HELD FOR RANSOM. Grand National Pictures, 1938. Blanche Mehaffey, Grant Withers, Bruce Warren, Jack Mulhall, Kenneth Harlan, Walter McGrail, Robert McKenzie. Director: Clarence Bricker.

   Kidnapping is a federal crime, so it stands to reason that Betty Mason (Blanche Mehaffey) is working as a federal agent when she goes undercover to tackle this case. The ransom has been paid, but the victim has not been released. The police suspect the man’s nephew (Grant Withers) as part of an inside job, but Betty is wise enough to keep all her options open.

   I say “it stands to reason” in that opening paragraph, because the storyline of this film is plagued by some of the worst continuity and opening expository material I can think of, poverty row B-film or not. Events happen without explanation to characters who are not introduced, until later. I gave up once and started the film again, which helped a little.

   Once beyond the first 15 minutes or so, it settles down into a fairly enjoyable detective yarn. The lack of money behind the film’s production is an obvious drawback, but there are two good reasons why I can recommend Held for Ransom to you, with only the reservations I’ve stated so far.


   The first is the on-location shooting, that of an authentic mountain resort area around a lake somewhere near San Bernardino (Cedar Lake, IMDB says). It reminded me of several motor trips my family and I took when I was a kid, though we never made to California until the mid-1960s. The old general store with the ubiquitous candy bar ads plastered here and there brought back a lot of memories.

   The other reason — and this is the primary one — is the role of Blanche Mehaffey as a tough-as-she-needs-to-be policewoman, as handy with a gun as climbing out a window on bedsheets tied together and rowing across the lake at midnight. Crime action movies in 1938 like this one did not often have a female in the lead, not without a comedy sidekick or boy friend. This one doesn’t, and it’s all the better for it.

   The curly-haired and good-looking Mehaffey had a long career in silent films, beginning in 1923, but she seems to have made the into the sound era with no difficulties. Unfortunately she made only one more movie after this one, retiring from Hollywood when she was still only 31.