Night for Crime, A (1943)

US / 72 minutes / bw / PRC Dir: Alexis Thurn-Taxis Pr: Lester Cutler Scr: Arthur St. Claire, Sherman Lowe, John Vlahos Story: Jimmy Starr Cine: Marcel Le Picard Cast: Glenda Farrell, Lyle Talbot, Ralph Sanford, Lina Basquette, Lynn Starr, Donald Kirke, Forrest Taylor, Ruby Dandridge, Florence O’Brien, Rick Vallin, Marjorie Manners.

In Hollywood during WWII, Joe Powell (Talbot), publicist for the studio Motion Picture Associates, is crazy about journalist Susan Cooper (Farrell). He’s at her apartment one evening when there’s a sudden power blackout; from the apartment across the hall comes a scream, and the pair discover the strangled corpse of fledgling actress Ellen Smith (Manners).

Soon Joe and Susan are involved in solving not just this mystery but the disappearance of the studio’s star actress, Mona Harrison (Basquette), who seems to have run away leaving producer Hamilton Hart (Kirke) holding a $300,000 bill for her latest, unfinished movie.

Mona’s servants—cook Alice Johnson (Dandridge, mother of Dorothy Dandridge) and her sassy niece Louise (O’Brien), the maid—testify that Mona didn’t seem herself the night before her disappearance; depending on who’s telling the story, either she fired them or they walked out in light of her unreasonable behavior. The cops, in the shape of stereotypical dimwit Detective Hoffman (Sanford)—catchphrase “It’s an open-and-shut case” every time he jumps to his latest quite obviously false conclusion—and his rational boss, Chief of Police Williams (Taylor), pay the servants no mind; with hindsight, that was foolish. Some days later, Mona’s strangled body is discovered by an air raid warden in Topanga Canyon.

It’s clear that Susan has solved at least one case for the Hollywood PD before; there are several references to it. As far as I can establish, there’s no earlier movie telling that tale; it may be that the case was the subject of one of author Starr’s several Hollywood-set mystery novels. Whatever the truth of this guess might be, she and Joe unravel a quite ridiculously implausible puzzle here, one that involves a secret marriage (“Our little Mona was married all the time—no wonder she wouldn’t give anyone a tumble,” says Joe by way of solemn epitaph), a psycho twin sister, two further strangulation attempts, perhaps the most ludicrously badly staged accidental defenestrations in Hollywood history, and much more. While the movie has plenty of noirish characteristics—not least the deployment of copious snappy one-liners—the intention was clearly that it be a comedy thriller.

Farrell was a stage actress brought to Hollywood by Jack Warner with promises of a stellar career; in the event, she was confined to either supporting roles or lesser movies, the height of her fame probably coming from her depiction of Torchy Blane in seven of the nine Warner/First National fillers featuring that character. By the time of A Night for Crime she was reduced to working for PRC. Much of her further output would be for TV rather than the big screen.

In an interesting, if unlikely, scene, the coroner calls four Los Angeles newsmen/columnists to identify the body of Mona Harrison (or Martha Halverson, as she was known before coming to Hollywood). Three of the four are Erskine Johnson, Edwin Schallert and Harry Crocker, playing themselves, while the fourth is Jimmy Starr, who, aside from writing novels and screen stories, including the one upon which this movie was based, was a columnist for the Los Angeles Record.

There appears to be no DVD, but you can find a facsimile of the movie poster on A Night for Crime Movie Poster (27 x 40 Inches – 69cm x 102cm) (1943) –

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