COVER UP. United Artists, 1949. William Bendix, Dennis O’Keefe, Barbara Britton, Art Baker, Ann E. Todd, Doro Merande. Screenplay: Jerome Odlum & Dennis O’Keefe. Director: Alfred E. Green.

   Here’s a fine example of a case where the title of the movie is spot on accurate, so much so that you’re going to have to put it in the back of your head while you’re watching, or it will give the whole story away. (And forget I just said so, too, while you’re at it.)

COVER UP O'Keefe Bendix

   Dennis O’Keefe, who gets second billing, even though it’s his actions (and reactions) we follow throughout the movie, plays an insurance investigator in Cover Up. In the unnamed small town somewhere in the Midwest (near Chicago, apparently) where he’s been sent to look into a reported case of suicide, he runs straight into a stone wall.

   The local sheriff, played by a placid, pipe-smoking William Bendix, is friendly enough, but when asked about the gun, the bullet, anything at all, evades the answers. The coroner’s out of town, I don’t know where the gun is, I don’t know what type of gun it was, all the while puffing away, looking slyly upward to see how his act is going over.

   No fool he, Sam Donovan (that’s O’Keefe) knows it’s an act, too, but he has no choice but to realize that any investigating he has to do, he’ll have to do on his own. Complicating matters is that he is falling for the girl he rode into town with on the bus (Barbara Britton).

COVER UP O'Keefe Bendix

   Why complicated? Only that he comes to the conclusion that murder has been committed and the girl’s father, the town’s banker (Art Baker) is soon his number one suspect.

   This is no film noir mystery, as I’ve seen it advertised online, in case you were wondering, not in my opinion. The story takes place at Christmas, there is a lighting of the town’s tree with all of the local folk in attendance, presents are exchanged, and soon the snow is starting to fall.

   Very folksy and charming, in other words, but if pressed, I’d have to agree that there’s an edge to the plot — hidden right below the mistletoe — that keeps this movie moored as a mystery and not a just another soft-hearted romance.

   And while Dennis O’Keefe as Sam Donovan may be the primary protagonist, it’s William Bendix, who does double duty as both the small town’s sheriff and its self-appointed guardian, if you will, who earns his top billing after all.

COVER UP O'Keefe Bendix