Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         

TELL NO TALES. MGM, 1939. Melvyn Douglas, Louise Platt, Douglass Dumbrille, Gene Lockhart, Zeffie Tilbury, Sara Haden, Florence George. Screenplay: Lionel Houser. Director: Leslie Fenton.

TELL NO TALES Melvyn Douglas

   Terrific two-fisted programmer from MGM that moves like an express and has a surprising amount of heart as well as brains. Douglas is Michael Cassidy, the editor of the Evening Standard, a big city newspaper about to be shut down by publisher Matt Cooper (Douglass Dumbrille) in favor of the tabloid rag he uses as his mouthpiece.

   When Cassidy stumbles on the story of the century, a hundred dollar bill that was part of a kidnap ransom shows up in his hands, he plans for the Standard to go out in a blaze of glory. Setting out to follow the trail of the wandering hundred dollar bill, he enlists the help of the only witness to the kidnapping, a feisty school teacher sick of being kept virtual prisoner by the police (Louise Platt).

   Cassidy follows the trail of the bill from a mousy jeweler about to be married; to a society doctor and his cheating wife; to a the wake of a black boxer possibly killed for his involvement with the kidnappers; to an attractive singer at a police benefit (with half the cops in town looking for him), a surprising source; and finally a casino owned by Gene Lockhart who leads him to the kidnappers, but for deadly reasons of his own.

TELL NO TALES Melvyn Douglas

   At each turn the screenplay is better than it needs to be, and the individual stories well drawn and handsomely shot, from the grieving widow of the boxer (the Alley Kid); to the frightened look on the doctor’s wife’s face when cornered about her lie; to a nicely sinister bit by Lockhart as the casino owner. Zeffie Tilbury is particularly good as a tough old lady copy editor who has been with the paper fifty years and known Cassidy since he was a copy boy.

   The finale is a bang up escape from the two kidnappers by Douglas and Platt, and a nicely rounded up ending, that, if a bit more upbeat and happy than the rest of the film would suggest, still leaves you more than well satisfied.

   I first heard about this from William Everson’s The Detective Film, and it is every bit as good as promised: a mix of tough guy dialogue, two fisted journalism, solid detective work, and sentiment that is just the right combination of schmaltz and cynicism that might have come out of Black Mask or Dime Detective, and the kind of stories about two-fisted reporters that Nebel, Sale, Babcock, and Coxe specialized in.

   Next time this shows up on TCM, be sure and catch it. It’s as slick as any A-film, and packs as much in sixty nine minutes as most A-films did in films half again as long.

   Tremendous pace, sharp crackling dialogue, affecting vignettes by great character actors, and a pretty good mystery that unfolds on the run, this one can hold its own against many a bigger picture that doesn’t have half its heart or head.

TELL NO TALES Melvyn Douglas