Two B-feature crime comedies starring the vivacious Jean Parker!
Detective Kitty O’Day
US / 61 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: William Beaudine Pr: Lindsley Parsons Scr: Tim Ryan, Victor Hammond Story: Victor Hammond Cine: Ira Morgan Cast: Jean Parker, Peter Cookson, Tim Ryan, Veda Ann Borg, Edward Gargan, Douglas Fowley, Herbert Heyes, Pat Gleason, Olaf Hytten, Edward Earle.
A high-spirited comedy thriller/mystery from Monogram, the first in an intended series that for some reason never made it past the second outing.
Kitty O’Day (Parker) is secretary to broker Oliver M. Wentworth (Earle) and girlfriend of one of Wentworth’s gofers, Johnny Jones (Cookson). One evening, after Johnny has brought a fortune in securities to Wentworth, the broker tells Kitty to go and fetch train tickets to Boston for the following day and to meet him later at his home for a last couple of urgent letters. Johnny, who’d bought theater tickets for tonight, is naturally miffed, and sounds off on the sidewalk to her about what he’d like to do with their boss. His tirade is overheard by a nearby taxi driver (Gleason), who’s especially startled by the line: “I’d like to kill him.”
Johnny (Peter Cookson) and Kitty (Jean Parker) — can the two lovers find happiness?
When Kitty reaches the Wentworth establishment she finds it’s suffering a power outage. A candle-bearing butler, Charles (Hytten), tells her that his master is having a shower and guides her to the study, where she finds a half-typed memo and an unusual cigarette lighter. Naturally the lighter’s going to be an important clue further down the line.
You sense that Kitty (Jean Parker) is accustomed to men telling her that, oops, quelle surprise, the lights have unexpectedly failed, but on this occasion she takes butler Charles’s (Olaf Hytten) word for it.
She also discovers, soon after, Wentworth’s body hanging in the bathroom. The cops arrive in the clichéd form of the moronic Inspector Clancy (Ryan, who also co-scripted) and his even more moronic sergeant, Mike Storm (Gargan)—the typical police team for a movie of this kind. Mike discovers Johnny unconscious in the garden; it seems he jealously followed Kitty to the house, but someone knocked him over the head.
Clancy (Time Ryan) and sidekick Mike (Ed Gargan) interrogate Kitty (Jean Parker).
Soon Wentworth’s widow (Borg) arrives with her lover, Harry Downs (Fowley), in tow. Also on the scene is the dead man’s lawyer, Robert Jeffers (Heyes). No longer on the scene is Charles the butler, who has mysterious disappeared.
The plot from here on is the kind of thing you’d expect in this sort of movie, with more bodies turning up, Clancy repeatedly threatening to arrest Kitty and Johnny for murder, and a fair amount of genuine bamboozlement as to who might be the guilty party. Alas, since the movie’s budget could clearly afford no more than a smallish cast, the bamboozlement decreases steeply as people get knocked off: it’s largely a question of checking to see who’s still upright.
There are a couple of standout comic sequences and some vigorous slapstick.
The first of those sequences occurs in the snazzy Fenton Arms, where Mrs. Wentworth and Downs have adjacent apartments. Kitty dresses herself as a maid to go through Downs’s apartment for possible clues and pressurizes Johnny into donning a page’s uniform to do the same for Mrs. Wentworth’s. Alas for Johnny, Mrs. Wentworth arrives back unexpectedly, and there begins something similar to a bedroom farce as he evades an increasingly suspicious widow. Matters get yet more complicated with the arrival of Kitty, initially unrealizing that Mrs. Wentworth is changing her clothes in the back room.
Mrs. Wentworth (the immortal Veda Ann Borg) notices nothing amiss as she goes to pick up her negligee.
Downs arrives to tell Mrs. Wentworth that he’s just discovered his own apartment has been burgled. The adulterous couple phone the cops and then decide to go out for the night. Yes, it’s Clancy and Mike again, and, yes, they catch Kitty and Johnny in Downs’s apartment—well, not quite in it, because our chums have climbed out of the window to balance precariously on a ledge that seems at least a couple of miles above the nighttime street. And Clancy sends Mike out to chase them around the building . . .
This, the second of the two fine sequences I mentioned, is something of a humdinger. It’s superbly staged while being both extremely funny, as all three participants stagger off-balance from time to time, and quite terrifying, for the same reason. As this is supposedly happening at night, the lighting’s kept low, presumably in order to minimize the expenditure on effects; this again increases the tension. Anyone with even a mild case of acrophobia should have a friend or significant other handy to cling onto.
How better for Kitty (Jean Parker) and Johnny (Peter Cookson) to escape than out through a window about fifty stories up?
As for the slapstick? Well, there’s humor that arises from the unexpected and humor that arises from the fulfillment of expectations, and the slapstick here depends mainly on the latter style. A textbook example occurs towards the end. Kitty and Johnny have been abducted by the bad guys and are being held in a seedy apartment. Clancy and Mike arrive on the scene and, as Mike prepares buffoonishly to charge down the door, we know exactly where this is going. Sure enough, the resourceful Kitty manages to get the door open right on cue. Mike sails straight through the room, past a maul of fighting men, and straight into the bathroom on the other side. It’s only then we remember that the crooks had just run a bath for waterboarding purposes. Very cleverly, the splash from beyond is delayed by perhaps a second to increase the impact of the clownery.
It takes a while, but it eventually dawns on Clancy (Tim Ryan) that Mrs. Wentworth (Veda Ann Borg) might be a suspect.
Most of the cast will be familiar to anyone who’s watched (too) many noir or borderline noir movies from the period, Cookson being the major exception. His Johnny Jones is a somewhat colorless, ineffectual fellow; while, as such, he’s the perfect foil for the spirited Kitty, at the same time you can’t help wondering why on earth she keeps him around. Borg is in fine femme fatale form here; she manages to slip adroitly between frost and sweetness. Ryan, who made quite a career at Monogram as both actor and screenwriter, is deliberately irritating in his usual role as the numbskull detective, while Gargan is, well, Gargan. A further movie discussed on this site in which Ryan featured as actor and screenwriter is Mystery of the 13th Guest (1943); I’m sure others will come along in due course.
Adventures of Kitty O’Day
US / 63 minutes / bw / Anglo–Amalgamated Dir: William Beaudine Pr: Lindsley Parsons Scr: George Callahan, Tim Ryan, Victor Hammond Story: Victor Hammond Cine: Mack Stengler Cast: Jean Parker, Peter Cookson, Tim Ryan, Lorna Gray, Jan Wiley, Ralph Sanford, William Forrest, Byron Foulger, Hugh Prosser, Dick Elliott, William Ruhl, Shelton Brooks.
The sequel, Adventures of Kitty O’Day, essentially repeated the formula. Kitty and Johnny are now among the lobby staff of the swankorama Hotel Townley, she as switchboard operator. While putting through a call for the hotel’s owner, Williams (uncredited), she’s startled to hear shots ring out, and rightly deduces that Williams has been gunned down. Johnny goes with night porter Jeff (Brooks, uncredited) to check and they find the body. By the time Clancy and his new sidekick, Mack (Sanford), arrive the body’s nowhere to be found . . .
Again there’s the unfaithful widow (Gray, who soon afterward adopted the professional name Adrian Booth), the smarmy lover (Prosser), an accumulation of bodies and some slapstick. This is definitely the lesser of the two movies, though, not just because there’s nothing in it that can compete with the high-ledge sequence of its predecessor but also because of the inclusion of one of those sequences mocking the supposed deficiencies of black people: cowardice, unreliability, stupidity, general fecklessness. Jeff, the night porter, is included solely for the purpose of having the stereotype ridiculed. It’s the kind of role an actor like Mantan Moreland might have done something with, turning things around in parodic fashion until it became clear to all but the slow-wittedest in the audience just who was laughing at whom, but Brooks was no Mantan Moreland.
In the sequel, Kitty believes she has competition for Johnny’s affections in the shapely shape of trainee masseuse Carla Brant (Jan Wiley).
The first of the two movies is certainly worth tracking down. The second has much to like, but is distinctly skippable unless you’re a Jean Parker completist.
The movie Fashion Model (1945), also dir Beaudine, is sometimes regarded as #3 in the series. It has a very similar premise—yacky young woman solves crimes despite reluctant boyfriend and doltish cops—but the actress is Marjorie Weaver rather than Jean Parker, and her role is as Peggy Rooney rather than Kitty O’Day. The main connection is Tim Ryan both onscreen as the thwarted detective inspector (now called O’Hara rather than Clancy) and offscreen as the mainspring of the scripting team.