MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE. 20th Century Fox, 1940. Screenplay by Stanley Rauh and Manning O’Conner based on the novel Dividend on Death by Brett Halliday. Director: Eugene Forde.

   Lloyd Nolan plays Mike Shayne; Marjorie Weaver is the spirited female protagonist; Joan Valerie plays the femme fatale; Donald MacBride is the irascible, incompetent police chief (Peter Painter) with an even dumber but less irascible sidekick, Michael Morris; Walter Abel, Douglas Dumbrille, Clarence Kolb, and George Meeker impersonate a quartet of heavies and candidates for chief murder suspect.

   Irving Bacon, who was regularly flattened by Arthur Lake as he tried to deliver the mail to the Bumstead residence in the popular Columbia series has a cameo as a fisherman neatly manipulated by Shayne into concealing testimony that would have implicated the latter in the murder.


   This is a race-track, night-club mystery and is notable for two things:

   Some really dumb situations for Shayne (his car stalls at the murder scene as the police are arriving; he throws what he believes to be the murder weapon — his own gun — into the bushes from which he handily retrieves it the next day after the police have presumably searched the area; he sticks his head into a dark room into which a man with a gun has just fled and is knocked out by the mug; and in the hoariest and most predictably resolved plot gimmick in the film, he stages a mock murder using ketchup as blood, and when he attempts to play out his mini-drama, discovers that the ketchup has been enriched with some very real blood, from a fatal bullet wound).


   …And the introduction of a Little Old Lady detective (Elizabeth Patterson) whom he embraces at the end as his “partner” while he whispers to her, “And we’ll split the money.”

   I have not seen one of these Lloyd Nolan Shayne films in forty years. I would hope the others in the series have aged better. Patterson is a graceful actress who makes the best of an awkward role. She has read all the Ellery Queen mysteries and the Baffle Book and she keeps wanting to share a particularly difficult “baffle” with Shayne.

   Superior to The Gracie Allen Murder Case, to take an contemporaneous example, but you may not see that as a recommendation.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 8, No. 4, July-August 1986 (very slightly revised).