Hollywood Mystery (1934)

US / 54 minutes / bw / Fanchon Royer, Regal Dir: Breezy Eason Pr: Fanchon Royer Scr: John Thomas Neville Story: William Bloecher Cine: Ernest Miller Cast: June Clyde, Frank Albertson, José Crespo, Tenen Holtz, John Davidson, Stanley Price, Cyril Ring, Edith Terry Preuss, Frances Morris, William H. O’Brien.

Hollywood Mystery 0 opener

Daniel Patrick Ryan (Albertson), usually known as “Dan” or “Danny”, is in charge of PR for Poverty Row studio Supreme Pictures. His boss, Benjamin “Benny” Vogel (Holtz), is in the habit of firing and then rehiring him. The reason he’s being fired today is that he has committed the studio to making a movie called The Racketeer, when everyone knows the public’s tired of gangster movies. Worse still, the director he has lined up for it is the foreign auteur he insisted the studio hire a year ago and who’s done nothing ever since, Siegfried Sonoff (Davidson). It’s a match made in hell. (Why a PR guy should have been doing such things is a bit of a puzzler, but this is a Poverty Row production itself.)

Hollywood Mystery 1 Danny makes his case to Benny

Danny (Frank Albertson) makes his case to Benny.

Dan has an inspiration, and he sells the idea to Sonoff. What about casting a real gangster in the lead role? Sonoff, master of European realism, adores the idea. Benny likes the idea too, when it’s explained to him as a marketing ploy:

Danny: “Now, what we’re going to have in this picture is realism, and by ‘realism’ we mean the real thing. We’re going to get the best-looking, toughest gangster in the country to play the leading role in this picture. The papers’ll eat it up and the dames’ll go nuts.”

Hollywood Mystery 2 Sonoff (L) faces off with Benny

Sonoff (John Davidson, left) faces off with Benny (Tenen Holtz).

But Benny has obvious reservations about the practicalities: who wants a murderous hoodlum on their lot? Danny explains to him (as we discover later) that he’s thought about that problem: He will trick Sonoff and later the press into believing that unknown imported Italian stage actor Tony Capello (Crespo) is a gangster. Accordingly, Danny takes Sonoff and the actress Danny loves, Doris Dawn (Clyde), for dinner at the Cardis Mountain Inn, a known gangster hangout. Tony is at another table. Danny identifies him to his dinner companions as a renowned gangster. Danny’s sidekick Izzy (uncredited) has arranged for a stooge to turn up and take a sock on the jaw from Tony.

All seems to go to plan. Sonoff wants Tony as his star. Tony agrees but puts on a show of reluctance; his condition, stated with many a lascivious leer, is that Doris will be his leading lady.

Next morning, however, the folks at Supreme Pictures discover that the stooge had a puncture on the way to the inn. The person Tony socked was Joe Romano (Price), the most-feared gangster on this side of the country . . .

Hollywood Mystery 3 Doris hides behind Dan's desk as he manipulates Ben

Doris (June Clyde) hides behind Dan’s desk as he bends Ben to his will.

I’ve described the setup in some detail, because the setup is most of what this movie has going for it. Overall, in fact, the script is a cut above the rest of the movie. Here, for example, is Danny’s exchange with his boss on the matter of his having got plastered with some reporters the night before:

Benny: “A ‘little bit tight’? I thought you always bragged that you never become intoxicated.”
Danny: “Well, that was before Repeal. My stomach ain’t used to this legal stuff.”

I also enjoyed the in-joke when, as Danny threatened to leave Supreme, he claimed to “have a little deal on with Monarch Pictures”—which company was offering him more than Benny’s paying him. Fat chance. Monarch was another Poverty Row company, responsible for such cinematic gems as Gambling Sex (1932) dir Fred C. Newmeyer, a torrid tale about . . . well, you can more or less guess it from the title.

Hollywood Mystery 4 This is why Tony agrees to sign the contract

This is why Tony agrees to sign the contract.

And you can more or less guess what’s going to happen in the rest of Hollywood Mystery, too. Through some Danny-inspired subterfuge, the studio manages to keep Tony alive until The Racketeer is completed but then, predictably, Romano and his goons seize Doris, using her to draw Tony. He and his private assistant Duke (Ring) and his unnamed butler (O’Brien) put up a brave fight, and the arrival on the scene of a battered Danny clinches the issue.

The production standards are pretty mediocre (and my viewing pleasure wasn’t enhanced by the state of the Alpha Video print, which is very gray and overcropped), and it’s clear the movie was shot in a hurry. Somehow no one noticed that Danny’s secretary (Morris) is sometimes called Kitty, sometimes Daisy; not to be outdone, Benny’s secretary (Preuss) seems to have a choice of Mary, Mamie or Mabel.

Hollywood Mystery 5 Tony's Italian charisma

The Italian charisma of Tony (José Crespo) makes The Racketeer a huge success.

There’s a bigger puzzle. Tony is supposed to be a stage actor unknown in the US. Yet, as noted, he has two servants. He also lives in a gated mansion—it’s closer to a palace than a mansion, in fact—and obviously enjoys his luxuries. How? Well, we could—at a stretch—guess that maybe he was a major theatrical star in Italy and made a fortune. But in that case, what on earth is he doing grubbing for jobs at Poverty Row dumps like Supreme? An explanation for this latter could be that he’s fled Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship, but then the question remains as to the luxury. Most refugees from European fascism were lucky to escape with the clothes they stood up in.

John Davidson puts in an enjoyable performance as the foreign director; it’s not a part that gives him much to do, but he does it with aplomb. Frank Albertson as Danny gives a turn that, if you half-close your eyes, you could imagine as coming from Frankie Darro. This was about as lofty as his credits got; most often, in his nearly two hundred movies, he was cast in smallish character roles. It’s a shame, in a way, that this was so; he’s a more than acceptable substitute for Darro, and certainly a lot less abrasive.

Hollywood Mystery 6 Joe has fun beating up Tony, but ...

Joe (Stanley Price) has fun beating up Tony (José Crespo), but retribution is at hand . . .

The big draw among the cast, however, is Clyde. She’s extraordinarily attractive, very personable, and screams in all the right places—which is exactly what her role demands of her. She began as a child actor in vaudeville, moving into cinema when she was about 20. She was married twice to the director Thornton Freeland: first in 1930, with a divorce in 1947, and again in 1950, the marriage this time lasting until his death in 1987. Clyde outlived him by a matter of weeks.

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This is a contribution toward Rich Westwood’s “Crimes of the Century” feature on his Past Offences blog. The year chosen for consideration in June 2015 is 1934.

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5 thoughts on “Hollywood Mystery (1934)

  1. I’m in! Characters with changing names, scenes shot in a hurry – my kind of stuff!

    How come Frank Albertson never had a “bigger” acting career? I always felt scenes were made better by his presence.

    • It does seem odd that Albeetson seems to have been more or less completely forgotten. Actors in a similar mold but arguably less talented (and sometimes not just arguably!), like Chester Morris and Frankie Darro, are still remembered, albeit not widely so, yet it was only while watching this movie that I realized I’d so much as heard of him before! (I’d seen him in Nightfall [1957], but of course that was over two decades later so I didn’t make the connection; besides, he gets knocked off early on in that one.)

      Many thanks for dropping by!

  2. Pingback: ‘The more I read of the Golden Age’ #1934book results | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

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