The Strange Case of Doctor Rx (1942)

US / 66 minutes / bw / Universal Dir: William Nigh Assoc Pr: Jack Bernhard Scr: Clarence Upson Young Story: Alex Gottlieb Cine: Woody Bredell Cast: Patric Knowles, Lionel Atwill, Anne Gwynne, Samuel S. Hinds, Mona Barrie, Shemp Howard, Paul Cavanagh, Edmund MacDonald, Mantan Moreland, John Gallaudet, William Gould, Leyland Hodgson, Matty Fain, Mary Gordon, Jan Wiley, Ray Corrigan.

A mysterious serial killer, nicknamed Dr. Rx because of the notes he leaves with his victims, is strangling criminals whom silver-tongued defense attorney Dudley Crispin (Hinds) has succeeded in getting acquitted. Crispin hires PI Jerry Church (Knowles) to protect his current client, manifestly guilty mobster Tony Zarini (Fain). However, Fain dies in the courtroom within moments of his acquittal, surrounded by friends and lawyers yet seemingly strangled like all the others.

Patric Knowles as Jerry.

Detective Captain Bill Hurd (MacDonald) of the NYPD is baffled by the case and wants Jerry to collaborate with the police investigation. Jerry’s brand-new wife, mystery writer Kit Logan Church (Gwynne), is less keen for him to continue, having Continue reading

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Gang Smashers (1938)

vt Gun Moll
US / 59 minutes / bw / Toddy Dir: Leo C. Popkin Pr: Harry M. Popkin Scr: Hazel Barnes Jamieson, Phil Dunham, Zella Young Story: Ralph Cooper Cine: Robert Cline Cast: Nina May McKinney (i.e., Nina Mae McKinney), Lawrence Criner, Monte Hawley, Mantan Moreland, Reginald Fenderson, Eddie Thompson, Vernon McCalla, Charles Hawkins, Everett Brown, Neva Peoples, Arthur Ray, Bo Jenkins, Phil Moore and His Orchestra.

gang-smashers-0

I’m sure I’ve ranted about this on Noirish before, but it’s way past time that someone made a determined effort to recover and restore the “race movies.” Made between about 1910 and the early 1950s, these typically featured all-black casts and were shown to all-black audiences, and were produced outside the Hollywood system on budgets that made Poverty Row enterprises seem positively DeMillean. Because of the cheapness, the production standards generally weren’t high and the acting could on occasion be amateurish; moreover, there was a reluctance to tackle genuine African American problems in the race movies, probably because most of the studios creating work in this genre were white-owned. Despite all this, the movies often show great verve, and some of the acting is top-notch; here you can see many fine African–American actors in leading roles who could get nothing but bit parts, often racially demeaning caricatures, in Hollywood productions.

Because the race movies flew under the radar of cinema historians until relatively recently, they were neglected to the point that only about 20% of the five hundred or so thought to have been made still survive, and most do so only in pretty appalling condition. So far as I know—and I confess a deal of ignorance here!—none of them have been restored in Criterion-like fashion. Please advise in the comments if I’m wrong.

gang-smashers-1-mantan-moreland-as-gats-sidekick-gloomy

The great Mantan Moreland as Gat’s sidekick, Gloomy.

Gang Smashers is, I gather, a tad unusual among race movies in that it focuses on the relatively contentious (for the late 1930s) issue of black-on-black crime. In other words, in any other context you’d regard it as a thriller, a borderline noir. I admit it was Continue reading

Strange Adventure, A (1932)

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An old dark house and a hooded figure, oo-er!
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vt The Wayne Murder Case
US / 60 minutes / bw / Chadwick, Monogram Dir: Phil Whitman Pr: I.E. Chadwick Scr: Lee Chadwick, Hampton Del Ruth Story: Arthur Hoerl Cine: Leon Shamroy Cast: Regis Toomey, June Clyde, Lucille La Verne, Jason Robards Sr, William V. Mong, Eddie Phillips, Dwight Frye, Nadine Dore, Alan Roscoe, Isabelle Vecki, Harry Myers, Eddie Chandler, Snowflake.

A Strange Adventure - closer

Vile old plutocrat Silas Wayne (Mong) is, though still mobile, nearing death. Unmarried, he brings all his nieces and nephews together in his home for a pre-mortem reading of his will. Before the great performance, however, his nephew and secretary Claude Wayne (Phillips) opens the old man’s hidden safe—all the family seems to know where this is, and how to get into it whenever they want to!—and scans the provisions of the will. One of these concerns the housekeeper, Miss Sheen (La Verne):

“To her and her children I leave the Candor diamond, in the hope it will continue to be an evil omen!”

Another relates to his married niece Sarah Boulter (Vecki), who’s to get $100,000 upon the birth of her first child—a prime example of the old man’s psychological sadism because, as we find, he well knew that Continue reading

Detective Kitty O’Day (1944) and Adventures of Kitty O’Day (1945)

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Two B-feature crime comedies starring the vivacious Jean Parker!

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Detective Kitty O’Day

US / 61 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: William Beaudine Pr: Lindsley Parsons Scr: Tim Ryan, Victor Hammond Story: Victor Hammond Cine: Ira Morgan Cast: Jean Parker, Peter Cookson, Tim Ryan, Veda Ann Borg, Edward Gargan, Douglas Fowley, Herbert Heyes, Pat Gleason, Olaf Hytten, Edward Earle.

Detective Kitty O'Day - opener

A high-spirited comedy thriller/mystery from Monogram, the first in an intended series that for some reason never made it past the second outing.

Kitty O’Day (Parker) is secretary to broker Oliver M. Wentworth (Earle) and girlfriend of one of Wentworth’s gofers, Johnny Jones (Cookson). One evening, after Johnny has brought a fortune in securities to Wentworth, the broker tells Kitty to go and fetch train tickets to Boston for the following day and to meet him later at his home for a last couple of urgent letters. Johnny, who’d bought theater tickets for tonight, is naturally miffed, and sounds off on the sidewalk to her about what he’d like to do with their boss. His tirade is overheard by a nearby taxi driver (Gleason), who’s especially startled by the line: “I’d like to kill him.”

Detective Kitty O'Day - 1 Johnny and Kitty, office lovers

Johnny (Peter Cookson) and Kitty (Jean Parker) — can the two lovers find happiness?

When Kitty reaches the Wentworth establishment she finds it’s suffering a power outage. A candle-bearing butler, Charles (Hytten), tells her that Continue reading

Mystery of the 13th Guest (1943)

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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)

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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

You’re Out of Luck (1941)

JUST A REMINDER THAT ALL MATERIAL ON THIS SITE IS COPYRIGHT

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.