Blind Alibi (1938)

US / 62 minutes / bw / RKO Dir: Lew Landers Pr: Cliff Reid Scr: Lionel Houser, Harry Segall, Ron Ferguson Story: William Joyce Cowan Cine: Nicholas Musuraca Cast: Richard Dix, Whitney Bourne, Eduardo Ciannelli, Frances Mercer, Paul Guilfoyle, Richard Lane, Jack Arnold, Walter Miller, Frank M. Thomas, Solly Ward, George Irving, George Davis, Georges Renavent, Regis Toomey, Ace the Wonder Dog.

Blind Alibi - 2 our first sight of Ace the Wonder Dog

Ace the Wonder Dog was supposedly going to be RKO’s rival to Warner’s Rin Tin Tin; this was his debut outing.

Paul Dover (Dix) is a small-time US sculptor working in Paris. One day his sister Ellen “Ellie” (Mercer), now married to an official in the French government, René (uncredited), tells him that she’s being blackmailed. Back in her college days she was madly, wildly in love with a fellow-student named Marlow (uncredited), and wrote him some unwise letters. He’s now threatening to give these to René unless she hands over 200,000 francs.

Blind Alibi - 1 Paul and sister Ellen - cigarette smoke everywhere

Ellie (Frances Mercer) consults her sculptor brother, Paul Dover (Richard Dix), about her little problem.

Paul’s neighbor Marcel (Davis) is a retired safecracker. The two raid Marlow’s apartment and Marcel cracks the safe where the letters are hidden. In escaping, Marcel is shot and wounded; in hospital he tells Paul and Ellie that he managed to hide the letters in a consignment of antique furniture. Asking around, Paul discovers from an art dealer (Renavent) that the consignment in question, all 61 crates of it, has been shipped to the Burlington Museum in Los Angeles.

Paul follows. He reckons that only a blind man would be allowed to handle the museum exhibits (for searching purposes), so he buys himself a pair of dark glasses and, from dog trainer Maitland (Miller), a seeing-eye dog called Ace. The museum agrees to let him touch the sculptures in its collection so that he might make copies thereof; he has a disconcerting surprise when, on arriving there, he discovers that the assistant curator is Julia Fraser (Bourne), who visited his studio in Paris not long ago and by whose brashness he was put off. They agree to let bygones be bygones, and he settles in to work.

Blind Alibi - 5 Julia and Paul prepare for their first date

Julia (Whitney Bourne) and Paul (Richard Dix) prepare for their first date.

Marlow, too, managed to get information on the letters’ whereabouts from the injured Marcel and, before being thrown into a French jail, was able to contact his Los Angeles associate Mitch (Ciannelli). Mitch arranges a fatal “accident” for one of the museum’s janitors, and fixes up that his goon Taggart (Guilfoyle) be employed in the dead man’s place . . . In the event, it’s one of the janitors who finds the letters, hidden in a chair; he gives them to Julia for safekeeping, and she puts them in her desk. Discovering this, Paul breaks in one night and burns the incriminating items.

Blind Alibi - 3 Eduardo Ciannelli in fine form as Mitch

Eduardo Ciannelli is in fine form as Mitch.

In the final outbreak of fisticuffs, Mitch shoots Ace, grievously wounding the dog. After the hoods have rushed off to be pursued by the cops in the obligatory car chase, Paul and Julia, who’re by now an undeclared item, take the injured animal to vet Dr. Wilson (Toomey), who explains that Ace will survive but may be blinded. Just then the cops arrive and Paul is arrested for having broken into the museum.

Blind Alibi - 6 Dr Wilson doesn't buy that Ace's wound is a hunting accident

The vet, Dr. Wilson (Regis Toomey), doesn’t buy that Ace’s wound is a hunting accident.

The tale is all fairly amiably done, with no real thrills but at the same time no dire languors. The script is quite neatly written, with the possible exception of the line “Open that door and keep your hands high!” (a neat trick if you can do it) and Paul’s extended soliloquy on spinach, which I’ll spare you. Ciannelli gives his usual good turn as the ruthless Mitch, although here, in keeping with the movie’s general tenor, he’s not as menacing as in some of his other roles. The two female leads are both very lovely and very charming, in Bourne’s case not too much more; and Guilfoyle gives a good account of himself as Taggart, restraining himself from any temptation to play the role for comedy.

Blind Alibi - 4 Taggart does his best but . . .

Paul Guilfoyle as the incompetent goon Taggart.

But the movie certainly belongs to Dix as Paul, who can be tough when the occasion requires but for the most part projects an intelligent geniality that must have been very appealing to audiences of the day. Movies like Blind Alibi were something of a comedown after his glory days: he received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his part in Cimarron (1931), the movie itself winning the Best Picture award, and he had various other high-profile roles. So far as film noir and its related movies are concerned, he’s known for items like HELL’S HIGHWAY (1932), TWELVE CROWDED HOURS (1939), EYES OF THE UNDERWORLD (1942; vt Criminals of the Underworld), MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER (1946), and most especially the first seven of the eight movies in the WHISTLER series, beginning with The WHISTLER (1944). The seventh in the series, The 13TH HOUR (1947), was his last movie; he retired after completing it, and died just a couple of years later following a massive heart attack.


Blind Alibi - 7 closer

5 thoughts on “Blind Alibi (1938)

  1. An expertly written and most engaging review on a film that I HAVE seen, even once at the Film Forum. Yes Dix is best-known for the Whistler films, but he quite good here in this shortie – yes, it is well-written, and yes that one line you point out had me laughing aloud. That would indeed be very difficult. They also had that black and white wizard Nicholas Musuraca on board here!

  2. Pingback: July 2014’s classic crime in the blogosphere | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

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