Murder is News (1937)

Canada, US / 55 minutes / bw / Warwick Dir: Leon Barsha Pr: Kenneth J. Bishop Scr: Edgar Edwards Story: Theodore A. Tinsley Cine: George Meehan Cast: John Gallaudet, Iris Meredith, George McKay, Doris Lloyd, John Hamilton, John G. Spacey, Frank C. Wilson, Colin Kenny, William McIntyre, Fred Bass, Doreen MacGregor.

Tony Peyden (Wilson), trumpeter in the resident band at the Club Saratoga, is the stepson of Edgar Drake (McIntyre), millionaire president of Drake Utilities and a man whose meanness is epitomized in the anecdote of his having tipped a porter a dime for carrying a trunk up sixteen floors.

One evening at the club Tony hears the nightly broadcast of yellow journalist Jerry Tracy (Gallaudet) of the Daily Planet. The latest lubricious story is that tonight Drake is going to sail for the UK on the Princess Anne and that Tony’s mother Pauline (Lloyd) is going to wait until her husband is safely mid-Atlantic before suing for divorce, with the intention of marrying the company’s attorney, David Corning (Hamilton).

Murder is News - 1 Doris Lloyd as the soon-to-be divorcee maintaining her dignity

Doris Lloyd as Pauline Drake, the dignified soon-to-be divorcee.

Distressed at the thought of his mother’s name being dragged through the scandal sheets, Tony agrees with the club’s owner, Fred Hammer (Spacey), that he should take a walk to try to get over his upset; in fact, he phones his mother at the family’s Westchester home and arranges to meet her later at the Drake town house. Pauline’s secretary Ann Leslie (Meredith) phones Corning to tip him off. Someone phones Drake to tell him what’s going on. Drake phones Jerry Tracy to tell him that he, Drake, is going to the town house to confront Pauline and Corning, and that, if Jerry wants to see some news as it happens, he should be there too. So much phoning—AT&T’s profits must have surged that night.

When Jerry arrives at the Drake town house he finds Drake’s dead body, stabbed. He also catches a glimpse of Pauline fleeing the house before himself being sapped. When he comes to, it’s to discover the body has vanished. His old friend Inspector J.P. “Fitz” Fitzgerald (Kenny) of the local PD arrives just then, and between the two of them they hatch up a plan to catch the murderer. Before they’re able to do so, however, there’s another murder and not one but two dastardly plots to manipulate the price of the Drake Utilities stock in the shadow of an imminent merger are revealed.

Murder is News - 2 Tracy (left) and Fitz in interrogatory mode

Journalist Jerry Tracy (John Gallaudet, left) and Inspector J.P. “Fitz” Fitzgerald (Colin Kenny) in interrogatory mode.

Cheap and not nearly as cheerful as it should be, this holds the attention by virtue of the fact that it has quite a lot of plot to fit into its brief running time. Some of the subplots seem quite unnecessary, as when Jerry is beaten up in a taxi and dumped in the countryside with the message

Your Health Has Been Good.
Keep It That Way.
Don’t Try to Be a Wise Guy.

scrawled on the inside of his matchbook cover. We do eventually discover who was behind the abduction and beating, but there’s never any proper explanation as to why it was carried out in the first place.

Matters aren’t helped by the fact that one of its principal roles, that of Ann Leslie, seems almost completely surplus to requirements; Meredith’s given virtually nothing to do that couldn’t have been more sensibly done by someone else in the cast, and, although her prettiness and undoubted appeal lead us to anticipate she’ll become a romantic interest—for Jerry, presumably—nothing of the sort ever happens. Jerry’s live-in sidekick “Brains” McGillicuddy (McKay), whose function it is to clown around in imbecile fashion—it’s the kind of part that, on the other side of the Atlantic, Alastair Sim could turn into an artform—at least does eventually contribute something to the resolution.

Murder is News - 3 Ann Leslie (Iris Meredith) is given far too little to do

Ann Leslie (Iris Meredith), Pauline’s secretary, is an underutilized character in the play.

Other aspects of the plot struggle with deep implausibility. For example: In the final minutes the bad guy seeks to immure Jerry and a couple of others in the secret vault where Drake’s body was hidden. As he’s shutting the bookcase behind which the vault lurks, Jerry jumps him; as they struggle, both men stagger into the vault, tripping the hidden lever so that an immovable barrier comes down . . .

This was one of a two-strong series featuring Jerry Tracy, the other entrant being Manhattan Shakedown (1937); if I can lay hands on a copy of the latter movie I might be able to ascertain which order the two ought to be seen in. Both were released initially in the UK at the end of 1937, their US release being delayed until 1939, Murder is News in the spring and Manhattan Shakedown in the fall, but it seems Manhattan Shakedown was the first made. They were two of fourteen movies produced at Oak Bay, British Columbia—”Hollywood North”, as it was somewhat deprecatingly called, since its output was primarily of B-movies like these two. The point of filming in Canada was to get round the UK’s quota system, then in force, which controlled the number of US movies that could be shown in the UK.

Murder is News - 4 the second murder

The second murder.

The wisecracking hatcheck girl (MacGregor) at the Club Saratoga is one of the movie’s brighter aspects; she’s unnamed and indeed uncredited. MacGregor made just three movies, all at Oak Bay and all for director Barsha; the other two are Convicted (1938) and Special Inspector (1938), both of whose casts included the young Rita Hayworth.


On Murder is News

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