ACCOMPLICE. PRC, 1946. Richard Arlen, Veda Ann Borg, Tom Dugan, Francis Ford, Herbert Rawlinson. Screenplay Irving Elman, Frank Gruber based on the latter’s novel Simon Lash, Private Detective. Directed by Walter Colmes.

   A complex plot, sharp dialogue, a smart story based on a classic hardboiled novel, and a well-staged shootout in the California desert at a castle turned dude ranch run by crooked Francis Ford are all on the plus side for this fast moving mystery film.

   So why isn’t it better?

   The directors penchant for flat two shots on cheap sets doesn’t help, but even that isn’t the real problem.

   The real problem is the cast.

   This kind of hard-boiled mystery depends on delivery, snappy tongue-in-cheek delivery by actors with on screen charisma and style.

   That is neither Richard Arlen or Veda Ann Borg, who deliver their lines with all the skill and depth of a high school adaptation of Arsenic and Old Lace.

   Book-loving Simon Lash would rather try to prove Billy the Kid was a backshooter than take a case, especially a divorce case, but when he is broke and Joyce Marlow, nee Mrs. James Bonniwell shows up, the girl who left him at the altar ten years earlier when he was a promising lawyer, shows up on his doorstep, his partner Eddie (Tom Dugan) convinces him to see her.

   Simon suspects Joyce is looking for evidence for a divorce case against her banker hubby, but she convinces him her husband has lost his memory and gone missing. But when his search leads to a love nest the husband is keeping with another woman, Simon thinks he has been taken by Joyce again — until she receives a call while he is confronting her that her husband has been found with his head blown off in the desert.

   From then on things move at a pace until the finale when Simon is taken prisoner at the above mentioned desert castle and escapes to shoot it out with the bad guys while unfolding the complex and well planned plot.

   Sounds great, and on the written page the dialogue by Gruber from his novel has the punch and snap that is proper to the best private eye fare on the screen. The only problem is the delivery which could gives pancakes a run for which is flatter.

   There isn’t a moment of charm, a twinkle of eye, or a playful seductive moment in the film. It’s in the script, but Arlen and Borg deliver their lines (and no one else does any better, including the unfunny comic relief) like they were reading them off a prompter for the first time.

   You know you are in trouble when you find yourself longing for Tom Conway or Warner Baxter from the Falcon and Crime Doctor films.

   Had this been a Michael Shayne entry with Lloyd Nolan or a Falcon or even Charlie Chan film it would be a classic, but alas it is a film which stars Richard Arlen and Veda Ann Borg and the biggest collection of stiffs collecting a pay check in the history of film.

   Even a master like Frank Gruber can’t overcome amateur night at the Bijou.