US / 73 minutes / color / Gerber, Screen Gems, Columbia Dir: Gary Nelson Pr: Christopher Morgan Scr: Mark Rodgers Cine: Robert Morrison Cast: Don Murray, Bert Convy, Yvonne De Carlo, Gloria Grahame, Van Johnson, Ralph Meeker, Cameron Mitchell, Mary Ann Mobley, Joe Santos, Laraine Stephens, John Ireland, Walter Pidgeon, Sherry Jackson, Felice Orlandi, George Fischbeck, Frankie Darro, Burr Smidt, Dan Tobin.
Bill Martin (Murray), an executive on an NYC-based TV network’s Early Morning Show, notices that one actress, Carolyn Parker (Grahame), features in three of the next five late-night movies the station is going to broadcast, and sells his presenter, Frank J. Allen (Convy), on the idea of tracking her down as a guest: they could use the introductory line, “We present on the Early Morning Show the girl you just saw on the Late, Late Show.”
So Bill flies out to LA and Hollywood, to the Pacific General studio that Carolyn worked for. The studio’s boss, Norman Wilder (Mitchell), offers any help he can give, and Bill starts investigating.
John Ireland has a deathbed scene . . .
Carolyn made just seven movies over a total of 41 months during the mid-1950s, then disappeared as if from the face of the earth midway through filming opposite Johnny Leverett (Johnson), the movie Bright Memory. The records of her in the archives of the studio and of the Screen Actors Guild are scanty at best, but Bill manages to track down her old agent, Thomas Prideaux (Smidt); by the time Bill reaches Prideaux’s house, however, the man has been murdered, and the killer knocks Bill to the ground as he flees.
The cop in charge of the case in LA, Sergeant Scott (Santos), gives Bill extraordinary cooperation, as does his counterpart in San Francisco, Inspector De Biese (Meeker), when Bill goes to that city to find out more about the dirty weekends spent there together by Pacific General actors, actresses and studio personnel; it was there that Carolyn’s best friend Sandra “Sandy” Clauson died mysteriously, as Bill learns from Sandy’s and Carolyn’s old landlady Lorraine (De Carlo) and Sandy’s stripper daughter Patricia (Jackson) . . . whom he finds at what used to be “a small intimate spot up over the Strip where you could drop in late at night and watch an exciting young singer named Dorothy Dandridge.”
By now Bill and the cops are certain someone’s out to get him. When he receives a phonecall from an old woman offering to meet him so he can buy evidence about Carolyn’s fate, the suspicion that there’s an attempt under way to cover up an old crime becomes a certainty. The hitman—and fine mimic—proves to be Bruno Walters (Ireland) . . .
The movie is, obviously, a love letter to film noir, complete with deadpan voiceover narration, its cast packed with icons of that era in the same way as, over twenty years before, HOLLYWOOD STORY (1951) hired icons of an earlier era for a succession of cameos; also like Hollywood Story, the plot is (extremely) loosely based on the 1922 Hollywood murder of philandering director William Desmond Taylor and the scandalous aftermath. Carolyn’s movies are represent by clips from IN A LONELY PLACE (1950), The BIG HEAT (1953) and HUMAN DESIRE (1954)—from old Gloria Grahame movies, in other words; there’s also a specially made “clip” done by Grahame and Johnson for the unfinished Bright Memory. When Wilder angrily responds to a question about where Carolyn might be, he snaps, “She’s on television tonight, in one of the finest pictures I ever made”; that movie is in fact In a Lonely Place, so that the crossover between the fictional Carolyn and the genuine Gloria Grahame becomes beyond doubt.
. . . and Gloria Grahame proves to be very much alive.
Watching The Girl on the Late, Late Show, there’s never the slightest doubt that this is a TVM: the cheapness shows, and the accuracy of the credits is execrable (e.g., Grahame’s character is billed as Carolyn Porter, not Parker as described throughout the movie, and Santos’s character is billed as Lieutenant, not Sergeant Scott). However, the fondness for the genre being homaged is patent and seemingly sincere, and the script has an intelligence not usually associated with TVMs.