I’ll Name The Murderer (1936)

Silenced songbird!

US / 68 minutes / bw / Puritan Dir: Raymond K. Johnson (i.e., Bernard B. Ray) Pr: C.C. Burr Scr: Philip Dunham, Edwin K. O’Brien Story: Philip Dunham Cine: James Diamond Cast: Ralph Forbes, Marion Shilling, Malcolm MacGregor, James Guilfoyle, John W. Cowell, Wm. Norton Bailey, Agnes Anderson, Charlotte Barr-Smith, Mildred Claire (i.e., Claire Rochelle), Gayne Kinsey, Harry Semels, Al Klein, Louise Keaton, Miki Morita, Karl Hackett.

Gossip columnist Tommy Tilton (Forbes), author of the popular daily “Tattle-Tales Along Broadway” column, is tonight attending the recently opened niterie Luigi’s. While there he runs into his old varsity pal Ted Benson (MacGregor). The latter is out celebrating with his just-announced fiancée, Vi Van Ostrum (Barr-Smith), who’s not just unthinkably hot but a millionaire’s daughter—an ideal combination, in other words.

Charlotte Barr-Smith as Vi Van Ostrum and Malcolm MacGregor as Ted Benson.

But there’s a fly, it seems, in the ointment of Ted’s life: Nadia Renee (Anderson), resident chanteuse at Luigi’s:

Tommy: “Nadia? Oh, yes, that was the amazing interlude of your freshman year. I thought that was past history.”
Ted: “So did I, but Nadia has different ideas. You see, I wrote some letters . . .”

Nadia wants $10,000 for those letters or she’ll show them to Vi’s father, Hugo (Bailey)—that’s about $180,000 in today’s terms, so they must be pretty eye-popping stuff.

Ralph Forbes as Tommy Tilton.

It emerges that Nadia has a habit of blackmailing her ex-lovers, of whom there have been, we swiftly realize, a plenitude. Another one might even be Luigi, who has a shady past as Chicago nightclub owner Alfredo Rossi—in whose club Nadia sang back then as Marina Farina. And there seems to be some kind of involvement, too, with hoofer Valerie Delroy (Claire)—née Maggie O’Brien—and her dance partner Walton (Kinsey).

Agnes Anderson as Nadia Renee.

Someone sticks a stiletto into Nadia to fatal effect, and the cops, led by Captain “Pop” Flynn (Cowell), assume it must be Ted Benson. As Ted languishes in the hoosegow, ol’ man Van Ostrum is prepared to let him rot there . . . until Tommy points out to ol’ man Van Ostrum that yet another of Nadia’s ex-lovers is, well, ol’ man Van Ostrum. The improbably studly gazillionaire then promptly capitulates to his daughter’s demands that they hire seedy washed-up private eye Lou Baron (Guilfoyle) to prove Ted’s innocence by nailing the real killer.

John W. Cowell as Captain “Pop” Flynn.

(The evidence Tommy produces to support his gentle act of blackmail is a receipt giving the man’s name as Hans William Van Ostrum, rather than Hugo Van Ostrum, but we’ll follow the version given in the credits.)

Harry Semels (right) as Luigi and Al Klein as his long-suffering waiter.

The plot thickens when Valerie, who clearly knew more than she had yet revealed and who agreed to meet Tommy to spill the beans, is found at the bottom of a lake with a typed confession in her purse to Nadia’s killing. The suicide hypothesis lasts only until the autopsy report appears: Valerie was another murder victim, again dispatched using a stiletto.

Harry Semels (left) as Luigi, Mildred Claire as Valerie Delroy and Gayne Kinsey as Walton.

Tommy has begun collaborating with Lou, and is taunting the killer in his daily column with hints that he’s soon to be publicly identified. Eventually his method bears fruit . . .

And what of Marion Shilling’s character in all this?

The truth is that, despite Shilling’s being billed second in the credits, her character, press photographer Smitty, is almost completely ephemeral to the plot. Her role is to be the rather dowdily dressed, good-hearted gal who’s always around—until, as predictably as in a Hallmark movie, even dimwit Tommy notices that she’s actually rather lovely. She’s intelligent too, and is given most of the screenplay’s meager allocation of good lines:

Smitty: “A columnist, mister interlocutor, in my opinion, is a man who burns the scandal at both ends.”

And then one that I could imagine Joan Blondell making the most of:

Tommy: “I’m taking [Valerie] to dinner tonight, and I might manage to get the low-down.”
Smitty: “It’ll be low-down, all right. You’ll have to stoop for that keyhole.”

Wm. Norton Bailey (left) as old man Van Ostrum confronts Ralph Forbes as Tommy Tilton.

While watching the movie I had the constant feeling that the actress who plays Vi was familiar to me from elsewhere; I just couldn’t put a name to her. Checking the name given in the credits, Charlotte Barr-Smith, left me none the wiser, and searches of the intertubes revealed that I’ll Name the Murderer was Charlotte Barr-Smith’s solitary screen appearance. Since the actress billed here as Mildred Claire was actually Claire Rochelle while Wm. Norton Bailey is more usually billed as William Bailey, I wonder if there was some moonlighting going on.

James Guilfoyle as Lou Baron.

Louise Keaton as Baron’s secretary Myrtle.

I’ll Name the Murderer is one of those (many) movies from this era that’s entertaining enough to watch but eventually something of a let-down. It hasn’t enough wit to function as a comedy while its status as a mystery is undermined by the fact that the identity of the killer seems to have been determined on the least-likely-cast-member principle, with no thought given as to whether this solution actually makes any sense. Certainly this is a movie that Shilling completists are likely to enjoy, and other viewers may do so too as long as they don’t expect too much.

And if anyone manages to identify Charlotte Barr-Smith, I’d be grateful if they could let me know in the comments.

6 thoughts on “I’ll Name The Murderer (1936)

  1. I’ve often had this thought with respect to your reviews before, but I’m really feeling it tonight, so I’m just going to say it: Plot summary is not criticism. It should be handled in a paragraph at most.

  2. No matter whether they are reviews, encyclopedia entries, whatever – plot summary should take a paragraph AT MOST. Really, two or three sentences should usually suffice.

    Any instructor of a first-year literature or composition class at university rejects plot summary as a crutch. Yet I see more and more of it on the Internet. It is like the circular fallacy in philosophy. It is not defensible on any grounds.

    I appreciate the objective of your site. Yet the method is quite problematic.

    • I appreciate the objective of your site.

      Forgive me if I seem confrontational, but I don’t think you actually do. The purpose of the site is to give an account of each of the movies it covers. I (usually) give a less full plot summary than you’re likely to find in, say, the TCM database; but the plot summary is, to me, a very important part of why I bother running the site. (On occasion the summary goes on longer than usual; this is often because I’ve noticed that other sites have plot points, character names or functions, etc., wrong.)

      The “opinion” part of it all, which you’re flattering enough to call a review, is primarily useful to me as an aide memoire should I have to write something “proper” about one of these movies in five years’ time (as, of course, are the summary, occasional splodges of ancillary info, etc.). Again, if my personal reactions to a movie are of interest to others, that’s fine; otherwise, there are plenty of top-notch review sites around on the intertubes, some of them professional (like the Roger Ebert archives). But I don’t especially want this to be another review site.

      That said, I do on occasion attempt to entertain — both others and myself. Because sometimes there’s fun to be had.

      So now you know why I habitually call the humble pieces here “accounts” rather than “reviews.”

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