US / 67 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Lew Landers Pr: Wallace MacDonald Scr: Paul Yawitz Cine: Philip Tannura Cast: Chester Morris, Adele Mara, Richard Lane, George E. Stone, Lloyd Corrigan, Walter Sande, Larry Parks, George McKay, Cy Kendall, Paul Fix, Ben Taggart.
Blackie (Chester Morris) and The Runt (George E. Stone) address the Christmas tree.
It’s Christmas Eve and Boston Blackie (Morris)—a sort of Robin Hood figure, a reformed criminal who now helps the downtrodden and solves crimes—has mounted a vaudeville show for the inmates of the state prison. Eve Sanders (Mara), a friend of the famous clown Roggi McKay (McKay), begs to be included in the company so she can have an additional chance to see her brother, Joe Trilby (Parks), who’s doing time for a crime he didn’t commit. During the performance, Joe overpowers Roggi, steals his clown costume, performs his act, and then travels back to the city on the performers’ bus—among his fellow-passengers being Blackie’s old nemesis, Inspector Farraday (Lane).
Joe Trilby (Larry Parks) becomes the fake Roggi.
Joe plans to knock off the two crooks who framed him, Duke Banton—”that tin-horn bookie from Saratoga,” as someone calls him—and Steve Caveroni (Fix), currently working as a cabby. Informed by pawnbroker and fence Jumbo Madigan of the hotel where Banton can be found, Blackie and his series sidekick The Runt (Stone) rush there, only to find Banton already murdered. Briefly they assume Joe must be the killer, but then Joe arrives, clearly ignorant that Banton’s already dead. Immediately behind Joe come Farraday, his dimwit assistant Detective Mathews (Sande), and a passel of cops . . .
A crucial clue . . .
. . . and the stereotypical headlines.
This was the third of the fourteen BOSTON BLACKIE comedy mysteries that Columbia released during 1941–9; I gave the movies in the series very brief entries in A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir on the grounds that, though not noir, they take the same ingredients and studiously make something lesser of them. I have to confess that, each time I watch one of the series, I’m reminded of why I don’t do so more often. Of the series characters, Stone is excellent as the weasely Runt and Lane is surprisingly good as Inspector Farraday, perpetually convinced that Blackie must be at the heart of every crime and thus constantly barking up the wrong tree. But Corrigan as Arthur Manleder—Blackie’s rich eccentric pal—offers merely an unfunny caricature and Morris’s insufferable smugness in the central role rapidly sets the stomach to tumult. The choreography of his fights with the bad guys is dire: rather than actually landing punches he flaps his arms like a wrathful rooster.
Steve Caveroni (Paul Fix) threatens to take Eve Sanders (Adele Mara) with him if he jumps.
In this movie there are some interesting names among the uncredited bit parts: for example, the driver of the bus that takes the troupe to and from the prison is played by Lloyd Bridges, and Henry, desk clerk at the hotel where Eve is staying, is played by Lester Dorr.
There are numerous plot infelicities, as if the screenplay had been thrown together on the fly; in one instance, in order for a particular plot point to be navigated, Blackie and The Runt must be left on their own briefly . . . so Inspector Farraday, midway through his interrogation of them, obligingly clears the room of all cops, himself included. This little hiccup comes soon after Blackie and The Runt have discovered the corpse of Duke Banton crumpled behind an armchair in a corner of his hotel room. The odd part of the sequence is that it’s perfectly obvious there’s no corpse there, as if the budget wouldn’t run to one. Soon after, when the cops have arrived, we see quite plainly there’s a sprawled form where, moments before, there wasn’t. Did director Lew Landers refuse to stop shooting just because the corpse was taking a bathroom break? Who can tell?
There’s no listing on Amazon for this movie, but a site called Western Movie World offers all of the Boston Blackie movies as a set fairly cheaply.