vt Hit and Run
US / 53 minutes / bw / Reliable Dir: Franklin Shamray (i.e., Bernard B. Ray) Pr: Bernard B. Ray Scr: Jack Natteford, Carl Krusada Story: Bennett Cohen Cine: Pliny Goodfriend Cast: Richard Talmadge, Thelma White, Robert Frazer, Mildred Harris, Vera Lewis, Robert Walker, George Chesebro, Bull Montana, Paul Ellis, Lloyd Ingraham.
Helen (Thelma White) spies through the window on Lavelle.
Seducer, blackmailer, jewel thief and all-round Frenchman Maurice Lavelle (Ellis) has used his sleazy skills to extract a string of pearls from Marie Hartley (Harris), wife of Police Commissioner George Hartley (Frazer). Marie’s loyal, cute, feisty, spunky, brash (add adjectives to taste) and most importantly unmarried sister Helen (White) is doing her best to get them back. She watches through a hotel window as he hides them in the heel of a gimmicked shoe and puts the shoe in his trunk. As she tries to stick him up, the cops arrive, Lavelle flees and Helen tiptoes away from what looks to be a pretty substantial shootout.
Next we know, the reclaimed trunk and its contents are being offered as a job lot at a police auction of recovered goods. Helen is there, bidding as much as she dare for the item; bidding against her are two obvious sleazebags, who, as we’ll later discover, are Lavelle’s goons: Matt Dunning (Walker), leader of the Dunning Gang, and Dude Hannigan (Chesebro, wasted in a movie like this). There’s another bidder who trumps them all, Perky (uncredited); he not only wins the bidding but makes a point of announcing the address to which the item should be delivered in a Very Loud, Clear Voice.
The bad guys: uncredited gangster, Dunning (Robert Walker) and Hannigan (George Chesebro).
Also in the auction room is undercover detective Dick Manning (Talmadge).
That night, Helen arrives at the address in hopes of finding the trunk and the pearls. She does indeed find the trunk and even the shoe, but the pearls aren’t there any longer. Worse still, she’s caught in the act by Dick and Perky, who’s actually Dick’s English butler—you can tell he’s supposed to be English because he has this accent that only occasionally lurches into, well, Joisey at a guess. This is Dick’s home and he has deliberately lured the hoods here.
Helen (Thelma White) tries to show Dick (Richard Talmadge) who’s boss.
Sure enough, Dunning, Hannigan and another hood (unnamed and uncredited) turn up at the house. Retaining his undercover status, Dick hustles Helen out of the way and claims to be himself a burglar. He’ll crack the wall safe to get the pearls if he can split the proceeds 50:50 with Lavelle. Natch, the crooks renege on the deal as soon as Dick cracks the safe. Natch, the string of “pearls” that he gives them is fake. There’s a massive punchup—three against one—and eventually the hoods escape. Dick follows Helen home and discovers the truth about the pearls’ provenance.
Lavelle (Paul Ellis) examines the goods.
Dick’s boss, Chief of Detectives Leonard Winter (Ingraham), agrees to let Dick use the genuine string of pearls as bait to catch Lavelle. Dick in effect joins the Dunning Gang, being forced by them to help in a safe robbery at the old Baker warehouse; he deliberately trips the alarm and deploys some extraordinarily boring tricks to stall the robbery until the cops arrive. When they finally do, Dick leads them on a merry dance across the rooftops so that the gangsters can escape.
Dick (Richard Talmadge) tries to stall the safebreak until the cops can get there.
Marie (Mildred Harris) talks about her sins.
Eventually Dick’s cover is blown by Marty Jones (Montana), an escaped convict who’s dead set on revenge against Dick because the latter sent him up. (Apparently in real life crooks almost never seek vengeance on those who caught or sentenced them, because trying to do so would be an express route back behind bars.) As soon as the hoods have the pearls, it’s back to punchups, athletic feats, gunfire, the usual.
Marty Jones (Bull Montana), hot for vengeance.
I forgot to mention that, in the middle of all this, there’s a car chase.
Born Sylvester Alphonse Metz in Camburg, Germany, Richard Talmadge (1892–1981) came to the US sometime in the 1910s as part of an acrobatic troupe that performed at the Barnum & Bailey Circus. He moved into the movies as a stuntman, and quite soon added acting and producing credits to his name; later he directed a number of movies. In Never Too Late it’s clear that his real strength was as a stuntman—in fact the entire movie can be seen as a vehicle crafted to showcase his athletic prowess, to the extent that plot imbecilities are introduced just so that he can do some running, jumping and standing still.
How to get into a car if you’re Richard Talmadge.
The first instance occurs when, as Dick, he’s on his way in his car to the police auction of recovered goods. Hearing a police paddywagon’s siren behind him, he stages an accident and feigns injury so he can get a lift on the paddywagon. Not content with riding inside it, he hauls himself athletically into its roof where he stands atop the vehicle until reaching the local cop shop, which is where the auction is being held. A quick somersault and he’s off, ready to join the bidding. Of course, he’s left his own car unlocked on a busy city street—oops!—while the cops driving the paddywagon must have been deaf not to hear him cavorting on the roof of their vehicle, and surely other drivers would have indicated to the cops that there was, y’know, this loony trying to keep his balance on top of the paddywagon. But what the hey.
Gratuitous acrobatics from Dick (Richard Talmadge).
There’s more. When Dick is having his mighty attack of fisticuffs with the three hoods in his home, a gangster is thrown from the hall’s landing balcony to land, perhaps twenty feet down, flat on his back. In the real world, this’d be a matter of imminent death or at least permanent paralysis. Since we’re in the Talmadge world, the goon’s up and punching moments later.
After the goons have fled and Helen likewise, Dick runs out of the nighttime house to discover Helen driving away in broad daylight. Athletically he dives onto her back fender, where he clings—luckily no one else on the road alerts Helen to this fact—until they reach the Hartley house. There it’s still daylight outside but, inside, it’s bedtime.
Later, after the aborted attempt to rob the Baker safe, a crew comprising three gangsters plus Dick magically becomes five-strong: the additional gangster seems to have been added solely so that the cops can shoot him down without reducing the fleeing-gangster quota.
A chase across the rooftops for Dick (Richard Talmadge).
Throughout the movie, Talmadge performs less like an adult human than a small boy who’s incapable of working out where to put all of his energy. At a late stage, Talmadge/Dick has to get into a car. Rather than simply opening the door and climbing in, he performs a wonderfully athletic vault to arrive behind the wheel. It’s a surprise he didn’t scrump an apple or two at the top of his arc.
The Robert Walker portraying Matt Dunning here is Robert D. Walker (1888–1954), who played countless roles in B-movies and is not to be confused with the rather better remembered Robert Hudson Walker (1918–1951), best known for his starring role as Bruno Anthony in Alfred Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951).
For once Commissioner Hartley (Robert Frazer) has the guts to face down his mother (Vera Lewis).
In movies of this era you wearily learn to expect ghastly racial stereotyping: generally speaking, the black servant who’s not just terminally stupid but in every other respect despicable—cowardly, gullible, crass. One of the relatively few joys of Never Too Late is that there’s no such character here.
Well, maybe not. There’s the stereotyped Brit butler Perky, whose verisimilitude can be deduced from his response to a phone call:
“I say, are you there? Oh, yes, Miss Lloyd. Mr. Manning is top-hole. I say, absolutely top-hole. . . . Pip pip, toodle-oo.”
Like so many B-movies of its era, Never Too Late can be pulled apart on any number of grounds. Even so, it succeeds quite well as bland entertainment. Talmadge can’t act and Harris looks as if she should have put in her contact lenses before trying to read the prompt card, but Lewis is more than acceptable as Marie’s ghastly mother-in-law while Frazer, Ellis, Chesebro and Ingraham are certainly more than that, and White, whom it’d be tempting to dismiss as merely a typical B-movie fluffy blonde of this era of Hollywood, seems to have way more intelligence than is required for the character. Not long after, she’d shock the nation with her role as a pusher in the drive-in kitsch classic Reefer Madness (1936).