WILSON TUCKER The Chinese Doll

DEVIL’S CARGO. Film Classics, 1948. John Calvert as Michael “The Falcon” Watling, Rochelle Hudson, Roscoe Karns, Lyle Talbot, Theodore von Eltz, Michael Mark, Tom Kennedy, Paul Marion. Based on a character created by Michael Arlen. Director: John F. Link Sr.

   This is the 14th of the 16 entries in Hollywood’s series of “The Falcon” movies, and the first to star magician-turned-movie-star John Calvert. I’m going to be generous and say that Calvert never made anyone forget either George Sanders or Tom Conway in the role, but if this happened to have been the first in the series, no one seeing this film would have asked for their money back, either. Suave, he wasn’t in the same league as the other two, but very few movie stars in the 1940s who didn’t mind playing private eyes in the movies were either.

WILSON TUCKER The Chinese Doll

   The version of the character Calvert played seems to have been named Michael Watling, not Michael Waring, and at this late date, no one seems to know why. His client first enters while he’s taking a bath and confesses to the murder of a wealthy playboy. A crime of passion, he says, and while he knows he will be exonerated for that reason, he asks the Falcon to help give himself up to the police. For $500, the Falcon says yes.

   There is a lot more to the story than that, and a lot of it has to do with a key, a locker in a bowling alley and a safety deposit box. And oh yes, the man doing the confessing has a wife (Rochelle Hudson), who is a looker, but when it comes down to it, she is not very nice, and when the client is poisoned to death in his jail cell, things get really complicated.

   In spite of some rather indifferent production values, the mystery is a more than decent one. It actually makes sense, in other words, and when the pieces are all put on the table, they actually fit. When it comes to black-and-white PI movies from the 1940s, this is a huge, huge plus.

NOTE:The obligatory comment that has to be included in every review that’s ever been written of this film, is that there is no  Devil in it, nor is there a Cargo. I couldn’t find room to point this out anywhere earlier, so here it is now.