Sun 12 Feb 2017
DANGER ON THE AIR. Universal Pictures, 1938. Nan Grey, Donald Woods, Jed Prouty, Berton Churchill, William Lundigan, Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher, Edward Van Sloan, Lee J. Cobb, (Peter) Lind Hayes, Louise Stanley. Based on the Doubleday Crime Club novel Death Catches Up With Mr. Kluck, by Xantippe. Director: Otis Garrett.
Despite too many characters and too much plot to be crammed into a 70 minute running time, this proved to be an enjoyable little murder mystery. This is, of course, what happens when a full length detective novel is the basis of a film — “crammed” is exactly the right word.
As perhaps the title would suggest, most of the movie takes place in a radio studio, setting that movie audience in 1938 would have little chance seeing for themselves on their own. Dead is one of the biggest sponsors the Cosmopolitan Network has, an obnoxious micro-manager and lecherous old goat named Caesar Kluck. He’s someone who people take objection to at first meeting, so the killer could be almost anyone.
Teaming up to solve the case are a studio technician (Donald Woods) and a girl production assistant (Nan Grey). They’re somewhat of a mismatched couple. He’s studious and dull; she’s vivacious and very pretty. There are loads of veteran character actors on the scene as well, but the film also includes some relative newcomers such as Peter Lind Hayes (who does voice imitations of then current radio stars, including Bing Crosby) and Lee J. Cobb, who at a very young age played an aged ethnic janitor with considerable ease.
Because of the short running time, the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, zigzagging this way and that so that everybody in the studio is shown as a possible suspect, and worse, the killer’s motive comes right out of some magician’s hat. Bear with it though, and you may enjoy this one as much as I did.