THE CRIMSON CANARY. Universal Pictures, 1945. Noah Beery Jr., Lois Collier, John Litel, Steven Geray, Claudia Drake, Danny Morton, Jimmie Dodd, Steve Brodie, John Kellogg, Arthur Space. Josh White, the Esquire All-American Band Winners with Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Pettiford. Director: John Hoffman.


   Even though I love old B-movies, especially old B-for-budget detective films, I have to admit that most of the time I’m disappointed. Noir films made for the same amount of money got by on atmosphere. Detective films of the 1930s and 40s of the punch-them-out variety may have had atmosphere, but most of them don’t hold up as detective fiction.

   The Crimson Canary is one that does, more or less, making it one of the “good” ones. Not one up to the standards of a Agatha Christie or a John Dickson Carr, but in comparison to its competitors, Canary stands out like an upraised thumb.

   But atmosphere? That it’s got, and more. Noah Berry Jr. heads up a group of wartime buddies in a jazz band, and boy do they swing. Strictly small time stuff, stuck in a small town nightspot, but good enough to have hopes – and to have a good looking vocalist flirt with all the guys, and with Danny Brooks (Beery) with a steady girl friend yet.

   When the girl’s found dead in a back room, the guys take it on the lam – joining up when the coast is clear, they think – but it’s not, not with a jazz-loving police detective (John Litel) breathing down their necks and watching every move they make.

   The music is great, and the detective end of things (as I said up front) good. The only flaw is that there’s only a very limited number of suspects. In 64 minutes, with 20 of them taken up by musical numbers (my very rough estimate) there simply isn’t time enough to introduce anyone else who could have done it.

   Highly recommended for fans of jumping and jiving 1940s pre-bop jazz.

Note: From the AFI page: “…the musicians who dubbed the quintette were Nick Cochrane and Eddie Parkers, trumpet; Stan Wrightsman, piano; Barney Bigard, clarinet; King Guion, tenor sax, and Mel Tormé, drums. Coleman Hawkins was supported by Howard McGhee, trumpet; Sir Charles Thompson, piano; Denzil Best, drums; and Oscar Pettiford, bass.” Check out this two minute clip from YouTube.