US / 74 minutes / bw / Liberty, Republic Dir: Lewis D. Collins Pr: M.H. Hoffman Scr: Albert DeMond Story: The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) by Ellery Queen Cine: Gilbert Warrenton Cast: Helen Twelvetrees, Donald Cook, Berton Churchill, Frank Sheridan, Harry Stubbs, Guy Usher, Huntly Gordon, Jack La Rue, Betty Blythe, Olaf Hytten, Ruth Gillette, Frank Leigh, Barbara Bedford, George Baxter, Katherine Morrow, Arnold Gray, Donald Kerr, Lee Prather, George Cleveland, Arthur Aylesworth, Richard Cramer.
This first screen outing for the doyen of US detectives, Ellery Queen, is better than what I’ve seen of the Ralph Bellamy-starring series that followed a few years later—and one of which, Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring (1941), I describe here—but this doesn’t constitute the highest of praise. It’s a fairly standard B detective mystery of its day, although with the advantage that the screenwriters saw fit not to give us a detective oozing with quirk; the Ellery portrayed here is if anything less quirky than the Ellery depicted in the original novel, who was more along Philo Vance lines. It’s almost as if Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, the two cousins who together wrote under the Queen byline, took a tip from this movie, because, as the print Ellery evolved, he became more like this one.
Ellery (Cook) and his much older good friend Judge Macklin (Churchill) decide to take a vacation together in California—on Spanish Cape, to be precise, where Macklin has Continue reading
US / 62 minutes / bw / Burroughs–Tarzan Dir: Vin Moore Pr: W.N. Selig Scr: J. Mulhauser (i.e., James Mulhauser) Story: play by Willard Mack Cine: Edward Kull Cast: Rod La Rocque, Marian Nixon, Betty Compson, Jack Adair, John Dilson, Edward Keane, Donald Kerr, Joseph W. Girard, John Bantry, Ed LeSaint, Allen Mathews, Sid Payne.
Hard-working, hard-partying social reporter Kit Van Buren (Marian Nixon).
Ne’er-do-well playboy Lawrence “Larry” Thomas Jr. (La Rocque) is turfed out of the family legal practice by his father (LeSaint) for his idleness and decadent habits. Instead he must take a job as assistant to DA Thomas J. Harrison (Girard). The night before joining the DA’s office Larry takes his society-reporter girlfriend Katherine “Kit” Van Buren (Nixon) to a dancing/gambling niterie called The Dover Club, run by notorious hoodlum Joe Ross (Adair):
Larry: Tonight we celebrate.
Kit: Celebrate? But that’s what we do five nights in a week, isn’t it?
Mollie (Betty Compson) arrives at the Dover Club.
That evening Mollie Cole (Compson) arrives to see Ross. Her husband Fred (Bantry) is doing eight years for a crime he committed with Ross and crooked shyster Arnold Crane (Dilson); Crane promised he’d Continue reading
vt Amateur Detective
US / 54 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Howard Bretherton Assoc Pr: Grant Withers Scr: Mary McCarthy Story: “Death Hops the Bells” (seemingly unpublished) by Charles Molyneux Brown Cine: Harry Neumann Cast: Frankie Darro, Dick Purcell, Lillian Elliott, Dennis Moore, James Flavin, Sheila Darcy, Mantan Moreland, Ralph Peters, Donald Kerr, Howard Mitchell.
The first of the eight movies Darro and Moreland made for Poverty Row studio Monogram together; although the name and specifics of Darro’s character might change, these movies essentially form a series of comedy thrillers/mysteries with minimal but not zero noir interest.
Jefferson (Mantan Moreland) fakes a “jumper” in order to bring the cops to the scene.
It was at Darro’s suggestion that Monogram took Moreland on, and the effectiveness of the Darro/Moreland double act was immediately evident. Although in his earlier scenes Moreland is largely constricted to depicting the kind of weak-minded, cowardly black that the Hollywood of the day regarded as hilarious, the later stages of this movie represent the first black/white double act in US cinema history, even though, to keep Southern cinema managers happy, Moreland appears halfway down the cast list and throughout proceedings was made to address Darro “deferentially”: how woesomely petty and just downright tedious small-minded bigotry can be. The irony is that today, of course, it’s probably Moreland’s presence rather than Darro’s that still draws audiences to these movies. The two men swiftly became fast friends in real life; Darro himself clearly didn’t subscribe to the condescension Hollywood then offered toward people of color.
The others in the series were:
• Chasing Trouble (1940)
• On the Spot (1940)
• Laughing at Danger (1940)
• Up in the Air (1940)
• You’re Out of Luck (1941)
• The Gang’s All Here (1941)
• Let’s Go Collegiate (1941)
All the city’s emergency services are called out when Continue reading