US / 66 minutes / bw / Universal Dir: Otis Garrett Pr: Irving Starr Scr: Harold Buckley Story: The Black Doll (1936) by William Edward Hayes Cine: Stanley Cortez, Ira Morgan Cast: Donald Woods, Nan Grey, Edgar Kennedy, C. Henry Gordon, Doris Lloyd, John Wray, Addison Richards, Holmes Herbert, William Lundigan, Fred Malatesta, Inez Palange.
One of a series of B-movies—a “Crime Club Selection”, according to the opening credits—explicitly linked to the Crime Club imprint of the book publisher Doubleday.
Years ago Nelson Rood (Gordon), now living in seclusion, murdered his business partner Knox Barrows for the sake of the latter’s share in a mine, not to mention the latter’s wife and young daughter Marian (Grey), who has grown up believing Rood is her father. The only people to know about Rood’s crime are his other former business partners Walling (Wray) and A.H. Mallison (Richards).
When Rood finds on his desk a child’s black doll stabbed through the heart, he recognizes it as both a death threat and a specific reference to the mine. He summons Walling and Mallison to the house in order to thrash things out, but almost immediately he’s murdered. Luckily Marian’s new boyfriend Nick Halstead (Woods) is a PI. His efforts to solve the case, as suspects proliferate and the bodies mount up, are hampered by the bumbling efforts of Sheriff Renick (Kennedy) and his dimwit deputies.
The first 24 minutes or so of the movie are fine, with a few genuinely sinister moments—notably Marian’s encounter with a masked figure as she flees through a thunderstorm to try to find Nick after having witnessed the murder—but then Kennedy arrives on the scene as the buffoon Renick, and his clowning, which takes center stage most of the time thereafter, entirely destroys the movie: what was set to be a neat little filler becomes instead a mess that’s wearisome to endure.
In 1950 the very lovely Grey took as her second husband the singer Frankie Laine; they remained married until her death in 1993.
On Amazon.com: The Black Doll (1938)