Mystery Man, The (1935)

US / 62 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Raymond McCarey Pr: George Yohalem Scr: John Krafft, Rollo Lloyd, Wm. A. Johnston Story: Tate Finn Cine: Harry Neumann Cast: Robert Armstrong, Maxine Doyle, Henry Kolker, James Burke, Guy Usher, LeRoy Mason, Dell Henderson, Monte Collins, Norman Houston, James Burtis, Otto Fries, Sam Lufkin, Lee Shumway, Sam Flint.

Having solved the Upshaw murder case, investigative crime reporter Larry Doyle (Armstrong) of the Chicago Record—or Chicago World News (the movie offers both names)—is presented by a grateful police commission with a police-issue .45 revolver and by his managing editor, Elwyn (or Ellwyn) A. “Jo-Jo” Jonas (Kolker), with $50 from the newspaper’s owners. Larry uses part of the $50 to go out and get hammered with his reporting colleagues Dunn (Collins), Whalen (Burtis) and Weeks (Lufkin). When Jo-Jo finds them, Larry insults him, is fired on the spot and, next he knows, is arriving on the train in St. Louis with a hangover and barely a dollar to his name.

At the rail station he runs into pretty Ann Ogilvie (Doyle), who’s even broker than he is. Despite token resistance from her, he talks their way into the honeymoon suite of the swanky Commodore Hotel, whose manager, Clark (Henderson), believes they’re rich. Larry wires Jo-Jo for money and is given the brush-off; when he applies for a job at the St. Louis Daily News, Jo-Jo tells the city editor, Marvin (Burke), that Larry’s a faker, and Larry’s thrown out. In desperation, Larry and Ann take Larry’s presentation .45 to a pawnshop, whose owner, Nate (Fries), promptly sells it on to The Eel (Mason), a gangster who has been terrorizing the city and, after each new crime, phoning the authorities and the newspapers to taunt them.

That night Larry and Ann take the money from the pawn to the Trocadero Club in hopes of gambling it up to riches. As they leave, having failed in that, they find themselves caught up in The Eel’s latest robbery. Just before The Eel emerges from the club, his getaway man and a cop kill each other in a shootout. Larry takes refuge in the car; The Eel, not realizing his driver’s dead, kills a plainclothes cop, gives Larry the loot, and saunters back into the club, all innocent-like.

Mystery Man - the getaway man (uncredited) starts the gunplay

A getaway man and a cop (both uncredited) kill each other in a shootout outside the Trocadero Club.

Marvin, galvanized by the possibility of the scoop of the age, hires Larry. However, it proves The Eel was using the .45 Larry pawned. Alerted to this, and with the steering wheel of the getaway car found to be covered in Larry’s fingerprints, DA Johnson (Usher) sees an obvious solution to the crime . . .

Plausibility is obviously not this cheapie’s strong point, and neither is the screenplay in general: it’s full of one-liners that fail to deliver the anticipated dose of wit, a repeated effect that, by the end of the movie, leaves one both punchdrunk and in a sort of frustrated coitus interruptus state. Armstrong and his three cronies start the movie with performances of quite marked woodenness (although Kolker’s fine as the leathery managing editor); luckily the other three soon drop out of proceedings and Armstrong improves a bit, but he then runs into the problem that there’s no detectable chemistry between him and Doyle. Doyle, while she played in dozens of B- and C-movies for studios like Republic and, as here, Monogram, wasn’t the kind of strong leading actress who could carry a movie. In this one, rather than giving the impression of the stalwart sidechick of the on-the-edge journalist, she comes across as the passably cute girl next door who’s worried no one will take her to the prom.

Another curious aspect is the odd pacing of the dialogue. If everyone had spoken without constant small pauses for faux-emphasis—as if everyone wanted to be Sydney Greenstreet—the movie might have been several minutes shorter.

The Mystery Man isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a good movie, even by Monogram standards, but at least it’s moderately goodhearted and its leading lady does have, as Larry several times comments, a sweet smile.

The predictable denouement!

On The Mystery Man

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