THE CASE OF THE BLACK PARROT. Warner Brothers, 1941. William Lundigan, Maris Wrixon, Eddie Foy Jr., Paul Cavanagh, Luli Deste, Charles Waldron, Ernie Stanton. Based on the novel The Mystery of the Boule Cabinet, by Burton Stevenson. (Dodd Mead, 1912, but available online here.) Director: Noel M. Smith.

   I was disappointed with this one, beginning with the title, which I found misleading, though I suppose there’s no really good reason why I should have. For some reason, though, I was expecting a detective film with more of an exotic flavor than The Case of the Black Parrot turned out to be, something along the lines of a sinister Oriental thriller, perhaps, or even a case for a Charlie Chan wannabe that I hadn’t seen before.

   But no, this is a movie about a piece of furniture, a Boule cabinet, to be precise, and the Black Parrot is merely a criminal mastermind, albeit a notorious one. To quote from the movie itself:

    “Black because he’s a criminal, parrot because he imitates things, copies them … paintings, furniture, signatures.”

   A gentleman named Paul Vantine, a wealthy collector of antique furniture, is bringing the cabinet to the US from Europe, but not as an authentic Boule cabinet, but deliberately as a Black Parrot imitation, complete with the Parrot’s secret signature. It seems that the imitation is so good that the cabinet, although fake, is only going to go up in value. But the lights go out, as they so often do in movies like this, and when they come back on, it is discovered that the cabinet in question is a real one, not the Parrot’s work after all.

   Now this sounded promising to me, with all kinds of interesting directions the story could go from here, but alas, it turns out that the dealer who sold the cabinet to Vantine had only made an honest mistake – an expensive one, true – but a mistake to which he readily admits, and arrangements are made to correct the error.

   So back in the US again, why do two mysterious deaths occur? Add to the mix a pair of beautiful women, a shifty-looking butler, a dark figure climbing in and out of a window, a stash of embarrassing letters, a master of disguise, not to mention a blossoming romance between a reporter named Jim Moore (William Lundigan) and the rich collector’s niece (Maris Wrixon), much to the disgust of Jim Moore’s comical sidekick, a photographer named Tripod Daniels (Eddie Foy Jr.).

   I don’t disparage detectives having comical sidekicks in movies like this. Even Charlie Chan had them; they were expected, and they were always there. The larger disappointment comes in realizing how prosaic all this is, with too much plot, too much story in too short a time, too many characters doing too many strange things, some connected, some not, but all centered around a large ugly piece of furniture.

NOTE: The book the movie was based on has been reviewed online by BV Lawson online here. Her review makes the book sound interesting. (It’s obvious that there were some serious changes between book and film.) Given the time, I’d like to read the book myself.