SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR. RKO Radio Pictures, 1936. Richard Dix, Margaret Callahan, J. Carrol Naish, Erik Rhodes, Sheila Terry, Jed Prouty, Ray Mayer, Owen Davis Jr. Based on the story “Fugitive Road” by Erle Stanley Gardner. Director: Louis King.


   As far as I’ve been able to determine, the story “Fugitive Road” this action-packed B-movie is based on was serialized in This Week Magazine between 26 May and 7 July 1935. This was a small snippet of info I found on the Internet, and without any supporting evidence, I don’t think we ought to take it as unadulterated fact.

   My Gardner bibliography is buried somewhere. If anyone can corroborate this, and even better, let me know if the story was ever reprinted anywhere, be sure to let me know.

   Unfortunately I don’t think long runs of This Week Magazine are floating around any place easily accessible, and if it’s never been reprinted, good luck on ever reading this one.

   It’s a good story, though, assuming that the adaptation into the movie Special Investigator followed it even partially. What’s more, I think I’ve found the perfect actor to play the 1930s version of Perry Mason to a T: Richard Dix, square-jawed and resolute, whose most recent (and only other) film to have been reviewed on this blog was The Arizonian, a western in which (as you may recall) he played a Good Guy who comes to town to wipe out the Bad Guys.

   But in Special Investigator Dix plays Bill Fenwick, a high-powered L.A. defense attorney who’s lately been making a big name for himself getting even bigger criminal names walk free. But when tragedy strikes, and it does, his gives up both his practice and his girl friend (Sheila Terry), and goes undercover in a small town in Nevada, this time on the right side of the law.

   Along the way he meets – and falls in love with – another girl (Margaret Callahan), a spirited young lady who just happens to be tied in with the gang of crooks he’s determined to bring to justice. (Isn’t that always the way?)

   In a movie that times in at just over an hour’s running time, there’s as much action in Special Investigator as any B-western of the same era, straight and simple. There’s a minimum of actual detection, but on the other hand, there’s an equal minimum of funny sidekicks to have to deal with too.