Mystery movies

EXPOSED. Republic Pictures, 1947. Adele Mara (Belinda Prentice), Robert Scott, Lorna Gray, Adrian Booth, Robert Armstrong, William Haade, Bob Steele, Harry Shannon. Director: George Blair.

   It’s possible, depending on definitions, that this is the first movie in which a female private eye is the leading character. You may be thinking right away about Torchy Blane and the movies she was in, and I wouldn’t blame you, but she was a newspaper reporter with a good eye for crimes and who committed them, but no, she wasn’t a PI.

   Adele Mara is the PI in this one, a brash young lady named Belinda Prentice, but while she tries hard, she doesn’t have the patter that a good wisecracking PI needs in the movies (blame the writers). Not only that, but the fact that she needs a lovable lunk of an assistant named Iggy (William Haade) to get her out of scrapes is another strike against her.

   Noting that her father is the chief of homicide (played to perfection by Robert Armstrong), we can only agree that as an independent operator, Miss Prentice is pretty much a minor leaguer.

   It doesn’t help that the case she’s hired to work on (that of a father wanting to know why his son is taking so much money out of their firm’s account) is so muddled, even when it turns into a case of murder as so many cases such as this invariably do. Watch this and see if I’m not right. Muddled. And even so, there are too many scenes of people walking from one place to another, as well as automobiles driving in or off somewhere, as if they were a new invention.

   One scene does stand out, though, that of Iggy and Bob Steele’s character (a hood by the name of Chicago) having a smack ’em up, knock ’em down fight that’s well worth the price of admission (free on YouTube).


THE KENNEL MURDER CASE. Warner Brothers, 1933. William Powell (as Philo Vance), Mary Astor, Eugene Pallette. Ralph Morgan. Robert McWade. Robert Barrat. Based on the novel by S. S. Van Dine. Director: Michael Curtiz. Currently streaming on Amazon Prime (and perhaps elsewhere).

   When a man who is intensely disliked by both his family and friends, it is not big surprise when soon into the movie he’s found dead in his study. What is a surprise is that an examination of his body reveals that not only was he shot, but he was also slugged and then stabbed. At first it is assumed that he committed suicide, especially when his study door has been locked from the inside and the only way to get in (or out) is by breaking the door down.

   Once suicide has been ruled out, the there two questions: who did it (and there are lots of suspects) and how? The latter is answered quickly enough. Philo Vance, who seems to have an in with the D..A. and free rein on the case, [PLOT ALERT] uses a needle and a short length of thread to demonstrate. [END OF PLOT ALERT]

   A dog is eventually used to identify the killer, but even before that, the title of the film is totally justified by it opening scenes, taking place at a championship dog show where all the players seem to have a stake in the action.

   From all accounts, this is a fairly good adaptation of the original Philo Vance novel, and just maybe, too good. It’s not easy getting all the primary plot points of a 300 page book into a movie with only 80 minutes running time, but director Michael Curtiz moves even the draggy bits along at a fast pace. It also does not hurt that all of the players are more than competent in their roles, starting at the top with William Powell who was made to play smoothly urbane roles like this.


WILSON TUCKER The Chinese Doll

DEVIL’S CARGO. Film Classics, 1948. John Calvert as Michael “The Falcon” Watling, Rochelle Hudson, Roscoe Karns, Lyle Talbot, Theodore von Eltz, Michael Mark, Tom Kennedy, Paul Marion. Based on a character created by Michael Arlen. Director: John F. Link Sr.

   This is the 14th of the 16 entries in Hollywood’s series of “The Falcon” movies, and the first to star magician-turned-movie-star John Calvert. I’m going to be generous and say that Calvert never made anyone forget either George Sanders or Tom Conway in the role, but if this happened to have been the first in the series, no one seeing this film would have asked for their money back, either. Suave, he wasn’t in the same league as the other two, but very few movie stars in the 1940s who didn’t mind playing private eyes in the movies were either.

WILSON TUCKER The Chinese Doll

   The version of the character Calvert played seems to have been named Michael Watling, not Michael Waring, and at this late date, no one seems to know why. His client first enters while he’s taking a bath and confesses to the murder of a wealthy playboy. A crime of passion, he says, and while he knows he will be exonerated for that reason, he asks the Falcon to help give himself up to the police. For $500, the Falcon says yes.

   There is a lot more to the story than that, and a lot of it has to do with a key, a locker in a bowling alley and a safety deposit box. And oh yes, the man doing the confessing has a wife (Rochelle Hudson), who is a looker, but when it comes down to it, she is not very nice, and when the client is poisoned to death in his jail cell, things get really complicated.

   In spite of some rather indifferent production values, the mystery is a more than decent one. It actually makes sense, in other words, and when the pieces are all put on the table, they actually fit. When it comes to black-and-white PI movies from the 1940s, this is a huge, huge plus.

NOTE:The obligatory comment that has to be included in every review that’s ever been written of this film, is that there is no  Devil in it, nor is there a Cargo. I couldn’t find room to point this out anywhere earlier, so here it is now.


MURDER ON THE BLACKPOOL EXPRESS. Gold, UK, 11 November 2017. Johnny Vegas (Terry), Sian Gibson (Gemma), Sheila Reid, Katy Cavanagh, Una Stubbs (her final performance), Nina Wadia, Kimberley Nixon , Matthew Cottle, Nigel Havers, Javone Prince, Susie Blake, Mark Heap, Griff Rhys Jones, Kevin Eldon. Written by Jason Cook. Directed by Simon Delaney. Currently streaming on BritBox.

   As I’ve always firmly maintained, humor is a funny thing. The viewers’ comments on IMDb about this recent comedy mystery from England are all over the place. What this is, in a way, is a takeoff on Murder on the Orient Express, except that the train is a British tour bus, taking its passengers to each of the murder scenes in the list of a famous mystery writer’s novels. He, David (Griff Rhys Jones) is of course along to squeeze every last shilling from their wallets and purses, what with gifts and souvenirs at each stop.

   It is also a takeoff from those “old dark house” movies that were all the rage in the 30s and 40s, without losing track of the fact that every so often they’re still popular today. Except that the passengers are trapped in a bus, and every time it stops, someone gets killed, and in a fashion very reminiscent of the murder in David’s books.

   In charge of this disaster on wheels are driver Terry (Johnny Vegas) and tour guide Genna (Sian Gibson), whose joint venture this is is about to go bust if the tour is not a success. The passengers are a motley lot. Many are elderly and/or suffer from dementia, secrets, or other mental failings. Dotty, you might say. All of them. Some more than others.

   Gradually, though, as the ranks thin out — either having become victims or having decided that staying on this wholly unexpected mystery tour is a whole lot more than they signed up for, bail out early – each of them unexpectedly begin to flesh out. Not in any Dostoevsky sense, mind you, but more than the caricatures of living, breathing people merely taking up seats they began as.

   The mystery is not bad, either, with a killer whose motive makes sense, even though there may not quite be enough clues to allow the viewer to solve the case ahead of time. (Red herrings, though? by the bucketful.)

   I enjoyed this, even as over the top as it often is. It was successful enough on its first showing to produce not only two sequels, Death on the Tyne (2018) and Dial M for Middlesbrough (2019), but a three-part miniseries, Murder, They Hope (2021), in which Gemma and Terry have given up the tour business and set up shop as private investigators. I see no reason why not.




MICKEY SPILLANE – Kiss Me, Deadly. Mike Hammer #6. Dutton, hardcover, 1952. Signet #1000, paperback, 1953. Reprinted many times.

   So, yeah, this is my third crack at Mike Hammer (previously having read I, the Jury and One Lonely Night). I was a big fan of the Stacy Keach TV show Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer in the 80’s. Which I think may be part of the reason why I keep trying to enjoy the books — results be damned.

   In this yarn, Mike Hammer finds himself cruising down the highway between Albany and Manhattan when an escapee from the loony bin leaps in front of his coupe wearing only an overcoat. He picks her up. Shenanigans ensue.

   They get rolled by the mafia, literally rolled off a cliff, and Hammer gets framed for the lady’s murder.

   Turns out the lady he picked up was the moll of a that guy bilked the mafia out of $2 million bucks worth of merchandise. And now the mafia thinks Hammer knows where it is. He’s got to get the goods and kill the bad guys before they kill him. And this time he’s without his trusty .45 as the FBI pulls his license. So it’s two-fisted action for Hammer. But the results are never truly in doubt. If there’s one thing Hammer doesn’t lack, it’s self-confidence.


   I think Spillane may be a better writer than he gets credit for. His prose isn’t half bad half the time:

   “Trouble. Like the smoke over a cake of dry ice. You can’t smell it but you can see it and watch it boil and seep around things and know that soon something’s going to crack and shatter under the force of the horrible contraction….”

   “I went to say something. It never came out. The moon that had been hidden behind the clouds came out long enough to bathe the earth in a quick shower of pale yellow light that threw startlingly long shadows across the road and among those dark fingers was one that seemed darker still and moved with a series of jerks and a roar of sound that evolved into a dark sedan cutting in front of us.”

   And he’s quite good at action scenes, clipped and visceral: “I had my hand clamped over his, snapped it back and he screamed the same time the muzzle rocketed a bullet into his eyeball and in the second before he died the other eye that was still there glared at me balefully before it filmed over.”


   The problem is really just that Mike Hammer is a jerk. And the dialogue that comes out of his mouth is frequently so stupid it stretches credulity: “Get your nose to the ground, kitten……Velda…..Show me your legs.” His mouth just utters one cliche after another. You couldn’t use much of the tired patter at all now for any film script other than parody.

   The other problem is the plot. You get the feeling Spillane doesn’t know ‘who did it’ either. He’s like Mike Hammer. He figures if he keeps punching and punching the typewriter and Hammer keeps punching and punching the bad guys, at some point he’ll make it. Heroes turn villains and villains turn hero on a dime, with little explanation. Motives are as hazy as are lines of authority and control. In the end all you know is that Mike Hammer metes out justice and all the bad guys are dead. And least Hammer thinks so. And Hammer says if you kill the right guy for the wrong crime, what does it matter?

   Me? I guess I care a bit too much about the process. I guess I’m just not a Hammer guy after all.

   P.S. I did really enjoy the movie — but it’s been awhile. It’s by Robert Aldrich with a screenplay by A.I. Bezzerides. It’s currently available for free at and I’ll have to check it out again soon.



DARK AND STORMY NIGHT. Bantam Street, 2009. Jim Beaver, Jennifer Blaire, Larry Blamire, Bob Burns (as Kogar the Gorilla) Dan Conroy, Robert Deveau, Bruce French, Betty Garrett, Trish Geiger, Brian Howe, Marvin Kaplan, and H.M. Wynant. Written and directed by Larry Blamire.

   A Larry Blamire thing.

   That should be description enough for those familiar with The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra  (2001) and Blamire’s other delicious send-ups of films no respectable critic would deign to notice. Night, however, offers a thin patina of low-budget Class missing from Cadavra, and a script well-attuned to the niceties of old Dark House movies.

   The story line here follows the classic Cat/Canary recipe: mix greedy relatives on hand for the reading of the will; stir in a crooked lawyer, wise-cracking reporter, and a clutching hand or two, and heat until it all catches fire quite nicely.

   Don’t get me wrong, like most of Blamire’s things, Night is far, far from perfect. Often it’s not even very good. Running jokes get run into the ground, and the level of hysteria frequently rises too high for comfort. Then again, while director Blamire lavishes B-movie (1930s variety) atmosphere on this, writer Blamire sometimes forgets to be funny.

   But this is balanced by some genuine wit, rapid-fire dialogue in the Howard Hawks tradition, and an attitude of affection for the genre that puts the viewer in a receptive mood when good jokes (and there are many) do come along.

   Which may be the key to the charm of any Blamire thing; it’s done with love.




NIGHTMARE. Universal, 1942. Diana Barrymore, Brian Donlevy, Henry Daniell, Arthur Shields, Gavin Muir, Ian Wolfe, Hans Conried, and John Abbott. Screenplay by Dwight Taylor, from a story by Philip MacDonald. Directed by Tim Whelan. Currently available here on YouTube.

   A fast-moving “B+” from Universal.

   Brian Donlevy headlines as an American in London who finds himself blitzed out of his gambling club (This is 1942, remember.) leaving him homeless and penniless, with nothing but the tuxedo he stands in. In a fit of casual desperation, he breaks into an empty-looking town house, only to find it occupied by Diana Barrymore, and, to a lesser extent, by her estranged husband Henry Daniell, who sits slumped over his desk with a knife in his back.

   Diana asks him to help dispose of the corpse and he agrees, which leads to a whole mess of complications involving the Police, Nazi Saboteurs, attack dogs, and Ms Barrymore, who may not be what she seems.

   This was made concurrently with Universal’s updated Sherlock Holmes series (It was released two months after Voice of Terror) and shares some of the regular players, sets, and background music, albeit in service of a higher budget. Henry Daniell, then a contract player at Universal, doesn’t get much to do, playing a corpse except for a short flashback, but Hans Conried makes the most of a nearly wordless bit part as a Nazi Goon.

   Overall, Nightmare is nothing really special, but Director Whelan moves Dwight Taylor’s screenplay along with a snappy pace that makes up for the lack of any discernible style, and the players take it seriously even when the viewer (this viewer anyway) can’t.




THE SECRET PARTNER. MGM, UK/US, 1961. Stewart Granger, Haya Harareet, Bernard Lee, Hugh Burden, Lee Montague, Norman Bird. Director: Basil Dearden.

   The Secret Partner is one of those films where the entire story hinges on the big reveal at the end. Just who is the “secret partner” in the criminal scheme that forms the basis for the film’s plot? There is, of course, more than one red herring; the viewer is supposed to be suspicious, wondering whether that man or that guy is the masked villain.

   The problem with films like these, it hardly needs to be pointed out, is that once you see the ending, you realize a good part of what makes the film work (or not, depending on your perspective) was the guess work you put in throughout the proceedings and how much you think it was worth your time.

   The story is one of blackmail, deceit, and criminality. Stewart Granger portrays John Brent, a shipping company executive who has a secret. He’s living under an assumed name, because he has a criminal past, having served time in prison for embezzlement. But that’s not his main problem right now. Not only has his wife (Israeli actress Haya Harakeet) left him, but he’s being blackmailed by his dentist (Norman Bird), a seedy little man whose avarice outweighs his common sense.

   Enter the secret partner, a masked man using a voice distortion device. He comes into the dentist’s office with a proposition: when Brent is under the gas for a tooth removal, the dentist is to make a clay impression of his keys and to get the combination to the shipping company’s safe. It’s ludicrous, but it works in a quirky, offbeat sort of way.

   Soon enough, the shipping company’s safe has been looted and Brent (Granger) is the top suspect. Thus begins his very noir journey – a falsely accused man seeking the “secret partner” to clear his name. Who can it be? Is it his colleague at the office? The doctor quietly from a distance in love with his estranged wife? Or the hipster interior designer who is having an affair with her? It’s up to Detective Superintendent Hanbury (Bernard Lee) to investigate. It is – using an all too familiar trope – his last case and he intends to do it justice.

   What I appreciated about The Secret Partner was not so much the plot – although it’s perfectly fine – but the atmosphere. Although it’s rather talky for a film noir, it has its share of noirish moments, even those fleeting ones that are enough to make a visual impact. The film is buttressed with an early 1960s jazzy score, one that works because is not too intrusive. Directed by Basil Dearden, it has a very London feel to it. The city is a character.

   In sum, The Secret Partner is a solid crime film, but it’s not exceptional. After you see the big reveal, it’s difficult to want to put in the effort to watch it again. But I enjoyed well enough it for what it was, flaws and all.


The Woolrich Adaptations of François Truffaut
by Matthew R. Bradley


   It is no surprise that the term film noir is French, given how avidly Gallic filmmakers and/or critics (some were both) embraced what we now know as noir fiction and its cinematic counterpart, or that they turned to the former as source material. The novels of David Goodis, for example, were adapted into not only the Bogart/Bacall vehicle Dark Passage (1947) but also the likes of François Truffaut’s Tirez sur la Pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player, 1960), based on Down There (1956); Henri Verneuil’s Le Casse (aka The Burglars, 1971), based on The Burglar (1953), filmed Stateside in 1957; and La Lune dans le Caniveau (The Moon in the Gutter, 1983), directed by Diva (1981) phenom Jean-Jacques Beineix.

   While Henry Farrell may be best known as the original author of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1960), and thus the “Godfather of Grande Dame Guignol,” Truffaut’s 1972 adaptation of his 1967 novel Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me (aka Une Belle Fille comme Moi [A Gorgeous Girl Like Me]) is surely noir, and Truffaut also filmed two books by the arguably definitive noir writer, Cornell Woolrich: The Bride Wore Black (1940), part of his celebrated series of “Black” Novels, and Waltz into Darkness (1947), published under his pen name of William Irish.

   Made in England, Truffaut’s controversial 1966 version of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) had been a considerable departure, his first film in English and in color and his only SF effort, shot by future director Nicolas Roeg rather than usual cinematographer Raoul Coutard. But he was back on his literal and metaphorical home turf with La Mariée Etait en Noir (The Bride Wore Black, 1967), shooting in France and adapting another noir novel with familiar faces both behind the camera (Coutard and co-scenarist Jean-Louis Richard) and in front (Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Claude Brialy).

   The legendary book-length interview Hitchcock/Truffaut (1966) had recently been published, and the fact that the Master of Suspense’s Rear Window (1954) was also based on Woolrich story is one aspect that makes this perhaps Truffaut’s most Hitchcockian work, as is carrying over composer and Hitch mainstay Bernard Herrmann from Fahrenheit in their second and final collaboration.

   The film is basically a quintet of set pieces in each of which the title character, Julie Kohler (Moreau), kills a man, making sure he knows her identity, e.g., she pushes Bliss (Claude Rich) from his balcony during a party when he tries to retrieve her windblown scarf; lures Coral (Michel Bouquet) to a rendezvous where she poisons him; and leaves Rene Morane (Michel Lonsdale) to suffocate in a sealed closet while his son, Cookie (Christophe Bruno), slumbers upstairs.

   Flashbacks gradually reveal that she is avenging the death of her childhood sweetheart, David (Serge Rousseau), shot dead on the church steps after their wedding as the five fooled around with a loaded rifle across the street. The film addresses neither how Julie tracks down the men — strangers drawn together on a single occasion, sharing only a predilection for guns and women (the latter ultimately their undoing), who fled, never to meet again — nor whether David’s accidental killing justifies theirs.

   Julie clearly has her own idea of justice, leading her to call the police and clear Cookie’s teacher, Miss Becker (the striking Alexandra Stewart), as whom she posed, by providing details only the killer could know.

   I don’t know how, or even if, the novel tackles any of these questions, yet in a sense, it doesn’t matter; we don’t turn to Cornell Woolrich for rigorous logic but for his fever-dream imagination and style, and Truffaut himself, obviously interested more in the effect than in explanations, begins to play with our expectations as Julie’s next target, Delvaux (Daniel Boulanger), is suddenly arrested for unrelated crimes, so she turns to the last on her list, artist Fergus (Charles Denner).

   When she begins posing for him as the bow-wielding huntress (how apt!) Diana, we suspect how he will meet his end, yet for the first time, she seems hesitant after Fergus, anticipating Denner’s role as Truffaut’s L’Homme Qui Aimait les Femmes (The Man Who Loved Women, 1977), avows his amour.

   It is around this point that Truffaut uses maximum cinematic sleight of hand, misdirecting us with a subplot about how Fergus’s friend Corey (Brialy) remembers seeing Julie at Bliss’s party and tries to identify her.

   Having watched in step-by-step detail as she dispatched each of her previous victims, we are genuinely surprised when Truffaut abruptly cuts back to Fergus lying dead with an arrow protruding from his body, and even more so when the seemingly relentless avenger leaves an incriminating mural of herself on the wall, which along with her attending the artist’s funeral leads to her arrest and confession, albeit without explanation.

   But — as my first-time-viewer wife quickly deduced — it is all a means to an end, and as Julie, with knife concealed, delivers meals to inmates of the same prison where Delvaux is confined, we await the inevitable off-screen shriek as she finishes her mission.

   Asked by Le Monde in 1968 if Hitchcock had influenced the film, the director said, as quoted in Truffaut by Truffaut (*), “Certainly for the construction of the story because, unlike the novel, we give the solution of the enigma well before the end [as in Hitch’s Vertigo (1958)]…. Contrariwise, the desire to make the characters speak of everything else but the intrigue itself is decidedly not very Hitchcockian and more characteristic of a European turn of mind.”

   In 1978, he called it “the only one I regret having made… I wanted to offer…Moreau something like none of her other films, but it was badly thought out. That was a film to which color did an enormous lot of harm. [A permanent rift with Coutard reportedly left Moreau sometimes directing the actors.] The theme is lacking in interest: to make excuses for an idealistic vengeance, that really shocks me…. One should not avenge oneself, vengeance is not noble. One betrays something in oneself when one glorifies that,” as he opined to L’Express.

   Truffaut’s Woolrich adaptations were made with only one film (my personal favorite of his), Baisers Volés (Stolen Kisses, 1968), in between; the fatalistic nature of the second, Mississippi Mermaid (1969) — whose title seems more appropriate in French, La Sirène du Mississippi, given the sinister connotations of “siren” — makes it not too surprising that, per New York Magazine critic David Edelstein’s TCM introduction, it was his biggest financial failure, but I think it deserved better.

   The first of his features on which Truffaut had sole screenwriting credit, it updates Woolrich’s 1880 New Orleans setting to the contemporary French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, to which the ship Mississippi brings a woman (Catherine Deneuve) claiming to be Julie Roussel, the mail-order bride of Louis Mahé (Jean-Paul Belmondo, whom I have loathed since seeing Jean-Luc Godard’s seminal French New Wave debut, À Bout de Souffle [Breathless, 1960]). She doesn’t match the photo that Julie had sent him, but Louis clearly falls for her at first sight and marries her anyway.

   She says she sent a photo of a neighbor to ensure that Louis did not marry her for her looks, while he wrote that he was the foreman and not the owner of a cigarette factory, because he did not want to be married for his money. After “Julie” cleans out his bank accounts and disappears, Berthe Roussel (Nelly Borgeaud) arrives, and we learn that her sister was murdered aboard the ship by Richard (Roland Thénot), who later abandoned accomplice Marion Vergano, so they hire private detective Comolli (Bride alumnus Bouquet) to find the impostor.

   In France, Louis spots Marion in some news footage — precisely paralleling D’Entre les Morts (From Among the Dead, 1954) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, the source novel for Vertigo — then locates and confronts her, but is unable to kill her; Louis shoots Comolli when he gets too close and refuses to take a bribe, and the couple’s peripatetic future as fugitives seems bleak, despite Louis forgiving Marion for trying to poison him and her declaration of love.

   When I saw this for the second time (c. 2014), the first being in the 1999 “Tout Truffaut” retrospective at the hallowed ground of New York’s Film Forum, it seemed surprisingly familiar. It’s true that at various times I have also read Waltz into Darkness (I was honored to be asked to weigh in on whether Viking Penguin, where I was then employed, should reissue it, which they did) and seen the 2001 remake, Michael Cristofer’s Original Sin, notorious for its steamy scenes between Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie — talk about something for everyone — but I think there’s more to it than that, perhaps something distinctively Woolrichian.

   His future biographer, Francis M. Nevins, Jr., wrote in Twentieth Century Crime and Mystery Writers that “love dies while the lovers go on living, and [he] excels at showing the corrosion of a relationship between two people,” plus the theme of imposture recurs in I Married a Dead Man (1948), also filmed in France as J’ai Éspousé une Ombre (I Married a Shadow, 1983), starring Nathalie Baye.

   “I read [the novel] when I was doing the adaptation of The Bride Wore Black,” Truffaut told Le Monde in 1969. “At that time, I actually read everything [he] wrote in order to steep myself in his work and to keep as close as possible to the novel, despite the unfaithfulness necessary in films. I like to know thoroughly any writer whose book I transpose to the screen [as he had with Goodis and Bradbury]…. My final screenplay was less an adaptation in the traditional sense than a choice of scenes. With this film, I was finally able to realize every director’s dream: to shoot in chronological order a chronological story that represents an itinerary…. [The] shooting began on Réunion Island, continued in Nice, Antibes, Aix-en-Provence, Lyons, to finish in the snow near Grenoble. The fact of respecting the chronology permitted me to ‘build’ the couple with precision….The Mermaid is above all else the tale of a degradation through love, of a passion.”

(*) Text and documents compiled by Dominique Rabourdin; translated from the French by Robert Erich Wolf (New York: Abrams, 1987).


Portions of this article originally appeared on Bradley on Film.



TWO MERRY ADVENTURERS. Germany, 1937. Also released as The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes; original German title  Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes war. Hans Albers, Heinz Rühmann, Hilde Weisner.  Screenplay by  R. A. Stemmle and Karl Hartl (the latter also director). Currently available on YouTube.

   An official entry in the Venice Film Festival, Two Merry Adventurers is a curiosity all around. It’s set in a never never land where everyone in contemporary Europe believes Sherlock Holmes to be real and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is still alive eight years after his death.

   The other curiosity is that this good-natured comedy mystery with musical interlude was made in Nazi Germany well after they had taken over all aspects of the German film industry. There is no sign of that in this film, not even subtly. It might as easily have come out of Hollywood or the United Kingdom in the same period, fast paced, funny, and light of step.

   Hans Albers, who would still be going strong twenty years later in German film, may seem an unlikely choice to play any variation of Sherlock Holmes. Blond, pale eyed, stocky, and ruddy cheeked, it’s quite a stretch to imagine anyone could see him as the image of Sherlock Holmes, but the titles to the film show countless covers to the German pulp editions of Holmes adventures that do show Holmes vaguely resembling Albers’ interpretation.

   Not that any of that matters. Albers was a natural on screen much closer to his American and British counterparts than most of his European contemporaries. His best film would probably be the 1943 fantasy The Adventures of Baron Münchausen, also an unusual film to have come out of Nazi Germany, certainly in wartime since it is not only a comedic fantasy but vaguely anti-war (while I can’t speak for this film, the cast and crew of Münchausen were apparently hiding several Jewish production members while making the film).

   Albers is Morris Flint, who with his companion Macky Macpherson (Heinz Rühmann, who would become the popular West German Maigret in the late Fifties and Sixties) has dressed as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (save only in German pulps did Holmes every wear a flat cap and checkered coat) stop a train on the way to Brussels.

   Though denying they are Holmes and Watson they act very mysterious and everyone jumps to the conclusion that they can’t be anyone else. What they are really after is a free ride and maybe a compartment, if they can scare any crooks on board by their appearance. Sure enough a pair of bank robbers jump train at the sight of them.

   In the compartment next to the crooks are a pair of young English women the crooks have tried to compromise. The girls are on their way to visit the estate of their late uncle near Brussels and collect on their inheritance, but for the time being that takes a back seat to Morris and Macky finagling a nice hotel room in the best hotel in Brussels and discovering among the criminals luggage a fortune in what they assume is stolen money.

   Having foiled bank robbers, the two are approached by the police to deal with a desperate case involving priceless missing stamps — that belonged to the two English women’s uncle.

   The boys are more than happy to help the two attractive women, only to discover their Uncle, far from wealthy, was hiding a massive international counterfeiting operations of not only money but collectible stamps.

   But there are also the real stamps used to copy the counterfeits from, and soon Morris and Macky find themselves surrounded in the criminals lair hoping the police arrive in time to save their necks.

   In capturing the gang though, they have exposed themselves and are put on trial by a tribunal for fraud, where Morris almost talks their way out of prosecution, but when things start to look bad Conan Doyle himself shows up and asks the court to spare the two who were just trying to start their own private detective business and never actually claimed to be Holmes and Watson.

   All Doyle wants for his efforts is to write their story, “The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes.”

   It’s a surprisingly bright and brittle mystery comedy that moves at a rapid pace and turns on the charming lead performances by Albers and Rühmann, who went on to long careers in film as did screenwriter Stemmle and director Hartl.

   Accept it as pure cinema and it is an entertaining romp handsome to look at and harmless fun to watch. It makes for an oddity in the history of Sherlock Holmes films, but one well worth catching.


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