Mystery movies


REVIEWED BY MIKE TOONEY:

   

THE FULLER BRUSH MAN. Columbia Pictures, 1948. 93 minutes. Red Skelton, Janet Blair, Don McGuire, Adele Jergens, Donald Curtis, Arthur Space, Hillary Brooke, Ross Ford, Trudy Marshall, Nicholas Joy, Selmer Jackson, Jimmy Hunt (the Mean Widdle Kid). Based on The Saturday Evening Post short story “Appointment with Fear” by Roy Huggins (28 September 1946) .

   Red, recently fired from the sanitation department, tries his hand at door-to-door salesmanship, without much success. But there is some pain — e. g., the Mean Widdle Kid (one of Skelton’s characters), who gives him a horrible time (ironic, since Red played the Kid on radio). And not only pain — Red manages to get himself designated as the prime suspect in a murder, an impossible crime in which the deadly weapon mysteriously disappears (actually it never appears in the first place — perplexing, huh?).

   Before he can finally clear himself, Red and Janet Blair almost get rubbed out in a war surplus warehouse filled with explosives. Congratulations are due the stunt people, who definitely earned their paychecks on this picture.

   At one point Red refers to himself as “Philo Jones,” a still-meaningful reference to society sleuth Philo Vance.

   Oddly enough, this Red Skelton vehicle got its start as a hard-boiled private eye story in The Saturday Evening Post, but by the time the screenwriters (principally Frank Tashlin) got through with it there was no resemblance to the source material.

   For you trivia hounds, the original story featured P. I. Stu(art) Bailey, played on TV a decade later by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., in the 77 Sunset Strip series. At almost the same time as The Fuller Brush Man was being filmed, a more serious movie featuring the Stu Bailey character (I Love Trouble with Franchot Tone in the lead) was also being lensed; it even had a few actors from the Skelton film (Janet Blair, Adele Jergens, Donald Curtis). Coincidence? We don’t think so.

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Related 2013 Mystery*File article about Roy Huggins:

      https://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=20980

   

THE MANDARIN MYSTERY. Republic Pictures, 1936. Eddie Quillan (Ellery Queen), Charlotte Henry, Rita La Roy, Wade Boteler (Inspector Queen), Franklin Pangborn, George Irving, Kay Hughes, William Newell. Based on the novel The Chinese Orange Mystery by Ellery Queen. Director: Ralph Staub. 

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime and YouTube (see below, but I think the running time on the latter has been cut).

   Remarkably enough, the actor who plays Ellery Queen in the bottom basement of a movie has the same initials, but alas he has absolutely no other credentials for playing the role. Eddie Quillan had a long successful career in making movies and in television, but in The Manadarin Mystery he plays the part of Ellery Queen as a brainless twit, more interested in getting a date with the girl in the leading role than solving a mystery.

   The girl being Charlotte Henry as Josephine Temple, owner of a rare, one-of-a-kind Chinese stamp worth thousands of dollars, and that was back in 1936. Obviously with a small piece of paper worth that kind of money, there are many others who wouldn’t mind having their hands on it, and one of them does so badly that they don’t mind committing a couple of murders to accomplish it.

   The movie follows the book, sort of, with a dead man found in a room with with his jacket on backwards and held upright with two long poles through his clothes. But with a running time of just over an hour, there’s no way to stuff all the complexities of the original text in, and the whole affair ends up being, in technical terms, a muddled mess.

   I can’t tell you to whom this movie was meant to appeal to, but it certainly wasn’t those who read and enjoyed the early day Ellery Queen books, written about strange mysterious affairs, true, but with clues and alibis that really meant something.

   Nothing at all like that here. Only cheap banter and little more. When I say “avoid,” I mean it.

   

BEHIND GREEN LIGHTS. 20th Century Fox, 1946. Carole Landis, William Gargan, Richard Crane, Mary Anderson, John Ireland, Charles Russell, Roy Roberts, Don Beddoe, Bernard Nedell. Screenplay: W. Scott Darling & Charles G. Booth. Director: Otto Brower. Currently streaming on YouTube (see below) and Amazon Prime.

   There really is a PI in this movie, but his part is so small that the actor who plays him (Bernard Nedell) does not even get on-screen credit. Besides being a PI, he also dabbles in blackmail on the side, which makes him an ideal victim of a blackmailee as well, making his role in the film exceedingly small.. Quite remarkably his body is found in a car left in front of the local police station, which causes the lieutenant in charge (William Gargan) all kinds of problems.

   It seems as though a young girl (Carole Landis), who is the daughter of the reform candidate for mayor in an upcoming election, had an appointment with the dead man just before his body was found, and all kinds of political pressure is placed on the cops to book her, at least for being under suspicion, if not for the murder itself.

   The pacing is fast. I think the whole movie takes place all in one night, without much of a letup. It’s a black-and-white crime movie, so it’s probably called a noir film by viewers who don’t know better, but it isn’t. Well, I’ll take that back. The lighting and the camera work is often the same as in true film noir.

   What makes the movie really enjoyable, though, is the acting and story line, both glossier and more professional than for any of the so-called Poverty Row productions. That’s what having a movie produced by 20th Century fox will do for it. As for the two leads, I confess I do not see William Gargan as a leading man in any film that has a hint of romance in it (and yes, it’s there), but any movie graced by the presence of Carole Landis in it makes it very easy to recommend this one.

PostScript: I do not know from whence the title comes. Perhaps the lights in the globes beside the front door of the police station are green, but who would know in a black-and-white movie?
   

NANCY DREW… TROUBLE SHOOTER. Warner Brothers, 1939. Bonita Granville Bonita Granville (Nancy Drew), Frankie Thomas (Ted Nickerson), John Litel (Carson Drew), Aldrich Bowker. Charlotte Wynters. Based on the girls’ novels written by Carolyn Keene. Director: William Clemens. Currently streaming on You Tube (see below).

   This was the third in a series of four Nancy Drew movies produced by Warner Brothers, and while this is the only one I’ve  ever seen (so far), I think there should have been more. (After all, how many Andy Hardy movies were there?) I have no idea how fans of the series would rank Troubleshooter, but let me warn you (if you need warning), that this is a movie that’s as much a comedy as it is a detective story.

   Nancy and her father go up in the country in this one in order for Carson Drew, a lawyer by profession, to represent a old friend of the family who’s been accused of murder, and the sheriff and all his buddies aren’t budging an inch.

   Complicating things, as far as Nancy is concerned, is that her father is making eyes at their new neighbor, and when she calls on her boy friend Ted Nickerson for help in that regard, he starts making moon-eyes at her as well. (By some strange coincidence, Ted and his family are on hand as well.) Determined to show her father she can do the cooking for their dinner, Nancy is confounded by the difference between a wood stove and a gas one, and several minutes are spent (though not wasted) watching her make like Lucy Ricardo in the kitchen.

   The whole thing hangs on coincidence, if you ask me, what with the murder victim found buried under a tropical flower Nancy happens to spot growing in a field, and then asking handyman Apollo Johnson (Willie Best) to dig it up for her.

   Oops. Full apologies for telling you more than you want to know, and I haven’t even gotten to the best part, with Nancy and Ted up in the air in a crop-dusting plane at the end of the film with no pilot. No matter how silly all this may sounds, the players pull it off with plenty of panache, and Bonita Granville displays just the right amount of perkiness and young girl confidence to make the whole affair a most entertaining one.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS. Apollo, UK, 1948, Eric Portman, Edana Romney, Barbara Mullen, Hugh Sinclair, Bruce Belfrage, Alan Wheatley, Joan Maude, and Leslie Weston. Screenplay (and co-produced by) Rudolph Cartier and Edana Romney, “inspired by the novel by Chris Massey” whatever that means. Directed by Terence Young.

   So many things to say about this movie, but it comes down to two words: See it.

   And now for a lot more words, starting with a nod toward technology and the pleasures of living in an age when I can recommend a fairly obscure feature like this to readers who can actually see it. Remember the days when old-movie watching was dictated by local TV stations?

   Corridor seems to have been something of a vanity production — I assume writer/producer Romney was responsible for her showy billing —f or a career that fizzled. Pity, that, because on the evidence of this film, she had some talent and, though not a classical beauty, was possessed of a frank sex appeal that I found — well — appealing.

   The film itself, however, focuses largely on Eric Portman as a haughty dilettante obsessed with the past, specifically Renaissance Italy, and the portrait of a lady from that period, whom he tries to recreate, using Ms Romney’s character as his palimpsest — a theme wondrously revisited in Vertigo, and I have to say Corridor  stands comparison with Hitchcock’s classic for style and brooding, romantic atmosphere.

   Those familiar with Director Terence Young’s blunt, energetic movies may wonder at this. I wondered myself, and I suspect the beauty of this film may be more due to cinematographer André Thomas than any effort of Young’s. Whichever the case, this is a real dazzler, with striking chiaroscuro effects, beams of light bisecting depths of soft, curtained darkness, picking up just enough detail in the strikingly-realized sets (The Production Design and Art Direction by Serge Piménoff and Terence Verity deserve notice too.) to send our imaginations reeling through Portman’s sepulchral mansion like a drunkard at a wine tasting. Or like the convoluted multi-images of Portman and Romney whirl-waltzing through the multi-mirrored halls.

   The plot doesn’t bear close examination, and the ending gets a bit awkward, but there’s a fine atmosphere of impending violence and gloomy doom throughout, and the characters are drawn with agreeably theatrical flourishes that put this solidly in the one-f-a-kind category. And the must-see class as well!!
   

THE NARROW MARGIN. RKO Radio Pictures, 1952. Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, Jacqueline White. Directed by Richard Fleischer.

   A cop from Los Angeles goes to Chicago to bring back a key witness in a grand jury investigation. The woman, the widow of a slain mobster, has a copy of the payoff list, and the syndicate is going all out to stop her from testifying.

   Most of the movie takes place on a train heading back to the Coast, As the cop, McGraw talks tough, and for the most part, although no great thinker, he can back it up. Marie Windsor is even better in her part, and I think I’d have given her another ending.

– Reprinted from Movie.File.2, June 1980.

   

DESTINATION MURDER. RKO Radio Pictures, 1950. Joyce Mackenzie, Stanley Clements, Hurd Hatfield, Albert Dekker, Myrna Dell, James Flavin, John Dehner, Suzette Harbin, Franklyn Farnum. Story & screenplay: Don Martin. Director: Edward L. Cahn. Streaming online here at the Internet Archive.

   When her father is killed in his doorway by a messenger boy, a young woman (Joyce Mackenzie) thinks that the police are working too slowly on the case, and she decides to some detective work on her own. Feeling the cops aren’t showing enough interest in the fellow she picked out of a police lineup, she begins a phony romance with him.

   This leads to her getting a job as a hatcheck girl at the club run by a known gangster (Albert Dekker), which of course gets her into even more danger, not to mention yet another romantic entanglement, this time with the club’s manager (Hurd Hatfield). Even though the movie is only 70 minutes long, this short summary includes only the minimum of the story line, not including a tremendous twist about two-thirds of the way through.

   And I do have to mention the brassy blonde presence of Myrna Dell as the gangster’s girl, or so he thinks. She definitely has different ideas about that.

   Joyce MacKenzie, a new face to me, is a brunette in the Jane Wyatt or Barbara Hale mode, while Stanly Clement as a wise-ass but mostly dopey killer-for-hire, went on to lead the Bowery Boys after Leo Gorcey retired. He was probably typecast in many other similar roles.

   The ending falls a bit flat, or so it seemed to me, but otherwise the players all had some name value and turned in more than adequate performances. No weak links in this one.

   The film itself is sometimes lumped into the film noir category, but if so, it’s only marginally. It’s a straight forward detective thriller in the nightclub and other nightlife vein, and for the time, it was (and is) one of the better ones.
   

DANGEROUS MONEY. Monpgram Pictures, 1946. Sidney Toler (Charlie Chan), Gloria Warren, Victor Sen Young (Jimmy Chan), Rick Vallin, Joseph Crehan. Willie Best. Screenplay by Miriam Kissinger, based on characters created by Earl Derr Biggers. Director: Terry Moore. Currently streaming on YouTube (see below),

   Charlie Chan is en route by boat to Australia, when a treasury agent on the trail of some “hot money” is murdered. With a ship full of suspects, plus two “assistants,” one his number two son, Charlie fuddles around for a while and then nabs the killer.

   I take back the remarks I made about the Mr, Moto series. I think I am an intelligent person, but I didn’t understand anything after the first 15 minutes. I assumed all would be made clear later, but the movie’s over, and here I am, without a clue.

– Reprinted from Movie.File.2, June 1980.

   

THE DARK CORNER. 20th Century Fox, 1946. Lucille Ball, Mark Stevens, Clifton Webb, William Bendix, Kurt Kreuger, Cathy Downs, Reed Hadley, Constance Collier, Eddie Heywood. Directed by Henry Hathaway. Currently available on YouTube. (See below.)

   PI Brad Galt has a problem. Ge has a past that includes a stretch in a California prison for manslaughter – a crime he was framed for by a former partner, a romeo who specializes in blackmail om th side. They’re both in New York now, the fur about to fly.

   Galt also has a good-looking secretary who believes in him, but who intends to wait for a wedding ring before fooling around. Stevens looks too soft to be believable to be a tough private eye, but Lucille Ball is delectable. She could work in my office any time.

– Reprinted from Movie.File.2, June 1980.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS. Universal, 1971. George C Scott, Joanne Woodward, Jack Gilford, Lester Rawlins, Al Lewis, Rue McClanahan, Oliver Clark, F. Murray Abraham, Paul Benedict and M. Emmet Walsh. Written by James Goldman. Directed by Anthony Harvey. Currently streaming on YouTube (see below).

   A promising misfire.

   I use the word “promising” advisedly. Well, that is to say, no one actually advised me to call it “promising, “ but I couldn’t help thinking how aptly it applied to a film with an intriguing premise and a story-line strewn with clues that seem to be leading up to something that turns out to…..

   For starters, Giants centers around George C Scott as a paranoid psychotic who believes he is Sherlock Holmes, and sees the hand of Moriarty at work in everything that happens his way. He is also a man of considerable personal charm — distressingly rare in actual paranoids — and persuasiveness — distressingly common in paranoids who run nations, but I digress.

   As the film opens, Scott’s brother is trying to get him committed for venal reasons of his own, and Psychiatrist Mildred Watson (Joanne Woodward) is called in to evaluate him and sign the papers. When her boss at the Mental Hospital pressures Dr Watson (get it?) to skip over the evaluation, she digs her heels in and takes time to really get to know a clearly delusional man who refuses to act like a patient. And as the film progresses, she gets drawn further into his fantasy… or is it fantasy?

   Okay I better post a (WARNING!!) because I’m gonna hint at some plot developments here. And the problem is, there are plenty of developments, but they only lead to other developments. The story seems to be going somewhere, but it never actually gets there — or much of anywhere. Every clue leads to another clue instead of a solution, every action runs to a dead end, and every climax turns to anticlimax, leaving the film meandering and irresolute.

   Perhaps it’s all the more frustrating because there are some clever ideas and good lines here: a pithy comment on Westerns, “There are no masses in Dodge City, only individuals taking responsibility for their own actions.” Scott’s assessment of Woodward’s usefulness, “Just keep saying to yourself, ‘I’m adequate. ‘ “ or “I think if God is dead he laughed himself to death.”

   I could go on. The movie itself sure does. But basically all that cleverness is just elegant gift-wrapping on an empty package.

   

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