Mystery movies



A TRAGEDY AT MIDNIGHT. Republic Pictures, 1942) John Howard, Margaret Lindsey, Keye Luke, Mona Barrie, Roscoe Karns, Miles Mande.r Screenplay by Isabel Dawn, based on a story by Hal Hudson and Sam Duncan. Directed by Joseph Santley. Currently streaming on YouTube (added below, but see Comment #1).

   Radio detective Greg Sherman (John Howard) is roundly disliked by the police who he harasses with his weekly program solving crimes while they twiddle their thumbs, so when he wakes up to find a murdered woman in the twin bed in the borrowed apartment of Dr. and Mrs. Wilton (Miles Mander and Mona Barrie) where his new wife Beth (Margaret Lindsey) should be, while their apartment across the hall is being painted, it looks bad, and when Lt. Cassidy (Roscoe Karns) shows up and arrests him, it looks even worse.

   Luckily for Sherman, with a little help from his wife and houseboy Ah Foo (Keye Luke), he quickly escapes, but now he is on the run not even knowing the name of the murder victim.

   Obviously modeled on The Thin Man, and despite the stereotyped Chinese houseboy who speaks in pidgin English (but luckily has brains and knows judo) this film from Republic Pictures moves fast and has a decent mystery at its heart, as Sherman and his attractive wife discover the dead woman had two names, two apartments, and two lovers, one a club owning gangster.

   As murder and circumstance eliminates their best suspects Sherman races to find the solution and manage to make the deadline for his next broadcast where he has to produce the killer.

   Howard and Lindsey make for an attractive minor substitute for William Powell and Myrna Loy and have some natural presence playing off of each other. The suspects are the usual lot. and there are a number of decent red herrings along the way before Howard closes in on the real killer on the air.

   Of course there are holes in the plot. and you probably don’t want to think too much about it, but the solution is satisfying and one of those “that was obvious” endings that aren’t really obvious until you actually hear them explained.

   The whole stereotyped Chinese houseboy business is. as you might suspect, offensive, but frankly Luke seems to be playing it tongue ’n cheek and brings such energy to the part, it’s hard to dwell on the injustice. He was an actor who was invariably better than the material he was given. It’s hard to imagine why the pidgin English though, considering his years as the thoroughly American Jimmie Chan. He’s at least integral to the plot and not just comedy relief.

   There’s nothing new here, but it is done with energy and at least some thought to the mystery and not merely the comedy and quick patter. As a B, it does exactly what it aims to, which is worth commending in any film.

ACCUSED OF MURDER. Republic Pictures, 1956. David Brian, Vera Ralston, Sidney Blackmer, Virginia Grey, Warren Stevens, Lee Van Cleef, Barry Kelley, Elisha Cook Jr. Screenplay by W. R. Burnett, based on his novel, Vanity Row. Director: Joseph Kane. Currently available on YouTube (see below). (The book is reviewed by Dan Stumpf here.)


   Time was starting to run out for Republic Pictures when this film was produced, and as it so happened, the end of Vera (Hruba) Ralston’s motion picture career was close to ending as well. Republic lasted until 1959, while Miss Ralston’s last appearance on film was in 1958. That their fortunes were so long tied together is due to one fact: she was the longtime protege of Republic Pictures studio head Herbert J. Yates, whose last year on top was also — you guessed it — 1958.

   Her acting abilities, never regarded very highly, were probably adequate for most of the generally low budget films she was in, and over the years, there were 27 of them. In Accused of Murder she’s a night club singer who’s suspected of murdering a high-flying attorney (Sidney Blackmer) in debt to the mob, but luckily for her, the homicide lieutenant in charge of case (David Brian) finds himself falling in love with her, and he’s the only person standing between her and a life in prison.


   Definitely not believing her story is Brian’s second-in-command, a very young Lee Van Cleef, whose way of carrying himself reminded me a lot of Lee Marvin, lean and lanky and in so smooth control of himself.

   There’s more to the story than this, including a scar-faced hit man (Warren Stevens) whom we see being paid for killing Blackmer, and a would-be blackmailer, a dime-a-dance girl (Virginia Grey) who saw Stevens at the scene of the crime. There are a few twists to the tale, some of them quite clever, or there would have been if we (the viewer) hadn’t been shown too much in the beginning, and yet not enough to stop us from puzzling over whatever it was that wasn’t shown. Speaking entirely for myself, you understand.

   Adequate, therefore, but all around? Only adequate. There’s no other word that might apply, unless it was mediocre, and truthfully, Accused of Murder is a step above that. It’s a small step, but a step, nonetheless.



UPDATE: This review was first posted on this blog on 17 November 2011. The reason for its revival is that it’s the second listing (alphabetically) in Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of FILM NOIR, by Arthur Lyons (Da Capo Press, 2000). I’m in the process of working my way through it, one movie at a time. The first nine Comments that follow are from its earlier posting.

ACCOMPLICE Richard Arlen

ACCOMPLICE. Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), 1946. Richard Arlen (Simon Lash), Veda Ann Borg, Tom Dugan, Michael Brandon, Marjorie Manners, Earle Hodgins, Francis Ford. Based on the novel Simon Lash, Private Detective, by Frank Gruber. Director: Walter Colmes.

   Sometimes it doesn’t pay to get what you’ve been wishing for, even if you’ve been looking for it for a long time. Case in point: This movie, based on a private eye yarn by a long time master of pulp fiction, Frank Gruber.

   Gruber also had a hand in on the screenplay, but I have to be honest. This is one of the worst assembled detective movies I’ve had the occasion to watch in a long time. It’s a jumbled up mess, one put together by a gang of ham-fisted amateurs, or so it seems.

ACCOMPLICE Richard Arlen

   Luckily it’s only 68 minutes long, and at that it felt a whole lot longer. PRC didn’t have a lot of money to splurge on their productions, and even so you get the feeling that they cut the budget on Accomplice by thirty percent about halfway through to save it for the next film out of their hopper.

   Another problem, perhaps, is that they tried to film the book fairly closely, but that’s only a guess, not having read the book in over 50 years, but that’s what it feels like. There’s simply too much story, which goes hither and yon and there, and in 68 minutes, there’s not nearly enough time to stitch the pieces of a nicely complicated plot together so the seams don’t show, and badly.

ACCOMPLICE Richard Arlen

   But as for the story, since you are asking, it starts out in fine fashion. Simon Lash (a mid-career but still dashing Richard Arlen) is a private eye, and not only that, one of my favorite kinds of private eyes, a book collecting PI, mostly non-fiction about the West and how it was Won. He also has an assistant named Eddie (Tom Dugan) who seems to do a lot of the heavy lifting around the office.

   He’s hired in Accomplice by brash blonde Joyce Bonniwell (played to perfection by brash blonde Veda Ann Borg) to find her husband, a bank manager who suffers from periodic bouts of amnesia. (We’ve heard that before, and so has Simon Lash.) What makes things hinky here is that Joyce once dumped Simon at the altar.

ACCOMPLICE Richard Arlen

   So far, so good. What comes next is fast and furious. There is a mistress on the side (red-headed, as if you could tell in a black and white movie), a mink ranch, a missing bank president who’s been seen with a mysterious brunette, a body found with its head blown off, and — skipping a whole lot — a Castle in the desert being used for nefarious purposes, lorded over by Francis Ford (brother of John Ford, a fact which is of course totally irrelevant to the rest of this paragraph).

   There things come to a flashy and violent end. I had stopped caring about 30 minutes earlier, but the ending, I’d have to admit, is nearly worth waiting for. Almost, but not quite.

ACCOMPLICE Richard Arlen

MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS. Columbia Pictures, 1945. Nina Foch, Dame May Whitty, George Macready, Roland Varno, Anita Bolster. Based on the book The Woman in Red by Anthony Gilbert. Cinematographer: Burnett Guffey. Director: Joseph H. Lewis.

   A young woman in London, alone except for the landlady and a maid at her rooming house, and barely one male acquaintance, and needing money to pay the rent, finds what seems to be the perfect job – as a secretary/companion to a wealthy woman in the country. It quickly turns out to be not so perfect, though, as when she wakes up in her new residence, she discovers that she is essentially a prisoner and unable to leave the premises. She is also called by a new name and described to the servants as well to the local townspeople as recovering from a serious illness and often delusional.

   As a premise for a tale to present-day audience, it’s one that’s hard to swallow, but once persuaded that yes, such a situation could happen (and even more so back in 1945), it’s a lot easier to start wondering instead what her captors (the somewhat looney tunes mother and son – a perfectly cast Dame May Whitty and George Macready) want with her, and more importantly, how she can get away from their tightly enforced grip.

   All her attempts to escape or letting anyone else know she’s being held a prisoner end in failure, until – well, I won’t tell. Why should I? There’s no need to, I suppose, for one thing. It’s a minor tale, all in all, with only 65 minutes of running time. Anything longer than that then any of the suspension of disbelief you’ve invested in it fade away very very quickly. An hour plus is about as long as it could (should) have been, and it was.

Added Later: I watched this online on The Criterion Channel, where I found it in their current “Gothic Noir” collection.  Is it Gothic? Definitely yes. Is it Noir? I’m not so sure about that. The story line has nothing to do with “noir” as applied to the written word. But if “noir” is taken to apply to moody, well-photographed black-and-white crime films, then yes.




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.


Related 2013 Mystery*File article about Roy Huggins:


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.



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.


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