Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 3, 2016


THE PRESIDENT'S MYSTERY (1936). Director: Phil Rosen.

Lawyer James Blake (Henry Wilcoxon) goes fishing in a small town and runs into a young lady named Charlotte (Betty Furness of Magnificent Obsession). Charlotte is one of many who are trying to reopen the Springvale Cannery, so the townspeople can have jobs. Blake, who had never had much feeling for the common people or for labor, is ashamed of his feelings and returns home determined to do something about it. He cooks up a ridiculous scheme which amounts to him faking his own death, changing his name, and running back to Charlotte and Springvale. Poor Franklin D. Roosevelt got the blame for this terrible picture because he asked writers if they could come up with a way that a man could disappear yet retain his personal fortune. The result appeared in Liberty magazine, which Blake actually consults before he disappears. Meanwhile his wife, Ilka (Evelyn Brent) is accidentally killed and Blake is blamed for her murder. At one point we see him conveniently acquiring a corpse from a man in a basement for money (it does not appear to be a morgue or a hospital) so he can use it as his own dead body, but this aspect (not to mention its sheer criminality) is completely glossed over. The President's Mystery is so overwhelmingly preposterous, improbable, and stupid that it's sheer libel to blame this mess on FDR! The first half of the picture has some interest, but then it simply falls apart, a lousy mystery posing as a "message film." Sidney Blackmer is fine, as usual, as George Sartos, who is out to stop the cannery from reopening, and Wilcoxon is okay even if his British accent keeps coming and going. At one point Charlotte asks Blake if he's around fifty -- which is what he looks -- and he tells her that he's barely forty. In actuality, Wilcoxon  [Cleopatra] was only thirty-one (according to official bios) but looks considerably older even without the mustache he wears earlier in the picture. The prolific Phil Rosen directed a number of Charlie Chan features, of which The Scarlet Clue is one of the best. Wilcoxon was married to that "big-faced" gal Joan Woodbury for 31 years but the marriage ended in divorce.

Verdict: There are so many holes in this it's like a Swiss cheese! *.

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