Grand Central Murder (1942)

US / 74 minutes / bw / MGM Dir: S. Sylvan Simon Pr: B.F. Zeidman Scr: Peter Ruric Story: Grand Central Murder (1939) by Sue MacVeigh Cine: George Folsey Cast: Van Heflin, Patricia Dane, Cecilia Parker, Virginia Grey, Samuel S. Hinds, Sam Levene, Connie Gilchrist, Mark Daniels, Horace McNally (i.e., Stephen McNally), Tom Conway, Betty Wells, George Lynn, Roman Bohnen, Millard Mitchell, Tom Dugan

Mida King (Dane), showgirl star of a string of Broadway hits, is a relentless gold digger: she lures men, milks them dry, then dumps them. One of the luckless men, Turk (McNally), refused to be dumped, and so Mida framed him for murder and watched him get sent up the river.

Patricia Dane as Mida King

But now, en route to New York for a reopening of his trial, Turk escapes the train on which he was being transported and, from the gloomy depths of Grand Central Station, phones Mida’s dressing room at the Harmony Theater on Broadway and informs her sweetly that he’s on his way to kill her.

Virginia Grey as Sue Custer and Van Heflin as Rocky Custer

Not unnaturally sent into a panic, Mida runs out on the second act of her current show and heads for Grand Central and the private railcar owned by her current fiancé, rich smoothie David V. Henderson (Daniels). Not so very long later, David and the longtime fiancée he dumped in Mida’s favor, Constance Furness (Parker), discover Mida’s corpse naked in the bathroom of the railcar.

But the railcar was locked from within.

And even the medical examiner can’t initially establish how Mida was killed.

 

Inspector Gunther (Levene) is soon on the job, and Continue reading

The Shadow Returns (1946)

US / 61 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Phil Rosen Pr: Joe Kaufman Scr: George Callahan Story: Walter B. Gibson for the character and the stories in Shadow Magazine. Cine: William Sickner Cast: Kane Richmond, Barbara Reed (i.e., Barbara Read), Tom Dugan, Joseph Crehan, Pierre Watkin, Robert Emmett Keane, Frank Reicher, Lester Dorr, Rebel Randall, Emmett Vogan, Sherry Hall, Cyril Delevanti.

This was the first of three comedy-crime adaptations to screen of Walter B. Gibson’s famous pulp character that Poverty Row studio Monogram released in 1946. The other two were Behind the Mask and The Missing Lady. This one had Phil Rosen at the helm (although it has been reported that William Beaudine did some filling in); the other two were done by Phil Karlson.

Lamont Cranston (Richmond) is outwardly a respectable young man of business who never seems to do any work; because he’s the cherished nephew of Police Commissioner J.R. Weston (Watkin), he and his secretary/fiancée Margo Lane (Read) are allowed to horn in on police investigations, to the ill concealed fury of Inspector Cardona (Crehan).

But there’s more to Lamont Cranston than meets the eye. His secret persona is as The Shadow, a mysterious vigilante crime-solver who, on donning his special garb—a mask and fedora—slips unobtrusively from Continue reading

snapshot: Half Past Midnight (1948)

US / 69 minutes / bw / Sol M. Wurtzel, Twentieth Century–Fox Dir: William F. Claxton Pr: Sol M. Wurtzel Scr: Arnold Belgard Cine: Benjamin Kline Cast: Kent Taylor, Peggy Knudsen, Joe Sawyer, Walter Sande, Martin Kosleck, Mabel Paige, Gil Stratton Jr., Jean Wong, Jane Everett, Damian O’Flynn, Richard Loo, Tom Dugan, Jean De Briac, Willie Best, Victor Sen Yung, “Beetlepuss” Lewis, Max Wagner.

Peggy Knudsen as Sally.

Rich war hero, inveterate womanizer and general pain in the ass Wade Hamilton (Taylor) has come back to Los Angeles for a few days, and that’s regarded as bad news by his old childhood friend, now a detective lieutenant with the LAPD, Joe Nash (Sawyer). Joe tries to put his ol’ buddy under room arrest at the Ambassador Hotel, but reckons without the fact that a bellhop there, Chick Patrick (Stratton), was Wade’s tail-gunner over the Pacific during the war.

Freed, Wade goes to a niterie, Pierre’s, in search of a good time. He thinks he’s found it when he hooks up with the initially reluctant Sally Parker (Knudsen), who seems to be doing her best to be mistaken in a dim light for Lizabeth Scott.

Joe Sawyer (left) as Joe Nash and Walter Sande as MacDonald.

But then the niterie’s star act, Carlotta (Everett), who’s been blackmailing Sally over some letters—“written by my sister,” Sally unconvincingly claims—is gunned down, and Sally, Continue reading

Man who Walked Alone, The (1945)

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Snobbery ahoy!
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US / 71 minutes / bw / PRC Dir & Story: Christy Cabanne Pr: Leon Fromkess Scr: Robert Lee Johnson Cine: James Brown Cast: Dave O’Brien, Kay Aldridge, Walter Catlett, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Isabel Randolph, Smith Ballew, Nancy June Robinson, Ruth Lee, Chester Clute, Vivien Oakland, Vicki Saunders, William B. Davidson, Tom Dugan, Eddy Waller, Don Brodie, Dick Elliott, Jack Raymond, Jack Mulhall, Lloyd Ingraham.

I have to admit it. The title, the packaging, the summary that I glanced at far too quickly—all of them conspired to make me think this movie was far more noirish than it actually is. To say it’s even of associational interest is to stretch matters a little. So, if it’s grim nihilism, thrills, suspense, psychological unraveling or any of that other good stuff that you’re after, look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you can tolerate a gentle romantic comedy, with echoes (no more) of the screwball and a subtext of social commentary, bear with me while I briefly (I promise!) talk about The Man who Walked Alone.

Dave O’Brien as Marion Scott and Eddy Waller as the old codger who taunts him as he tries to hitch a ride.

When we first meet Corporal Marion Scott (O’Brien) he’s on a dusty country road trying to Continue reading

By Whose Hand? (1932)

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Killer on a train!
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US / 65 minutes / bw / Columbia Dir: Ben Stoloff Scr: Isadore Bernstein, Stephen Roe Story: Harry Adler Cine: Teddy Tetzlaff Cast: Ben Lyon, Barbara Weeks, Kenneth Thomson, Ethel Kenyon, William V. Mong, Dolores Rey (i.e., Dolores Ray), Nat Pendleton, Tom Dugan, Dwight Frye, William Halligan, Helene Millard, Lorin Baker, Oscar Smith, Tom McGuire, DeWitt Jennings, Buddy Roosevelt, Polly Walters.

Through the 1930s and 1940s, the bottom half of the cinema bill was thronged with—was almost defined by, if you ignored the oaters—comedy-crime movies like this one. Some of them were pretty good and are fondly remembered. Others, like the godawful BOSTON BLACKIE series starring the godawful Chester Morris—through all of which your correspondent has glumly sat—were, well, you heard it here first: godawful.

By Whose Hand?, which has the probably illusory feel of being a pilot for an unmade series starring ace journalist Jimmy Hawley, Continue reading

Moontide (1942)

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Ida Lupino and Jean Gabin (and Claude Rains and Thomas Mitchell!) in a strange piece of borderline noirishness!
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US / 95 minutes / bw / TCF Dir: Archie Mayo, Fritz Lang (uncredited) Pr: Mark Hellinger Scr: John O’Hara, Nunnally Johnson (uncredited) Story: Moon Tide (1940) by Willard Robertson Cine: Charles Clarke, Lucien Ballard (uncredited) Cast: Jean Gabin, Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell, Claude Rains, Jerome Cowan, Helene Reynolds, Ralph Byrd, William Halligan, Victor Sen Yung, Chester Gan, Robin Raymond, Arthur Aylesworth, Arthur Hohl, John Kelly, Ralph Dunn, Tully Marshall, Vera Lewis, Tom Dugan.

On Amazon.co.uk a commenter called Now Zoltan (I assume that’s not his real name) has complained that I omitted this movie, which he regards as quintessential to the genre (“a cornerstone noir, one of my favourites”), from my A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir. He also complained about a typo as if it were an error of fact, which I thought was a bit unfair: 675,000 words of information-dense text? Of course you can expect a few typos—though hopefully not very many!

Anyway, I checked my entry for this movie in my personal catalogue and saw that I’d given it the NSH (noirish) rather than the NOIR classification. Since it stars Lupino, Gabin and Rains, three of my all-time favorite actors, and since Fritz Lang was involved, in the ordinary way I’d have bent over backward to include it in the book—i.e., to persuade myself it was sufficiently noir that it oughter go in.

An enigma on the back of a conundrum, and puzzling too.

It had been yonks since last I’d watched the movie, and to be honest I could remember little about it, so I decided to give it another whirl to see if I could work out why I’d decided to omit it. Here goes.

Jean Gabin as Bobo.

Bobo (Gabin) is a longshoreman, and ostensibly a good one, but he has a penchant for hard drinking. Tonight in the saloon called The Red Dot he’s well and truly hammered, to the dismay of his sidekick Tiny (Mitchell), who wants to Continue reading

Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring (1941)

US / 69 minutes / bw / Darmour, Columbia Dir: James Hogan Pr: Larry Darmour Scr: Eric Taylor, Gertrude Purcell Story: Ellery Queen Cine: James S. Brown Jr. Cast: Ralph Bellamy, Margaret Lindsay, Charley Grapewin, Mona Barrie, Paul Hurst, James Burke, Leon Ames, George Zucco, Blanche Yurka, Charlotte Wynters, Tom Dugan, Olin Howlin, Dennis Moore, Jean Fenwick, Pierre Watkin.

Many of the detectives of classic mystery fiction are in essence mildly comic figures—Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot, Albert Campion, Ellery Queen—yet their creators manage to imbue them with some necessary gravitas to match the seriousness of the crimes they solve. Modern screen adaptations of the relevant tales generally try to perform the same trick—just think of the long TV series of Poirot adventures starring David Suchet. Here, though, the moviemakers took the rather fey, cerebral Ellery Queen, turned him into a lunk, and put him at the heart of a clumsy comedy. This was the fourth and last of the Columbia series in which a hopelessly miscast Bellamy played the detective; William Gargan took over the role for three further movies and then, mercifully, the series ended.

Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring - 1 Augusta Stack

The testy matriarch Augusta Stack (Blanche Yurka).

Wealthy widow Augusta Stack (Yurka) calls in the cops because she’s concerned there might be a conspiracy of malpractice going on at the hospital she owns, the Stack Memorial Hospital. To keep the matter quiet, Inspector Richard Queen (Grapewin) sends his novelist/detective son Ellery (Bellamy) to investigate undercover. Claiming to have lost his voice, Ellery is examined by the hospital’s chief physician, Edward F. Janney (Zucco), who diagnoses the problem as psychological and admits Ellery to the hospital. Ellery calls his secretary, Nikki Porter (Lindsay), to join him as his “private nurse”.

Ellery Queen and the Murder Ring - 3 Nikki

Nikki Porter (Margaret Lindsay) in her guise as nurse.

Meanwhile, Continue reading