the guy with a house full of guns," and entertains himself by taking indoor target practice.
Preston Foster is not bad as the rough-and-tumble investigator who wants the facts and makes no pretense at being a gentleman detective. He is assisted by Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, a bodyguard who spends his spare moments reading up on parlor tricks. (A rare moment of comic relief features Williams attempting a funny disappearing egg trick that he doesn't understand.)
The picture's tone is more that of a gangster drama than a typical parlor mystery. Overall, though, the complex plot and good performances make for a solid whodunit.
Blind Alibi (1938)
Artist and dog search for stolen letters in bland museum drama
Richard Dix is an artist with a nice little Parisian garret. His sister asks him to retrieve some letters that are being used to blackmail her. He almost succeeds in stealing the letters but the packet slips away, concealed in a shipment of artworks on its way to a California museum. Dix moves west and hatches a plan to get into the museum: He pretends he is blind and hangs out in the museum studying and making copies of its sculptures.
Once in the museum, Dix digs around when he can, hoping to stumble on the packet. Whitney Bourne plays the beautiful museum director who takes an interest in Dix, little knowing his real purpose there. Eduardo Ciannelli and Paul Guilfoyle are a couple of crooks working for the blackmailers--they are also after the letters and Guilfoyle even picks up a job as a museum guard.
Dix and Bourne do their best but the far-fetched plot is never remotely believable. Weak dialog, predictable characters....I hate to say it but there just isn't a lot to recommend about this one.
Ace the Wonder Dog has a featured role as Dix's seeing eye dog. Unfortunately, even Ace's scenes aren't particularly convincing.
Exclusive Story (1936)
Newspaper vs. crooks in solid drama
Madge Evans tracks down a newspaper reporter and asks for help: she overheard a racketeer pressuring her grocer father to sell more numbers - or else. Hard-nosed reporter Stuart Erwin is on the case but newspaper lawyer Franchot Tone thinks it's a lot of fuss over nickel and dime gambling.
Erwin investigates while Evans assists and worries about her father. Tone gradually comes around and joins the fight. It's a predictable plot but this fast-paced crime drama features some solid performances.
J. Farrell MacDonald is sympathetic as Evans's father, the kindly grocer. Joseph Calleia is appropriately nasty as the clever racketeer who threatens MacDonald and leers at Evans. The cast of familiar B movie veterans also includes Robert Barrat as the head mobster, Wade Boteler as a bodyguard, and Raymond Hatton as a newspaper editor.
Erwin has the juiciest role as the hard-working wise guy reporter. In one great shot, he's about to board a flight out of town, coat on, cigarette in mouth. He says goodbye to his wife, takes out his cigarette, kisses her--and then exhales smoke.
Evans and Tone are a little less colorful but both come across as attractive and convincing. Overall it's an enjoyable and fast-moving adventure that is fun as long as you don't think about it too much. (For example: Evans calls up Erwin to report that a man has been murdered on her doorstep. His response: "I'll be right there. Hold everything. And don't call the cops!")
Midnight Court (1937)
Fast-paced crime drama is entertaining but predictable
One-time district attorney John Litel has fallen on hard times. He's down and out, drinking in a dive bar. The cops raid the joint and take everybody to night court. Charged with drunkenness, Litel makes a passionate speech to the judge about how wrong he was to try and protect a thankless public when he was the DA. Suddenly court clerk Ann Dvorak calls out his name. He passes out on the courtroom floor.
It's not too believable but John Litel and Ann Dvorak give sincere performances in this modest crime melodrama.
We soon learn that Litel and Dvorak were formerly married, before he got all broken down and bitter. Having taken him to her apartment for breakfast, Dvorak challenges Litel to pull himself together...at which point he announces that he has decided to go to work for a local mob boss and become "the greatest criminal attorney this town has ever known."
Litel succeeds in starting up a new career getting crooks acquitted. The bad guys love him, including boss William B. Davidson. Their car stealing racket is going great. Litel is certainly getting rich...but Dvorak holds out hope for his redemption. What will it take to turn him back around?
Plenty of dramatics but not a lot of careful character development in this standard fast-moving B picture.
Flight from Glory (1937)
Good performances in aerial drama
A band of outcast pilots fly mining supplies over the mountains. Their South American outpost is remote, their planes are decrepit, and their boss is unsympathetic. Lead flyer Chester Morris tries to keep his colleagues' spirits up but another pilot has just died in a crash. The team gets a shakeup when replacement pilot Van Heflin shows up with beautiful wife Whitney Bourne.
Morris informs Heflin that this isn't the glamorous job he thought he signed up for. Then he asks Heflin what the black mark is on his background, knowing there must be something: "Every new man that lights here thinks he's the first and only black sheep. Well, we're all black sheep."
The supporting cast includes Solly Ward as the crusty old mechanic who used to be a Russian soldier; Douglas Walton as the handsome pilot from a wealthy background whose reasons for being here are vague; Richard Lane as a trusty flyer. Onslow Stevens is appropriately sinister as the company boss who recruits disgraced pilots to fly his broken-down planes.
Whitney Bourne is just fine as the wife caught in a bad situation. She sticks with husband Heflin despite being encouraged by both Morris and Walton to go back to civilization--indeed, they both offer to pay her way. (Morris even grabs her and kisses her: "Maybe now you've got a reason to go," he says, "If that's what you needed.")
Van Heflin is quite good as the troubled newcomer: he's scared of flying, he's scared of failing, and he drinks too much. Morris quickly spots Heflin's weakness, which of course complicates his efforts to help Bourne....
Overall it's not bad - the plot is just okay but the characters are well developed.
Forty Naughty Girls (1937)
Backstage murder mystery never really clicks
Drama behind the scenes: Broadway star is engaged to her producer but fooling around with the press agent. The press agent is blackmailing the show's author. The prop manager eavesdrops outside dressing room doors. Lots of intrigue but suddenly -
Inspector Oscar Piper and his friend Hildegarde Withers arrive at the theater, looking comical in their evening attire. Oscar has trouble with his top hat and stick as they bumble their way through the lobby and find their seats. Is this a comedy now?
The mystery and the humor just don't mesh in this slow-moving series entry. It's a pretty standard plot: The shady press agent is found murdered in an actress's dressing room; the inspector is summoned from his seat to start the investigation; Miss Withers tags along and picks up clues.
James Gleason is fine as always as the irritable inspector. He'd like to start asking people questions but is annoyed to discover that the show is still going on: "What am I supposed to do, stand around playing mumblety peg till the show is over? This is murder!"
Zasu Pitts makes her second appearance as the nosy but perceptive Hildegarde Withers. In this case, she steals the dead man's handkerchief then wanders around the theater sniffing everybody in search of a matching scent.
Joan Woodbury is fun as the glamorous star of the show. Tom Kennedy is hilarious as Gleason's slow-witted assistant--but he has just a handful of lines. Marjorie Lord has a sympathetic bit as a cast member.
Unfortunately, the story really plods along.... Less detecting and more character interaction might have livened this one up.
Living on Love (1937)
Boarding house comedy
Whitney Bourne is behind on her rent. Her landlord doesn't want to kick her out, though...he likes her. The landlord's solution is to have Bourne move into the basement apartment with James Dunn, who is also behind on his rent. Bourne has a daytime job, Dunn works at night - they will never even have to meet.
While that far-fetched setup never quite convinces, this attempt at madcap comedy does have some fun moments.
Dunn is a would-be artist who has somehow captured the fancy of sausage heiress Joan Woodbury. Preferring to make it on his own, Dunn rejects her advances as well the cushy job in her father's sausage factory.
Bourne, meanwhile, has just gotten a job selling electric razors. New roommates Dunn and Bourne have never seen each other but quickly decide they are bitter enemies...and then of course they meet in a restaurant and become friends. Unaware of their ironic situation, Dunn and Bourne romance each other in fits and starts, while continuing to play wicked practical jokes on each other back in the apartment. (She replaces his toothpaste with a tube of paint; he puts a lobster in her bed.)
The stars do their best but weak dialog really limits their ability to come across as charming or intelligent. Otherwise, Tom Kennedy is fine as a big-hearted fellow lodger who drives a cab. Solly Ward plays the landlord and is quite enthusiastic about solving his boarders' problems as well as peeking through their keyholes. Franklin Pangborn is humorous if a bit creepy as the sales manager who coaches his staff of young women on how to sell razors. Joan Woodbury is fun as the pushy society girl who is used to getting her way.
Overall, it's really not too good but it's a cute story that has a few laughs.
I Am a Thief (1934)
Jewel robbers on a train
A string of sensational jewel robberies has rocked Paris. Unnerved insurance executives hatch a plan. They will lure the thieves into the open by auctioning off the famous Karenina diamonds....
Mary Astor and Ricardo Cortez are outstanding in this wild tale of jewel robbers chasing each other across Europe. Cortez outbids Astor and purchases the famous diamonds ("Impertinent fellow but very handsome," she comments), but Astor remains intensely interested in the jewels. Indeed, she sneaks into his hotel room in the middle of the night--only to find his bodyguard knocked unconscious and a would-be thief just leaving. Not surprisingly, Cortez has hidden the diamonds in a safer place than his hotel room, and laughs off the whole attack.
Very soon Cortez is en route to Istanbul to sell the diamonds. Astor hops on the same train carrying a duplicate set of the same jewels. A pushy baron (Robert Barrat), a sly count (Irving Pichel), and a rich American (Dudley Digges) also make the trip in pursuit of the Kareninas. The various characters appear to form rivalries and alliances....But who is really who?
Part of the fun is guessing--and the exciting climax features a couple of gasp-inducing moments. A fast-paced and stylish adventure.
Fair mystery-comedy is easy to watch but rather confused
Ventro the ventriloquist disappears just days after his arrival in New York. His daughter asks friend Nikki Porter for help, knowing that Nikki works with mystery writer and amateur detective Ellery Queen. They discover Ventro's dead body in his penthouse hotel suite....but who killed him? And where is the treasure he brought back from China to raise money for his Chinese friends?
Ellery and Nikki alternately flirt and bicker in this entertaining but not overly exciting series mystery.
Margaret Lindsay is fun to watch as Nikki, Ellery's spirited secretary. Fed up with typing for Ellery, Nikki quits and heads to the hotel to investigate the murder. She sneaks into the suite but she's not alone: A crook is sneaking around in the dark, a mysterious woman watches from a neighboring balcony, the coroner and his team come in to collect the body - it's a busy place.
Ralph Bellamy is fine as Ellery Queen, although his effectiveness as a genius crime-solver is perhaps hindered by the fact that he seems more interested in Nikki than he is in the actual case. Bellamy and Lindsay do their best to generate one of those witty rivalries but most of the dialog between the pair just isn't that good. (Lindsay: "The way you order me around, anyone would think I was your wife." Bellamy: "Yeah. Listening to you a stranger would assume you were.")
Unfortunately, as the plot thickens, the action slows way down. The somewhat muddled story involves Russell Hicks and Eduardo Cianelli as crooked business associates with a scheme to grab Ventro's treasure; Anna May Wong is Ventro's mysterious Chinese contact who may be involved somehow. Mantan Moreland brightens up his scenes as Hicks's butler.
It's plenty passable for fans of mystery series and character actors....but overall this one just lacks focus.
Lively comedy with likeable characters
Ralph Bellamy and Margaret Lindsay investigate a murder and have a good time doing it in this entertaining comedy.
Bellamy is a clever and playful Ellery Queen. "Did you buy this book?" he teases the police detective who asks him to autograph his latest book. "I've missed several from my study lately."
Lindsay is also fun as Nikki Porter, a would-be mystery writer herself. She has a shelf full of Ellery Queen's books but claims she can't stand him. Naturally the two soon meet, start bickering immediately, and only gradually become friends and allies.
The plot includes a murder but it's mainly an excuse to get Ellery and Nikki together. Nikki gets herself trapped in the outer office of a cranky millionaire who then dies mysteriously in the inner office. Ellery helps Nikki escape before the cops arrive. While the police look for Nikki, who has left her fingerprints all over, she hides out in Ellery's house--which of course is also the home of Ellery's father, Inspector Queen, who is investigating the murder.
That sounds like a dangerous ordeal but Nikki proves she is game: "You know something, Ellery?" she says after a narrow escape. "I'm beginning to like being a murder suspect. As long as they don't catch me."
Charley Grapewin is a colorful and fast-talking Inspector Queen. James Burke is fun as loyal assistant Sergeant Velle.
The murder suspects barely appear--this really is much more a comedy than a traditional whodunit. The stars eventually do some detecting but the focus is almost always on lively banter rather than murder clues. Overall, it's no showcase for amazing skills of deduction...but it is very easy to watch.
Eight Bells (1935)
Fast-moving ocean drama
Cargo ship captain Ralph Bellamy is all set for the next voyage. If they complete the trip in good time, it will mean a big contract for the company. "If I don't bring her in by June 12th," he promises, "it'll be because the bottom's dropped out of her."
Unfortunately for Bellamy, the ship owner's daughter is engaged to John Buckler, who's not an experienced sailor but comes from an upper crust family. Buckler is appointed captain and Bellamy, a good sport, accepts the demotion to first mate for this one voyage.
Ann Sothern is very good as the spoiled and obnoxious shipping magnate's daughter. She stows away on the ship, Bellamy snaps at her for stealing his cabin, and the two are enemies--at least for now.
The plot is nothing too original but it's handled nicely: As Sothern realizes that fiancé Buckler's gentlemanly polish isn't much use in a crisis, she also learns to appreciate the qualities that the crew respect so much in Bellamy. An especially effective moment is a scene where Buckler chats blithely to Sothern about moonlight....while she watches Bellamy tend to wounded and exhausted workers.
The supporting cast offers a bit of humor (Franklin Pangborn as the captain's valet) and a crew of sensitive souls who dream about their families and futures back home. The production is fine, with sea storms and boiler room emergencies providing excitement. Bellamy and Sothern work together nicely--their initial animosity softens convincingly and without seeming to rush it, which is a good trick in a 70-minute story.
Overall, it's a well done B adventure picture that gets better as it goes along.
Woman in the Dark (1934)
Strong cast can't cheer up dreary drama
Ralph Bellamy is just out of prison, back home in his little cabin and grimly determined to be left alone. His old girlfriend sneaks over to see him, even though her father the sheriff has warned Bellamy to stay away from her.
If that isn't dangerous enough, here comes glamorous Fay Wray stumbling along the dark country road in a shimmering long gown, right to Bellamy's door. She's obviously running from someone, but when she enters Bellamy's living room, disheveled and distressed, Bellamy stands scowling, leaning his elbow on the mantel, pipe in hand, unconcerned. Moments later, oily playboy Melvyn Douglas comes looking for her with his drunken pal Reed Brown. Words are exchanged and Bellamy knocks Brown into a wall where he cracks his head. Fearing the worst, parolee Bellamy goes on the run--accompanied by Wray, who just wants to get away.
The plot is actually not bad: Bellamy and Wray hide out with prison buddy Roscoe Ates and his wife Ruth Gillette, while sheriff Granville Bates tracks them and shady Melvyn Douglas pursues his own sinister ends.
Wray and Bellamy establish a gloomy rapport that almost passes for a romance. Wray is pretty good as the down-on-her-luck beauty who has no good options and throws in with Bellamy. Unfortunately, Bellamy's gruff character is just not especially likeable. The rest of the characters are even more unpleasant: the mean-spirited sheriff, sleazy lawyer, crooked cops.
Ates and Gillette have a couple of moments that come close to comic relief, and an exciting climax lifts spirits a bit....but all in all there aren't that many bright spots in this picture.
The Fuller Brush Girl (1950)
Frantic comedy has many funny moments
Lucille Ball and Eddie Albert would like to get married and buy a model house. They both work for shady boss Jerome Cowan, who has a plan to use Albert for a crooked scheme and then fire him.
When a friend selling cosmetics visits the office, switchboard operator Lucy decides to get started right away selling Fuller products door-to-door herself. Unfortunately she spills powder and lotion all over the switchboard and burns it up--having first splashed the powder all over Cowan. It's not subtle but how can you not laugh?
Lucy's adventures selling door-to-door include a funny cameo by Red Skelton, as well as a hilarious episode selling perms to four bridge ladies, whose hair falls out when a kid next door gets the hair rinse mixed up with his chemistry set.
Meanwhile, boss Cowan's shady deal leads to multiple murders...and the police discover that Lucy is leaving her fingerprints everywhere. Can our heroes get to the bottom of things before the cops catch up with them?
The plot is ridiculous but really of secondary importance; Lucille Ball's antics are the main attraction here, and Lucy does a pretty good job of keeping us watching. While the picture has some dry spells, the funny parts are very funny indeed. Albert's rooftop fight with John Litel is one highlight--they keep bumping into TV antennas and mixing up everybody's TV shows in the apartments below them.
Eventually everybody winds up on a cargo ship full of bananas, wine barrels, and a couple of parrots. (Mel Blanc as a parrot delivers several of the picture's funniest lines.)
Eddie Albert is solid as Lucy's loyal but slightly dopey boyfriend. The rest of the cast is fine but they're really just support. It's no classic but Lucille Ball is certainly fun to watch.
The Crime of Helen Stanley (1934)
Murder on the movie set
Movie star Helen Stanley is jumpy, nervous. She checks the gun in her dressing room desk drawer. She calls up her friend Inspector Trent and urges him to come to the studio. By the time Trent arrives, Helen Stanley has been murdered while filming a dance scene. Inspector Trent investigates.
Gail Patrick is only on screen for about 15 minutes as the temperamental Helen Stanley, but that's plenty of time for Patrick to establish her character as one of those mercurial celebrities who race through life making enemies.
It's up to Ralph Bellamy, as Inspector Trent, to sort through those enemies and identify which of them is the murderer. His long list of suspects includes everyone on the set--cameraman, director, bodyguard, crew members. Shirley Grey has a nice role as a script girl who is engaged to cameraman Kane Richmond. Lucien Prival is the veteran movie director, Phillip Trent an assistant, Bradley Page an agent, Ward Bond a crew member--and all seemingly had reasons to do away with the much-hated actress.
Bellamy is fairly low-key as the pipe-chewing Inspector Trent. He offers a few nuggets of detective wisdom ("Those open and shut cases sometimes are the toughest ones to crack") but mainly hangs around the studio asking the obvious questions. That leaves the focus on plot, which along with all of those suspects involves a lost diary and a missing murder weapon. It all moves fairly quickly from one short scene to the next. Overall it's pretty standard, a reliably entertaining B mystery.
Atlantic Adventure (1935)
Unconvincing ocean liner mystery
Reporter Lloyd Nolan is frustrated. Every time he has a hot date with girlfriend Nancy Carroll, his editor orders him out on a story. Nolan grumbles ("I've stood Helen up three times in a row already") but covers the big fire as ordered.
One day, desperate to meet Carroll for lunch, Nolan skips the press conference at the D.A.'s office. Of course he's late for the lunch so Carroll dumps him...and then the D.A. gets shot at the press conference that Nolan is skipping, so he gets fired too.
That's a pretty bad day but by that same evening Nolan is down at the pier snooping around the S.S. Gigantic, accompanied by his sidekick and photographer Harry Langdon, who has managed to bring Carroll along too. They all end up on board the ship when it sails for Southampton--and Nolan is sure that this is his big chance to get back his job (and his girl) by capturing the D.A.'s killer, who may be fleeing the country on the ship.
This whole plot line is wildly improbable but the story does take some interesting twists. Besides the escaping murderer, a couple of crooks are on board carrying a stash of stolen diamonds, and yet another pair of crooks is spying on them. Carroll gets mixed up in the mystery when somebody hands her an envelope full of cash, apparently mistaking her for one of the gang.
The various crooks are actually kind of fun, as are the ship's very British officers, who are not amused by their American passengers' shenanigans. Harry Langdon's comic relief consists mainly of making funny faces.
Both Lloyd Nolan and Nancy Carroll are energetic and look good. However, the roles don't quite work--Carroll's character is smart and generally self-sufficient, so what does she see in overconfident dunce Nolan? And why does she keep letting him boss her around?
Not very believable but it mostly moves fast.
Before Midnight (1933)
Well-plotted mystery is a little slow moving
Inspector Trent arrives at the old dark house on a stormy night, having been summoned by rich old Mr. Arnold. Trent gets right down to business:
Trent: "What's the trouble?" Arnold: "Somebody wants to kill me." Trent digs deeper: "What makes you think that?" Arnold: "I've been warned in the most peculiar way."
Plenty of clichés pop up in this generally enjoyable murder mystery. Inspector Trent quickly learns about the old legend of the house--years ago, the big grandfather clock stopped right before the current Mr. Arnold's great-grandfather was murdered. Sure enough, just when Trent has gathered the household in the hall, somebody exclaims that the clock has stopped. Suddenly the windows blow open and the lights go out--and when they come back on, there's a dead body on the floor.
Ralph Bellamy doesn't waste many words as the methodical Inspector Trent. A full roster of suspects includes the dead man's personal secretary, the secretary's wife (who may be a blackmailer), and beautiful June Collyer, the old man's ward who may or may not stand to inherit a big chunk of his money. The doctor, the banker, the lawyer--all behave suspiciously.
The plot involves a case of switched identities, a stolen diary, and an ink pen. The dead man was poisoned by a hypodermic needle in the left arm...or if not by a hypodermic, how?
Bellamy is a self-assured but rather single-minded inspector--this serious criminologist has no time for light-hearted banter with the suspects.
The plot is carefully laid out but not especially thrilling--which I guess is why the picture is interesting but never terribly exciting.
Ladies' Day (1943)
Madcap baseball comedy is loud but unconvincing
The Sox are in a pennant race. The ballplayers' wives are more excited than the players: they need that extra Series money for their winter plans. The team's chances center around star pitcher Wacky Waters, who is not married and--according to his manager--needs to swear off dames and concentrate on pitching.
When Wacky meets glamorous movie star Pepita Zorita, who is making a ballpark appearance to sell war bonds, it's love at first sight. Wacky and Pepita are quickly married; Wacky's pitching suffers; the team sinks into a losing streak. The player's wives decide that something must be done.
Eddie Albert smiles a lot as the overly enthusiastic Wacky, but the character really is a dunce. Lupe Velez at least shows some spirit as Pepita, and has a couple of good scenes where she displays her skills as a fast-talking spitfire.
Patsy Kelly, Joan Barclay, and Iris Adrian are the players' wives who decide that if the Sox are to have a chance at winning, then Wacky and Pepita must be separated. They waylay Pepita in a hotel in Kansas City and make plans to keep her there until the Series is over.
Jerome Cowan is kind of amusing as the team owner who knows nothing about baseball. Cliff Clark is predictably hard-boiled as the team manager. Tom Kennedy is funny as a suspicious hotel detective. Max Baer is actually pretty good as the burly ballplayer who is completely intimidated by wife Patsy Kelly.
As the leader of the wives, Patsy is loud but at least looks like she knows what she's doing. Unfortunately, most of the picture is not so convincing. Albert and Velez are fine but their characters are just not very interesting, and the whole goofy plot just doesn't really have any surprises. That's too bad because it is a fun cast.
Air Hawks (1935)
Far out plot packs a few surprises
Ralph Bellamy runs a small fleet of mail planes but his company needs to land the big contract to outdo Consolidated, their powerful competitor. Some crooks from Consolidated want to buy out Bellamy's business--and when he refuses to sell, they turn to dirty work.
Douglass Dumbrille is enthusiastically nasty as the head bad guy. The plot of this aerial adventure veers into sci-fi when Dumbrille hires mad scientist Edward Van Sloan to build a working version of his experimental ray machine that can destroy bridges and airplanes. Van Sloan eagerly starts shooting down Bellamy's airplanes, jeopardizing the big contract.
Meanwhile, Bellamy finds time to exchange corny banter with beautiful Tala Birell, a club singer who is mixed up with the crooks. Bellamy explains to her how airplanes are like women: "They take you up in the skies and then without any warning they let you down with a crash." Birell's quick reply: "But aren't most of the crashes the cause of the men at the controls, who try to go too far or too fast?"
The plot has plenty of twists, some of which make little sense.... For example, when the beleaguered airline is about ready to fold under the mysterious attacks, Bellamy decides it's time for a publicity stunt: He will save his business by attempting a cross country speed record. This is baffling until a few minutes later, when famed pilot Wiley Post wanders into the picture and agrees to take the flight himself.
Bellamy looks uncomfortable during a couple of silly melodramatic scenes but he is generally easy to watch as the hero. Victor Kilian has a fun if predictable role as the newspaper reporter who has a hunch, sneaks into the crooks' hideout, and has a narrow escape. Douglass Dumbrille is just fine as the villain always ready with a dastardly scheme.
The story is kind of wild and sometimes it feels like it's just barely holding together...but the picture's second half is quite enjoyable and moves at a nice steady clip.
The Mandarin Mystery (1936)
Uneven B mystery with a few laughs
The world's most valuable stamp is arriving in port. Reporters crowd the dock to welcome the beautiful Miss Templeton, who owns the stamp and carries it in her purse. At the same time, noted mystery writer Ellery Queen is at the dock. He accidentally tosses some flowers into Miss Templeton's lap while she is being interviewed, which is apparently a cute way to meet.
The plot develops quickly: Miss Templeton visits a hotel to meet a collector who may buy the stamp. A stranger sneaks into Miss Templeton's room, steals the stamp out of her purse...and moments later he is murdered in a side room. We don't really think Miss Templeton killed him but she did come running out of that same room with the stamp in her hand.
The murder investigation is led by Inspector Queen, with inevitable help from his son Ellery, who after all is already acquainted with the leading suspect. Other suspects include the collector, his nieces, a boyfriend....
Charlotte Henry is earnest and cute as Miss Templeton but the character doesn't offer many surprises. Eddie Quillan is a mischievous and energetic Ellery who talks nonstop. His confident banter is sometimes humorous but often merely obnoxious.
Franklin Pangborn has a moderately amusing bit as the flustered hotel manager. Wade Boteler comes across well as the irascible Inspector Queen, and this picture's best moments are probably those that feature interplay between the two Queens.
Overall, Quillan is fun in the role but not especially convincing as a master of deduction. And the mystery itself--involving counterfeit stamps, a missing tangerine, and a locked door--is hard to get too excited about.
One funny line, though: Ellery pounds on the door of a hotel room that he knows is full of cops, and says, "Open in the name of the law!"