THE PANTHER’S CLAW. Producers Releasing Corp. (PRC), 1942. Sidney Blackmer (Police Commissioner Thatcher Colt), Ricki Vallin (Anthony “Tony” Abbot), Byron Foulger, Herbert Rawlinson, Barry Bernard, Gerta Rozan, Joaquin Edwards. Based on a story by Anthony Abbot (Fulton Oursler). Director: William Beaudine.


   Thatcher Colt was a character who appeared in a number of detective novels by Anthony Abbot in the 1930s and early 40s, beginning with About the Murder of Geraldine Foster in 1930. According to IMDB, though, The Panther’s Claw was based on the short story “The Perfect Crime of Mr. Digberry.”

   On the other hand, the American Film Institute says it was based on the story “Shake Hands with Murder.” But since Mr. Digberry is definitely a character in Panther’s Claw, and Shake Hands with Murder is a totally different (non-Thatcher Colt) film made by PRC in 1944, we’ll say IMDB has the advantage here.

   There were two earlier film adaptations of Thatcher Colt novels, both of them with Adolphe Menjou in the starring role: The Night Club Lady (1932) and The Circus Queen Lady (1933).


   I’ve seen neither of these, but I think the solid, mostly no-nonsense acting of Sidney Blackmer fits the role of the definitely hands-on police commissioner better. In fact AFI states that Panther’s Claw was intended to be the first in a series. If so, the plans did not work out, as there never was a follow-up.

   Blackmer was the leading man, with top billing and all that goes with it, but believe it or not, it was Byron Foulger, the unlikeliest of movie stars, who gets the majority of the screen time. He plays Mr. Digberry, a mild, meek, milquetoast of a man (meaning that Foulger was perfect for the part) with a 180 pound wife and five daughters. (They’re out of town, though, throughout the movie. We only get to see Digberry’s reaction whenever he realizes that they’ll be back soon.)


   We see first meet Digberry as he’s being caught by the cops sneaking out of a city cemetery at night. It seems he’s received a note that requested he leave $1000 on a gravestone, signed by “The Panther” along with a paw print in ink at the bottom.

   The cops get a big chuckle out of this, as well as the audience, even though Digberry is not the only one to have received such a message. There is more to the case, though, as the “Panther” portion of which is quickly solved, and as it happens, there are more strings to the bow of the greatly bewildered and befuddled Mr. Digberry than first meets the eye.

   There is a murder to be solved, in other words, that of a female opera singer … and I won’t tell you more, but there is a lot more plot in this 70 minute movie than there is in a many a present-day double-the-running-time extravaganza with lots of action and special effects, none of which are present here. The Panther’s Claw was produced on what is obviously a bare-bones budget.

   While the movie’s still running, it is difficult to follow the business of the wigs and the rival wigmakers, or how important it is, but it all makes sense in the end. At least I think so. Overall this film makes for a very enjoyable viewing experience, in my moderately humble opinion. I also imagine there is more humor to be found in the movie than in the short story, based primarily on Foulger’s performance, but I suppose I could be wrong about that.