Hat Box Mystery, The (1947)

US / 43 minutes / bw / Screen Art, Lippert Dir: Lambert Hillyer Pr: Carl K. Hittleman Scr: Don Martin, Carl K. Hittleman Story: Maury Nunes, Carl K. Hittleman Cine: James Brown Jr. Cast: Tom Neal, Pamela Blake, Allen Jenkins, Virginia Sale, Leonard Penn, Olga Andre, Tom Kennedy, Al Hill, Ed Keane (i.e., Edward Keane), Zonn Murray (i.e., Zon Murray).

First of a proposed series of short noirish fillers (emulating Hal Roach’s comedic Streamliners for United Artists) starring Neal as perpetually broke NYC PI Russ Ashton; at the end of this movie there’s a brief trailer for what was in the event the sole sequel, The Case of the Baby Sitter (1947). Russ is out of town when a mysterious Mr. John Moreland (Penn) hires the Ashton Agency—in the shape of Russ’s secretary/girlfriend Susan Hart (Blake)—to take a photo, using a camera hidden in a hatbox, of Moreland’s wife Marie (Andre) leaving the swank apartment block where she’s supposedly been conducting liaisons.

In fact, “Moreland” is a crook called Stevens, part of a blackmail ring headed by Flint (Hill); Marie Moreland is another of the gang who has decided to go straight, and whom Stevens and Flint plan to rub out to guarantee her silence. When Susan tries to take the photo she discovers the camera has been replaced by a gun; Marie tumbles to the ground, severely wounded. It’s up to Russ and his sidekick Harvard (Jenkins)—so-nicknamed because so dimwitted—to clear Susan of murder and, with the help of the friendly DA (Keane), set a trap for the real killers . . .

From the opening sequence, in which Neal introduces the four principals (the fourth is Sale as Harvard’s hamburger-flipping girlfriend Veronica Hoopler), first in character and then giving their real names, there’s not a lot to say in favor of this movie. Jenkins and especially Sale are moderately good in the kind of role that it’s easy to be moderately good in, but most of the rest—with the exception of Penn, who adroitly lets his character’s underlying seediness peek through a mask of sober respectability—seem to be walking through their roles.

In one odd little forensics flaw, Stevens, intent that the cops should identify the fatal bullet as from the Ashton Agency gun, removes a bullet from that gun, puts it into his own, and shoots Marie with it!

On Amazon.com: The Hat Box Mystery / Hollywood Mystery

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