Murder on the Campus (1933)

vt On the Stroke of Nine
US / 73 minutes / bw / Chesterfield Dir: Richard Thorpe Pr: George R. Batcheller Scr: Andrew Moses Story: The Campanile Murders (1933) by Whitman Chambers Cine: M.A. Andersen Cast: Shirley Grey, Charles Starrett, J. Farrell MacDonald, Ruth Hall, Dewey Robinson, Maurice Black, Edward Van Sloan, Tane Keckley (i.e., Jane Keckley), Richard Catlett, Harry Bowen, Al Bridge, Harrison Greene, Henry Hall, Frank LaRue.

Lillian Voyne (Grey) is working her way through college by singing at a nightclub, the Lido. One night she hitches a lift from crime reporter Bill Bartlett (Starrett) of the Times–Star, who’s sweet on her, to go meet Malcolm “Mal” Jannings, chime-ringer for the bells in the campanile on the local college campus. Around about the time she’s supposed to meet the man, a shot rings out; when Police Captain Ed Kyne (MacDonald) and Detective Sergeant Charlie Lorrimer (Robinson) explore the campanile, with Bill in tow, they find Jannings shot dead but no sign of the killer. Yet Bill can testify to the fact that no one has left the campanile. It seems like an impossible murder . . .

Charles Starrett as Bill and Shirley Grey as Lillian

Continue reading

Black Hand, The: True Story of a Recent Occurrence in the Italian Quarter of New York (1906)

US / c650ft (11 minutes) / bw / American Mutoscope & Biograph Dir: Wallace McCutcheon Pr: Francis J. Marion Cine: G.W. Bitzer Cast: Anthony O’Sullivan, Robert G. Vignola.

Supposedly based on a real case that took place in NYC, this is often cited as the earliest surviving gangster movie. There are no cast credits, though two of the actors have been identified.

Two Italian gangsters (O’Sullivan, Vignola), whose main occupation seems to be sitting around playing cards and getting schnockered, concoct a note to a local butcher, Angelo:

Black Hand - The threatening letter

The note.

Angelo doesn’t have the money so, a while later, Continue reading

Midnight Lady, The (1932)

US / 66 minutes / bw / Batcheller, Chesterfield Dir: Richard Thorpe Scr: Edward T. Lowe Cine: M.A. Andersen Cast: Sarah Padden, John Darrow, Claudia Dell, Theodor von Eltz, Lina Basquette, Montagu Love, Lucy Beaumont, Donald Keith.

Not really a protonoir, but decidedly part of film noir’s ancestry. Young lawyer Bert (Darrow) is befriended by speakeasy-owner-with-a-heart-of-gold Nita St. George (Padden). He’s unofficially engaged to ditzy Jean Austin (Dell), who’s playing around behind his back—and in front of his face—with artist, bootlegger and complete cad Byron Crosby (von Eltz). Crosby is murdered in his apartment by vengeful mistress Mona Sebastian (Basquette); Nita arrives shortly afterwards, finds Jean there, and assumes she’s the killer. When a trio of Crosby’s friends turns up they discover Nita standing over the corpse. Despite Bert’s best efforts in court, Nita gets a long jail sentence for manslaughter.

Since the early minutes of the movie we’ve known that Nita is the mother of both Jean and Jean’s wimpish brother Don (Keith); for reasons largely unspecified she had to desert them in their infancy, leaving them to be brought up by stuffy martinet Harvey Austin (Love) and his truly toxic mother (Beaumont).

Of course, Bert’s instrumental in pinning the real killer and gaining Nita’s release. Where he’s less successful is in recognizing that Jean, who let someone she knew was innocent be convicted and sent to jail, is pretty much a toad: Nita’s worth at least ten of her. When airhead Jean comes out with the line “Et pluribus unum . . . that means ‘one of many'”, it more or less sums up her character.

Padden delivers as always, as does Darrow; a few years after this movie the latter gave up acting and became a talent scout. According to Hollywood legend (and it may very well be true), ex-showgirl Dell—more starlet than star—was the inspiration for the “Liberty” figure in the Columbia logo.

On Amazon.com: Midnight Lady