US / 70 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: George Blair Assoc Pr: William J. O’Sullivan Scr: Jerry Gruskin, Dorrell McGowan, Stuart E. McGowan Story: Jerry Sackheim, Erwin Gelsey Cine: John Alton Cast: Dale Evans, Warren Douglas, Janet Martin, Douglas Fowley, Adele Mara, Gregory Gay (i.e., Gregory Gaye), Grant Withers, William Bakewell, Vince Barnett, Francis Pierlot, Joy Barlowe (i.e., Joy Barlow), Fred Graham, Dale Van Sickel, Betty Alexander, Joseph Crehan, Bobbie Dorree.
A movie that starts off as if it’s going to be yet another of those countless, nigh-indistinguishable Hollywood comedy-crime B-features, albeit better played and produced than most, but, around the halfway mark, morphs into something distinctly grimmer and more noirish, with cinematography to match—indeed, the (well choreographed) punchup of the finale is marred by the fact that the shadows are so deep you can’t see who’s getting the upper hand (fist?) in the proceedings.
Despite the order of the credits, Janet Martin is the main star of the show, with Warren Douglas and Douglas Fowley as her supports. Dale Evans has a supporting role and sings a nice song (“It’s Not the First Love” by Eddie Maxwell and Nathan Scott), but was clearly regarded as being a much bigger name than the others. Plus c’est la même chose.
Stephanie “Stevie” Carson (Martin) is the daughter of the late, lamented but legendary Evening Gazette investigative reporter Frank Carson, and so, fresh out of journalism school, turns up at the Gazette offices hoping for an interview with Editor-in-Chief Channing Bliss (Pierlot) and a job. Instead she finds Bliss’s secretary, Mary Lou Walters (Barlow), amorously entwined in Bliss’s office with Danny Butler (Douglas), head of the paper’s morgue and evidently the office lothario. The two miscreants take their revenge by faking Stevie’s appointment by Bliss to work with the snooty literary editor, Bruce Coleman (Bakewell).
After the cruel prank has been exposed, a weeping Stevie encounters features editor Bill Monroe (Fowley), who takes her to meet the real Channing Bliss. The latter is charmed by her and hires her . . . to work under Danny in the Gazette’s morgue (“Research Library”). There she endures her boss’s sexist taunts—as, far more willingly, does secretary Dee Dee (Mara).
Bliss collects rare first editions—puzzlingly referred to frequently in the movie as “rare manuscripts.” Bruce feeds his habit by selling him books he’s supposedly found in the antiquarian market. Stevie notices that in one of these the pin that’s holding in the errata sheet is of the wrong era, and suspects forgery:
Stevie: “I don’t pretend to know very much about rare books but I had a course in bibliology once and I did learn something.”
Sure enough, it turns out that Bruce, despite his intellectual manners, has a gambling habit—and it seems a chorus-girl habit—to pay for, and so has been flogging fake first editions to the boss. He’s in league with antiquarian bookseller E. Charles (Gaye), who, with murderous sidekick Davis (Graham), has ruthless ways with those who might threaten his business—which means Bill.
We get a glimpse of how craven Bruce is when he reacts to Charles’s suggestion that Bill be set up for a hit: “But murder? It’s too dangerous.” Not immoral or reprehensible: dangerous, because you might get caught.
Matters are complicated by the fact that Bill is engaged to Bruce’s sister, nightclub chanteuse Linda Coleman (Evans) . . .
That’s more or less how things go up to the point where the movie’s mood shifts from light humor to, for the most part, dark drama. I’ve gone into some detail primarily to introduce the cast of characters but as well to illustrate that, after that painfully unfunny jape early on and the general sexism of proceedings (Bruce: “This daughter of his, is she blonde, brunette or never satisfied?”), how much more inventive this story is than the average crime comedy of its vintage.
The hit goes awry and Bruce rather than Bill is killed. Linda, who was deceived by Bruce into believing Bill was the one acting in concert with the forgers, blames Bill for Bruce’s murder. Detective Lieutenant Kirk (Withers) is inclined to think the same . . .
Although there’s the occasional quip, as well as not one but two final clinches to contend with, this latter part of the movie is, as noted, significantly dourer than what has gone before. That’s not to say it’s an overlooked treasure of vintage noir, or anything close to it, but it’s definitely a half-movie of borderline noirish interest that’s been kept hidden from view by the light-hearted air of the first half.
This is an early example of Dale Evans in a dramatic role; it has been claimed as her first starring appearance outside oaters, but, as we’ve seen, her part, despite the lead billing, is actually a supporting one. After a successful career as a singer and pianist on radio and the stage, Evans was signed by Twentieth Century–Fox. She’s best known for the many big-screen oaters and TV shows she did with Roy Rogers, whom she took as her fourth husband at the end of 1947 (it was his third marriage); they remained together, their names inseparable in the public mind, until his death in 1998.
The other star to have a lowlier-than-you-might-expect role in The Trespasser is site favorite Adele Mara, who’s completely squandered as Danny’s seemingly nympho secretary Dee Dee. Was she desperate for the money? Had she rejected the advances of some suit at Republic? She was given fifth billing for what’s little more than a bit part (Bobbie Dorree, who has a somewhat larger part as receptionist Miss Lacey, goes completely uncredited), so the producers were clearly aware of Mara’s eminence; why they should have wasted her in this way is a mystery.