HALF A SINNER. Universal Pictures, 1940. Heather Angel, John King, Constance Collier, Walter Catlett, Clem Bevans, Henry Brandon. Based on a story by Dalton Trumbo. Director: Al Christie.

   What a pleasure it is to start watching a movie you know nothing about, only to discover that against all expectations you’re enjoying yourself immensely. And when that happens it’s also sometimes difficult to put into words what magic of movie-making it was that made a small visual treat as Half a Sinner such a pleasant way to spend on hour, or at 59 minutes, just a hair less.

   The players themselves were not stars then, nor did they ever become stars.. Heather Angel may be best remembered, at least in some circles, as Bulldog Drummond’s girl friend Phyllis Clavering in several of the former’s movie adventures, while John King is remembered in some quarters as Ace Drummond in the 1936 13-chapter serial (no relation, I don’t imagine). He was perhaps even better known as John “Dusty” King in a host of early 40s B-westerns.

   In any case, they certainly make a fine pair together in this definitely screwball mystery comedy in which Heather Angel plays a prim and proper schoolteacher who decides to kick up her heels one day, buy a nice dress and new hat, add some silk stockings and have some fun for a while.

   What she doesn’t expect is to end up stealing a car (trying to escape a wolf who’s really a small time gangster) that has (she discovers later) a corpse in the back seat. As she’s making a getaway, she’s flagged down by John King’s character, who decides to play along with her as the two of them try to elude both the police and the gang of crooks who stole the car in the first place.

   Of course the plot doesn’t make any sense, and the crooks are about as ineffectual as a gang of crooks could ever have been, but everybody in the fast-paced flim-flam of a movie plays it with all the gusto they’ve got. And it shows.