Mystery of the 13th Guest (1943)


What is the mystery of the empty 13th chair?

vt The Mystery of the 13th Guest
US / 61 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: William Beaudine Pr: Lindsley Parsons Scr: Tim Ryan, Charles Marion, Arthur Hoerl Story: The Thirteenth Guest (1929) by Armitage Trail Cine: Mack Stengler Cast: Helen Parrish, Dick Purcell, Tim Ryan, Frank Faylen, Jacqueline Dalya, Paul McVey, John Duncan, Jon Dawson, Cyril Ring, Addison Richards, Lloyd Ingraham, Fred “Snowflake” Toones, Shirley Jean Anderson, Lester Dorr, Herbert Heyes.

Mystery of the 13th Guest - 1 The mystery envelope ...

Mystery of the 13th Guest - 1a ... and what it contained

Thirteen years ago, in the old Morgan home at 122 Mill Road, Grandpa Morgan (Ingraham) convoked a meeting of his ten possible heirs, plus his lawyer, John Barksdale (Ring). The twelve of them sat around a table at which a 13th chair remained empty—the nonexistent “13th guest” of the title, even though this would be technically not the 13th but the 12th guest. Grandpa announced that his will was contained in a sealed envelope, which he passed to his seven-year-old granddaughter, Marie (Anderson), on condition that she open it on her 21st birthday while seated at this very table.

Fast forward to today, as one dark night the grown-up Marie Morgan (Parrish) lets herself into the old family heap. She’s astonished to find that, even though the place has been closed up for thirteen years, the phone and electricity are still on. In the gloom a shot rings out and, the next we know, Marie Continue reading

Gang’s All Here, The (1941)


Mantan Moreland at his hilarious best in a two-fisted saga of battling truckers!

vt In the Night
US / 61 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Jean Yarbrough Pr: Lindsley Parsons Scr: Edmond Kelso Cine: Mack Stengler Cast: Frankie Darro, Marcia Mae Jones, Jackie Moran, Keye Luke, Mantan Moreland, Robert Homans, Irving Mitchell, Ed Cassidy, Pat Gleason, Jack Kenney, Jack Ingraham, Laurence Criner.

The Gang's All Here - 0 opener

A gang is hijacking the trucks of the Overland Transport Co., very often at the expense of the drivers’ lives. The case is in the hands of insurance officer R.A. Saunders (Mitchell), but we very soon discover that he’s in fact at the heart of the criminal conspiracy, the other two linchpins being Pop Wallace (Homans), manager of Overland, and Jack Norton (Cassidy) of the rival Tri-State Truck Lines. It seems that Wallace is Continue reading

Irish Luck (1939)

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.Irish Luck - Jefferson fakes the 'jumper'

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

Girl on the Late, Late Show, The (1974 TVM)

US / 73 minutes / color / Gerber, Screen Gems, Columbia Dir: Gary Nelson Pr: Christopher Morgan Scr: Mark Rodgers Cine: Robert Morrison Cast: Don Murray, Bert Convy, Yvonne De Carlo, Gloria Grahame, Van Johnson, Ralph Meeker, Cameron Mitchell, Mary Ann Mobley, Joe Santos, Laraine Stephens, John Ireland, Walter Pidgeon, Sherry Jackson, Felice Orlandi, George Fischbeck, Frankie Darro, Burr Smidt, Dan Tobin.

Bill Martin (Murray), an executive on an NYC-based TV network’s Early Morning Show, notices that one actress, Carolyn Parker (Grahame), features in three of the next five late-night movies the station is going to broadcast, and sells his presenter, Frank J. Allen (Convy), on the idea of tracking her down as a guest: they could use the introductory line, “We present on the Early Morning Show the girl you just saw on the Late, Late Show.”

So Bill flies out to LA and Hollywood, to the Pacific General studio that Carolyn worked for. The studio’s boss, Norman Wilder (Mitchell), offers any help he can give, and Bill starts investigating.

Girl on the L, L Show - John Ireland, dying, reveals who the old woman was

John Ireland has a deathbed scene . . .

Carolyn made just seven movies over a total of 41 months during the mid-1950s, then disappeared as if from the face of the earth midway through filming opposite Johnny Leverett (Johnson), the movie Bright Memory. The records of her in the archives of the studio and of the Screen Actors Guild are scanty at best, but Bill manages to track down her old agent, Thomas Prideaux (Smidt); by the time Bill reaches Prideaux’s house, however, the man has been murdered, and Continue reading

You’re Out of Luck (1941)


US / 58 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Howard Bretherton Pr: Lindsley Parsons Scr: Edmund Kelso (i.e., Edmond Kelso) Cine: Fred Jackman Jr. Cast: Frankie Darro, Kay Sutton, Mantan Moreland, Vicki Lester (i.e., Vickie Lester), Richard Bond, Janet Shaw, Tristram Coffin, Willie Costello, Alfred Hall, Paul Maxey, Ralph Peters.

The sixth of the eight movies Darro and Moreland made together for Poverty Row studio Monogram; although the name and specifics of Darro’s character might change from one outing to the next, these movies essentially form a series of comedy thrillers/mysteries. They have minimal but not zero noir interest. The others, which I’ll get round to including here in Noirish in due course, were:

Irish Luck (1939)
Chasing Trouble (1940)
On the Spot (1940)
Laughing at Danger (1940)
Up in the Air (1940)
The Gang’s All Here (1941)
Let’s Go Collegiate (1941)

The Daily Star-Tribune—in the ample shape of reporter Pete (Maxey)—is on the necks of the cops because of the latter’s seeming inability to cope with the rising rates of gambling-related crime in the city. When gambler Hal Dayton (uncredited) is gunned down in the parking lot of the Carlton Arms apartment block, the witnesses are elevator boy Frankie O’Reilly (Darro) and his janitor pal Jeff Jefferson (Moreland). The crime’s investigated by Det.-Lt. Tom O’Reilly (Bond), Frankie’s elder brother, who has a thing going with the Arms’s receptionist, Margie Overton (Sutton).

When going through the Rogues’ Gallery at the precinct house, Frankie and Jeff recognize the man who shared the penthouse with Dayton, Dick Whitney (Coffin); in police records he’s named as Roger C. Whitman. The pair follow Whitney/Whitman to the Ringside Club, where he extracts from clubowner Johnnie Burke (Costello) the $60,000 in winnings that Burke owes the dead man. Before being himself murdered, Whitney/Whitman gives the money to Frankie and Jeff to pass on to Dayton’s sister Joyce (Shaw); but Whitney/Whitman’s sultry moll Sonya Varney (Lester) is forced by Burke to pretend to be Joyce . . .

Things go worse for our pals before their inevitable triumph over the bad guys. It’s all fairly amiable, alternating between amusing and tiresome. The racial stereotyping of Moreland’s character, portrayed as capable of being no more than a simpleton because black, grates more than a little; though on the plus side the relationship between Frankie and Jeff is depicted as a genuine friendship and Moreland’s always good value.

Young Dynamite (1937)

US / 58 minutes / bw / Conn Dir: Leslie Goodwins Pr: Maurice Conn Scr: Joseph O’Donnell, Stanley Roberts, Arthur Duriam Story: “The New Freedom” (1927, Cosmopolitan; vt “For His Money”) by Peter B. Kyne Cine: John Kline Cast: Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, Charlotte Henry, William Costello, David Sharpe, Carlton Young (i.e., Carleton Young), Pat Gleason, Frank Austin, Frank Sarasino, Earl Dwire.

The government is clamping down on gold hoarding, and the gang ostensibly headed by Flash Slavin (Costello) is using the situation to mount a racket. When Flash’s sidekicks Butch Barker (Gleason) and Spike Dolan (Young) murder a gold smuggler rather than pay his price, the State Troopers are soon on the case.

New to the Troopers that day is Johnny Shields (Sharpe), to the delight of his sister Jane (Henry) and her fiancé Corporal Tom Marlin (Richmond), another Trooper; Johnny’s kid brother Freddie (Darro) feigns ennui, but is soon running a campaign of his own to catch the crooks.

The next victim of Butch and Spike is Johnny . . . a demise that, bizarrely, appears to affect Freddie, Jane and Tom not at all, for that evening they’re clowning and joking just like always! Obviously, Freddie and Tom eventually snare the bad guys, Jane conveniently disappearing (bridge night, perhaps?) when her presence might hamper events.

The intent is clearly to give the character played by ex-child actor, ex-silents star Darro an appealing irrepressible-trickster quality, but he comes across as merely brattish—and also as far older than the teenager he’s supposed to be (he was 20 by now). Story and screenplay tend toward the clichéd—it’s hardly a surprise when the gang’s real boss proves to be the Shields’s purportedly crippled lodger Endebury (Austin). The dialogue has on occasion a certain naive charm, as when Spike tells elderly simpleton farmer Finnegan (Dwire): “Listen, whiskerpuss, don’t move from this spot or I’ll plug ya!” There’s a fairly depressing lack of ambition on display: the moviemakers seem to have aimed only as high as mediocrity and been perfectly content to fall short of that target. For Henry it was a long way down from such roles as Alice in the all-star Alice in Wonderland (1933).

Author Peter B. Kyne was best known for his The Three Godfathers (1913), which has been adapted for the screen a number of times, most famously as 3 Godfathers (1948) dir John Ford, with John Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz and Harry Carey Jr.


On Young Dynamite