US / 66 minutes / bw / Beacon Dir: Lewis D. Collins Pr: Max Alexander Scr: Charles A. Logue, Jack Neville Story: Carroll John Daly Cine: Gilbert Warrenton Cast: Ralph Graves, Lois Wilson, Lola Lane, James Burke, Charles Ray, Edward Earle, Hy Hoover, John Elliott, John Webb Dillon.
A minor, moderately entertaining comedy mystery of the kind that the Poverty Row studios churned out seemingly by the dozen during this era, this is saved from complete mediocrity by the appeal of its two leading ladies, who seem somehow a cut above their male counterparts.
A jeweler named Davidson (Elliott) has discovered that his books have been doctored to the tune of $50,000, and assumes the guilty party must be his former son-in-law, Courtney Mallory (Ray, the only one of the male cast to bring much nuance to his role). The matter comes to the attention of the cops when Davidson tries to use the Van Dyne pearls, which have been placed in his care, as security for a short-term bank loan. The banker, Miller (uncredited), declines the loan and informs the cops. Inspector Tyler (Dillon) puts gormless Det.-Lt. John Aloysius McGinnis (Burke) onto the case.
PI Clay Holt’s repressed secretary Peggy Cummings (Lola Lane).
Davidson himself contacts down-at-heel PI Clay Holt (Graves), gives him a $500 retainer and a couple of tickets to a party at the Lido Country Club that night, and tells him he’d like to discuss the situation there with him. After phoning every girl in his book and being declined, Clay reluctantly invites his secretary Peggy Cummings (Lane)—whom, after six months of working together, he hasn’t noticed is very lovely behind her thick-rimmed spectacles—to go to the shindig with him. He shows us that he knows how to make a woman feel good about herself:
Peggy: “It was nice of you to invite me tonight.”
Clay: “Oh, that’s all right. I had two tickets.”
It’s only when he sees her in her party gear that he falls hook, line and sinker for her. The difficulty for his belatedly aroused romantic instincts is that she resigned earlier that evening after having gone unpaid for six weeks before Davidson’s retainer came in, and she’s sticking by her decision.
At the party, PI Clay Holt (Ralph Graves) and dumbcluck cop Det.-Lt. John Aloysius McGinnis (James Burke).
Willis and Elaine Purdy (Edward Earle, Lois Wilson) and Elaine’s father, Davidson (John Elliott) don’t look to be having a whale of a time at the country club.
Also at the party are Davidson’s now-remarried daughter, Elaine Purdy (Wilson), and her husband Willis (Earle), plus ex-con Jerry Papolas (Hoover), there ostensibly as bodyguard for a rich old broad (uncredited). McGinnis arrives and does some clowning. Elaine’s ex-husband Mallory turns up, too, and it’s plain both that he’d like to rekindle his relationship with her and that she’s not 100% averse to the notion. There’s genuine affection rather than needle in, for example, this exchange:
Courtney: “[I’m] trying to be a bachelor again. I can’t say I like the role.”
Elaine: “You were quite a success as a bachelor when you were married.”
The Purdies arrange that Willis should go home and stick the Van Dyne pearls in the wall safe there. Soon after, a shot rings out and Davidson falls dead. Clay takes Elaine home where they discover the safe robbed and Willis tied up in a closet . . .
The sinister-seeming Jerry Papolas (Hy Hoover).
The solution to the mystery of the murder and the robbery is fairly straightforward if you’re accustomed to this sort of movie, but that aspect of the tale is competently enough handled. The problems that the movie has are, first, that Graves, at least in the persona of Clay, is a somewhat charmless hero—it’s inconceivable that Peggy could have bothered to toss a single yearning glance in this witless smartass’s direction, let alone have been apparently doing so for six months—and that the tale is preposterously cluttered by great steaming dollops of Burke’s clowning. The dumber-than-a-sack-of-hammers cop was a staple of these 1930s comedy mysteries, of course, and Burke played the part regularly. The trouble with giving a fathead such a central role is that, while the antics of fatheads can sometimes be funny, more often they rapidly become rebarbative—just as they do in real life, come to think of it. Add in that Clay takes sadistic delight in insulting McGinnis at every turn and in leading him into sometimes quite serious difficulties, and you end up with a strand of the movie that’s just wearisome. Of course, if the makers had removed that strand, they’d have been left with a movie not much more than half the length!
Inspector Tyler (John Webb Dillon) berates McGinnis (John Burke) yet again.
There are odd little loose ends in the plot. After the murder, while the Purdies are still standing in front of their robbed safe, McGinnis arrives and demands of Elaine whether or not she’s covering up for Courtney. She responds by fainting. So McGinnis just drops the matter and leaves. Another plotting concern is that we never quite discover what Davidson hired Clay for—or why they had to discuss the matter at the country club rather than in Clay’s office. And why give Clay two tickets rather than one?
Courtney Mallory (Charles Ray) sneaking around in the Purdy home.
Lois Wilson appeared in a plethora of silent movies, many of them now lost. She made the transition to the talkies successfully in terms of performance—as we can see here (and it’s hard to believe she was about 40 when she made Ticket to a Crime)—but the roles she got tended to be Poverty Row ones like this. She largely abandoned her movie career at the end of the 1930s, making just three movies in the 1940s and then no more. She died in 1988 at the age of 93. Lola Lane appeared in a number of noir and noirish movies, including THE WOMAN CONDEMNED (1934), DEATH FROM A DISTANCE (1935), MARKED WOMAN (1937), Miss V from Moscow (1942), Identity Unknown (1945), DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946) and THEY MADE ME A KILLER (1946). The noir connection was there also in her first (brief) marriage, to Lew Ayres.
Peggy Cummings (Lola Lane) in a moment of sultritude.
The only copy of this movie I could find was on Jimbo Berkey’s site and, as you’ll see from the screengrabs, the quality ain’t great.
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.