HOLLYWOOD STORY. Universal Pictures, 1951. Richard Conte, Julie Adams, Richard Egan, Jim Backus, Fred Clark, Henry Hull, Paul Cavanagh. Screenplay and story by Frederick Kohener (story as by Frederick Brady). Directed by William Castle.

   A surprisingly good mystery that is a bit plot heavy and would have benefited without Jim Backus’s jovial press agent narration, but otherwise posits a fair Hollywood mystery. Richard Conte plays Larry O’Brien, a successful New York film producer, lured West by money-man and friend Sam Collier (Fred Clark).

   When he goes to visit his new studio, once home of silent films, he discovers it is where famed silent film director Franklin Ferrera was murdered in 1929 in his cabana in an unsolved mystery. Despite being warned off, O’Brien decides to look into the old murder as the subject of his first film and begins nosing around.

   He even hires washed-up screenwriter Vincent St. Clair (Henry Hull) who worked with Ferrara to write the screenplay, and attracts the attention of Lt. Lennox (Richard Egan) who reminds him there is no statute of limitations on murder, and cops might come in handy.

   Not everyone is happy about the case being reopened. Sally Rosseau (Julie Adams) is the daughter of silent star Amanda Rosseau (Adams appears in a dual role but is billed as Julia Adams in it) who was involved with Ferrara and would as soon leave the whole thing in the past with her late mother’s memory. So would O’Brien’s friend Sam Collier, and former male lead Roland Paul (Paul Cavanagh), the latter the suspect whose career was ruined because everyone believed he murdered the director over Amanda. And when someone takes a shot at O’Brien at the studio late at night it seems as if someone is willing to kill to keep the past silent.

   Of course O’Brien and Sally will become romantically involved and secrets that hurt the innocent and the guilty will emerge, including a missing male secretary named Rodale who shows up willing to sell information and turns up murdered in his cheap hotel room.

   Despite the setting, direction by William Castle, Richard Conte in the lead playing at amateur private eye, and black and white photography, this is in no way film noir. Instead it’s a fair mystery with suspects and clues that unfolds more like the kind of thing done later on television on shows like Burke’s Law or Ellery Queen than what you might expect on the big screen from this era.

   There are lulls, the Jim Backus narration is a pointless distraction, and while it is nice to see them, brief cameos by silent film stars like Francis X. Bushman and William Farnum are more awkward than nostalgic, but get past that aspect, and there are actual clues here (the main one not shared with the viewer), a dangerous killer, and even a frame-up of not one but two innocent men.

   It’s a short fairly complex mystery, and if you solve it before the hero, it is likely based more on being familiar with the genre than anything else, and I have to say there is one clue shown early and right out in the open that proves key to unraveling the mystery that is good enough for any mystery.

   In fact the biggest mystery about this one is that they didn’t take that cast and story and make it into a noir. It wouldn’t have taken much effort to make the difference between a decent little mystery film and maybe a very good one. The problem here is that a pretty good idea is actually tossed off by everyone involved.