The Bat (1959)

US / 80 minutes / bw / Liberty Pictures, Allied Artists Dir & Scr: Crane Wilbur Pr: C.J. Tevlin Story: The Bat (1920 play) by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood Cine: Joseph Biroc Cast: Vincent Price, Agnes Moorehead, Gavin Gordon, John Sutton, Lenita Lane, Elaine Edwards, Darla Hood, John Bryant, Harvey Stephens, Mike Steele, Riza Royce, Robert B. Williams

Celebrated mystery novelist Cornelia van Gorder (Moorehead) has rented an old house in the middle of nowhere, The Oaks. It’s a sufficiently creepy place that all the servants up and leave her except her maid/companion Lizzie Allen (Lane) and her chauffeur, Warner (Sutton).

Agnes Moorehead as Cornelia

She’s rented the house from Mark Fleming (Bryant), realtor nephew of local bank president John Fleming (Stephens), who’s off in the forest on an extended hunting vacation with local coroner and John’s personal physician, Dr. Malcolm Wells (Price). When Fleming Sr. tells Wells he’s robbed the bank of a million bucks in bonds and arranged that naive clerk Victor Bailey (Steele) will be the patsy for the crime, the good doctor murders him, then chucks the body into a handy forest fire; in his role as coroner, he can ignore the bullethole and register Fleming’s death as caused by the conflagration.

Vincent Price as Wells

The million bucks is somewhere in The Oaks, probably in a secret room. Can Wells get to it before local top cop Andy Anderson (Gordon)?

Oh, and did I mention there’s a serial killer called The Bat on the loose? He Continue reading

The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947)

US / 83 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Henry Levin Pr: Helen Deutsch, Virginia Van Upp Scr: Louella MacFarlane, Allen Rivkin, Devery Freeman Story: Lenore Coffee Cine: Joseph Walker Cast: Rosalind Russell, Melvyn Douglas, Sid Caesar, Betsy Blair, Nina Foch, Charles Cane, Harry Von Zell, Bruce Harper (i.e., Coulter Irwin), Arthur Space, Richard Benedict, Frank Orth, Victoria Horne, Hugh Beaumont, Doreen McCann.

Although sometimes listed as a film noir, The Guilt of Janet Ames is really a philosophical piece ruminating on guilt, morality, the selfishness of grief, redemption; there are some noirish tropes if you care to look for them, but then you could also find parallels with It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) dir Frank Capra if you were desperate enough. (You might, for example, point to the fact that both are Christmas movies, even though they have a completely different feel.)

Rosalind Russell as Janet Ames

But before making any such claims it’s worth noting that The Guilt of Janet Ames is upfront and center concerning the inspiration it owes to George du Maurier’s 1891 novel Peter Ibbetson and in particular the Continue reading

snapshot: Crack in the Mirror (1960)

US / 97 minutes / bw / Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, TCF Dir: Richard Fleischer Pr: Darryl F. Zanuck Scr: Jules Dassin, ghostwriting (because blacklisted) for Mark Canfield (i.e., Darryl F. Zanuck) Story: Drame dans un Miroir (1958) by Marcel Haedrich Cine: William Mellor Cast: Orson Welles, Juliette Gréco, Bradford Dillman, Alexander Knox, Catherine Lacey, William Lucas, Maurice Teynac, Austin Willis, Cec Linder, Eugene Deckers, Vivian Matalon, Yves Brainville, Jacques Marin, Martine Alexis, Marc Doelnitz.

Orson Welles aa Émile Hagolin.

We know from the outset that all is not well in the relationship between hard-drinking construction boss Émile Hagolin (Welles) and his mistress, Éponine Mercadier (Gréco). When she brings him his packed lunch on his latest building site, we get this:

Émile: “You’re late. Every day. I’m dying of hunger.”
Éponine: “Die.”

She has eyes only for his studly crane-driver, Robert Larnier (Dillman), who seems much enamored of her and happy enough to tolerate her two small daughters from some unspecified former relationship. The lovers murder the brutish Émile, but Continue reading

Trent’s Last Case (1952)

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Orson Welles, Margaret Lockwood and Kenneth Williams amid a glittering cast!
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UK / 86 minutes / bw / Imperadio, Republic Dir & Pr: Herbert Wilcox Scr: Pamela Bower Story: Trent’s Last Case (1913) by E.C. Bentley Cine: Max Greene Cast: Michael Wilding, Margaret Lockwood, Orson Welles, John McCallum, Miles Malleson, Hugh McDermott, Jack McNaughton, Sam Kydd, Kenneth Williams, Henry Edwards, Ben Williams, PLUS

  • Eileen Joyce
  • Anthony Collins
  • and members of the London Symphony Orchestra

This is the third of the four (to date) screen adaptations of Bentley’s supposedly subversive mystery novel. The other three have been:

  • Trent’s Last Case (1920) dir Richard Garrick, with Gregory Scott, Pauline Peters, Clive Brook and George Foley (silent)
  • Trent’s Last Case (1929) dir Howard Hawks, with Raymond Griffith, Marceline Day, Lawrence Gray and Donald Crisp (silent)
  • Trent’s Last Case (1964 TVM) dir Peter Duguid, with Michael Gwynn, Kenneth Fortescue and Peter Williams

. . . and I’m sure my true love would spifflicate me if I didn’t mention the unrelated (beyond the title)

  • Trenchard’s Last Case (1989 TV) dir Mike Barnes, an episode of the Bergerac TV series (1981–91) starring apparently droolworthy screen idol (there’s no accounting for taste) John Nettles

Philip Trent (Wilding) is a monied artist and amateur sleuth. In the past, the editor (uncredited) of the Daily Record has commissioned from him dispatches written while he’s been investigating his most sensational murder cases, and what could be more sensational than the murder of ruthless international financier Sigsbee Manderson (Welles) in the grounds of his stately Hampshire pied à terre, White Gables?

Or was it murder? So many of the circumstantial details point to suicide.

The dead man’s widow Margaret (Margaret Lockwood) gives evidence to the coroner’s court . . .

. . . where Philip sketches John . . .

. . . and gardener Horace Evans (Kenneth Williams) also gives evidence.

Philip reaches White Gables the day after Manderson’s body has been discovered by the subgardener, Horace Evans (an almost unrecognizably young Williams), and, with the help of the widowed Mrs. Manderson’s uncle, Burton Cupples (Malleson), talks his way into the house, where he discovers his old pal and rival, Inspector Murch (Kydd), heading the Continue reading

Too Many Suspects (1975 TVM)

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“In a few minutes, this woman will be dead. The question is: Who killed her? . . . Match wits with Ellery Queen and see if you can guess: Whodunnit?
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US / 98 minutes / color / Fairmont Foxcroft, Universal Dir: David Greene Pr & Scr: Richard Levinson, William Link Story: The Fourth Side of the Triangle (1965) by Avram Davidson writing as Ellery Queen Cine: Howard Schwartz Cast: Jim Hutton, David Wayne, Ray Milland, Kim Hunter, John Hillerman, John Larch, Tim O’Connor, Nancy Mehta (i.e., Nancy Kovack), Warren Berlinger, Monte Markham, Gail Strickland, Tom Reese, Vic Mohica, Dwan Smith, John Finnegan, Rosanna Huffman, James Lydon, Basil Hoffman, Frannie Michel.

too-many-suspects-0

“B–b–b–b–b–but!” I can hear you cry. “Surely there can be few things less noirish than the pilot movie for an Ellery Queen TV series? Even Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies have more of the mean streets about them than Jim Hutton as Ellery Queen.”

You forget two things. First, that your humble scribe has had an affection for the tales of Ellery Queen that has lasted most of his reading life. Second, that, like it or lump it—and Raymond Chandler famously lumped it—without the strand of crime fiction of which Ellery Queen is a prime representative, the hardboiled strand might not have flourished. And without hardboiled crime fiction we might not have had film noir. Let’s remember, too, that there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of difference between an Ellery Queen movie of the early 1940s and The FALCON TAKES OVER (1942), based on Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely (1940), or, for that matter, DANGEROUS FEMALE (1931) and SATAN MET A LADY (1935), both based on Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1930).

Leaving those justifications aside, the year selected for this month in Rich Westwood’s Crimes of the Century feature at his Past Offences blog is 1975 and, although there were other possible candidate movies—such as Arthur Marks’s humdinger A Woman for All Men (1975)—this was the one that I fancied watching and writing about.

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It’s 1947 in NYC and, as the movie opens in the apartment of swish fashion designer Monica Gray (Mehta/Kovack), we hear a voice in the background:

“Good evening. This is our fourth week of bringing you world and local news through the exciting new medium of television.”

A shot rings out, and what we next see is Monica crawling agonizedly across the carpet to pull the plugs of her TV set and her electric clock from the wall. It is exactly 10.25pm.

too-many-suspects-1-monica-gray-has-just-moments-to-live

Monica Gray Nancy Kovack) has just moments to live.

The case goes to Inspector Richard Queen (Wayne) of the NYPD’s 3rd Division, and he’s intrigued enough by the supposed clue of the plugs being pulled from their sockets that he lures his son, mystery writer Ellery Queen (Hutton), into the investigation, despite Ellery’s state of panic about Continue reading