Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.
Showing posts with label comedy-mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comedy-mystery. Show all posts

Thursday, May 1, 2014


Jane (Evelyn Keyes) gives Miss Ralston (Lynn Merrick) a wolf whistle
DANGEROUS BLONDES (1943). Director: Leigh Jason.

Former actress Jane Craig (Evelyn Keyes) is married to popular mystery writer Barry Craig (Allyn Joslyn). Jane's friend Julie (Anita Louise) comes to her with a tale of someone trying to chloroform her in a dark room at the studio where she works, and news of a murder plot during the filming of a commercial later in the evening. Before long Jane and Barry are embroiled in two mysterious killings, which Inspector Clinton (Frank Craven) thinks he has the solution for. Of course it remains for Barry to really explain who the killer is ... Dangerous Blondes is snappy and amusing, if minor, and didn't result in a series about the Craigs, although Keyes and Joslyn are fine in the parts. Others in the cast include Edmund Lowe [Hot Pepper] as an advertising man, William Demarest as a cop, and Ann Savage as Erika McCormick. John Abbott [Deception] makes an impression as the nervous secretary Roland X. Smith, as does Hobart Cavanaugh as Philpot, the elevator attendant. Minerva Urecal appears as a housekeeper and is, as they say, swell. Craven is typically excellent. An interesting scene has Jane giving pretty model Miss Ralston (Lynn Merrick) a wolf whistle.  Leigh Jason also directed Lost Honeymoon.

Verdict: Nothing special but easy to take with quite a few funny moments. **1/2.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Darro, Renolds, Moreland, and Coffin have a conference
UP IN THE AIR (1940). Director: Howard Bretherton.

Frankie (Frankie Darro) is a page boy in a radio studio who tries to impress new receptionist Anne (Marjorie Reynolds of The Time of Their Lives) by pretending to be a producer, which doesn't sit well with her or with their boss, Mr. Farrell (Tristram Coffin). Farrell and others at the station are having problems with difficult, bitchy radio singer Rita Wilson (Lorna Gray of The Perils of Nyoka) but those problems abruptly end when she's shot dead by an unknown person during a rehearsal. Will Anne be chosen to go on in her place? Will Frankie and his buddy Jeff (Mantan Moreland) unveil the murderer before the police do? Yes, it's another Darro-Moreland mystery comedy from Monogram studios, full of flavorful actors but without much of a story. Gordon Jones (The Green Hornet) is a lousy cowboy singer; Dennis Moore (The Purple Monster Strikes) is a gag writer; Dick Elliott is Hastings, the station owner; and John Holland (The Girl in Black Stockings) -- also Alice's handsome boss on an episode of The Honeymooners -- is Sam Quigley, another executive. Neither of the "girl" singers really do justice to the snappy number "Conga;" the best scene has Mantan Morelamd doing a soft shoe routine.

Verdict: Very likable leads but where's the decent script? **.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


Louis Hayward

MIDNIGHT INTRUDER (1938). Director: Arthur Lubin.

"Houses without people, people without houses." -- Barry musing on the inequities of life.

Barry (Louis Hayward) and his older pal Doc (J. C. Nugent) are completely broke after Barry loses all of their money at the track. Seeking shelter in a rainstorm, they enter a big empty house and later are mistaken by servants for wealthy John Reitter Jr. and one of his friends. Learning that the real Reitter won't be coming home, Barry decides to keep impersonating him and enjoying the good food and liquor and high-toned companions, although Doc is increasingly nervous until he meets rich widow Mrs. Randolph (Jan Duggan of The Old-Fashioned Way). Then Barry learns that the real Reitter (Eric Linden) has been jailed for murder under an assumed name and things get complicated. The oddly-titled Midnight Intruder [which makes it sound almost like a horror film] starts out as a light-hearted comedy and turns into a mediocre mystery halfway through, although it is continuously bolstered by the work of most of the cast, especially Hayward in another absolutely winning lead performance. Nugent is also fine, and the supporting actors include Irving Bacon and Pierre Watkin. Duggan is as much fun as ever in her brief turn as the widow and Robert Grieg scores as the butler Willetts.

Verdict: Amiable, even if it goes off course at the midway point. **1/2.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Frankie Darro and Mantan Moreland
ON THE SPOT (1940). Director: Howard Bretherton.

Frankie Kelly (Frankie Darro), a soda jerk in a drug store with an eye on becoming a doctor, and his buddy Jefferson (Mantan Moreland) are in the store when a dying gangster with a bullet in him comes in and tries to impart information before expiring. Everyone -- townspeople, cops and crooks alike -- thinks the fellows were told where the dead man stashed some loot, but they actually know nuthin'. When another mobster is shot in the drug store, Frankie makes up his mind to find out who the killer is. John St. Polis is the "doc" who owns the drug store, and Mary Kornman is his daughter, Ruth. Maxine Leslie plays a lady investigator who gets a room in Frankie's house, making Ruth slightly jealous. I could swear that's Tristram Coffin in the role of her boss, but he is neither credited nor listed on In any case, Darrro and Moreland are as likable and professional as ever, but this very minor poverty row movie is pretty much a waste of time. The two actors did a whole series of similar films for Monogram studios.

Verdict: Darro and Moreland always make a good team, but ... **.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Purcell, Darro, Flavin [background], Moore and Darcy

IRISH LUCK (1939). Director: Howard Bretherton.

"Can't you see I'm just one step from finding out who the murderer is?" -- Buzzy

"And you got your other foot on a banana peel." -- Jefferson

Buzzy O'Brien (Frankie Darro) is a bellboy in a hotel but he has an interest in mysteries and crime-solving, much to the consternation of cop Steve Lanahan (Dick Purcell of Captain America and Mystery House). When a man is found dead in the hotel, Buzzy covers up for a pretty gal named Kitty Monahan (Sheila Darcy) who he spotted coming out of the dead man's room; his mother (Lillian Elliott) just likes her because she's Irish. Kitty is concerned about her brother, Jim (Dennis Moore), who found out about some shady stock manipulations or something along that order and is hiding out. When Buzzy gets in a jam confronting the killer, his buddy Jefferson (Mantan Moreland) saves the day. James Flavin is hotel detective Fluger, and Tristram Coffin shows up briefly as a desk clerk. This is another Monogram quickie teaming Darro with Moreland; they are both swell, as are Purcell, Moore and Elliott; the picture runs less than an hour. Bretherton directed The Monster and the Ape and other serials. Moore was in The Master Key and others.

Verdict: Amiable silliness with likable performers. **1/2.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Charlie confronts the suspects
THE SCARLET CLUE (1945). Director: Phil Rosen.

Charlie Chan (Sidney Toler) is pursuing a  certain criminal with Captain Flynn (Robert Homans) when the man is found dead, the only clue being a shoe print found at the scene of the crime. Charlie's investigation takes him to a building where there is a radio station on one floor and a radar research facility on another. Among the many suspects in the first and subsequent murders are Brett (I. Stanford Jolley), the radio manager; actresses Gloria Bayne (Janet Shaw) and Diane Hall (Helen Deverell); old-time Shakespearean and horror actor Horace Karlos (Leonard Mudie); impersonator Willie Rand (Jack Norton); Mrs. Marsh (Virginia Brissac), a termagant whose products are advertised on the radio soap operas she's forever criticizing; and others. The movie comes off like a homage to cliffhanger serials in that the generally unseen saboteur behind the scenes communicates with underlings via teletype, wears gloves and a mask, and at one point sends a fellow hurtling to his death by opening a trapdoor in the floor of a very high elevator car! The Scarlet Clue has an excellent script by George Callahan, enough sinister suspects to keep you guessing, a fast pace, a generous amount of suspense and humor, and even Mantan Moreland as the lovable Birmingham Brown. [Benson Fong is also on hand as # 3 son, Tommy.] Toler is terrific as Chan, and Brissac is certainly vivid as the nasty hag Mrs. Marsh [she played the warden in Lady Gangster]. A thoroughly satisfying Chan adventure, even if it is from Monogram.

Verdict: Snappy and clever. ***.

Thursday, May 23, 2013


David Bruce and Deanna Durbin
LADY ON A TRAIN (1945). Director: Charles David.

Nikki Collins (Deanna Durbin) is on a train a few minutes from Grand Central Station when she sees a man being murdered from the window. [Agatha Christie used a similar premise -- on an English train, of course -- 12 years later, and did a lot more with it.] Unable to explain the situation with any intelligence to the police due to her "cute" ditsyness, she decides to take her problem to a well-known mystery writer, Wayne Morgan (David Bruce), but his girlfriend (Patricia Morison) objects to her presence. Learning the identity of the murdered man, she attends the reading of his will, and is mistaken for his paramour as in Something in the Wind. [And this takes place at Christmas time as in Durbin's Christmas Holiday.] The actual paramour is Margo Martin (Maria Palmer), a singer at the Circus nightclub, where some of the action  takes place. And so on. This is a fairly dull comedy-mystery, but at least the identity of the murderer may come as a slight surprise. Edward Everett Horton nearly walks off with the picture as an apoplectic employee of Nikki's father; Elizabeth Patterson gives Durbin a good whack in the face at one point when she thinks she's gotten all of the dead man's money; and William Frawley [Fred Mertz] is funny as a desk sergeant who thinks Nikki is nuts. Otherwise, there are only a couple of chuckles in this. Dan Duryea, Ralph Bellamy and Allan Jenkins are also in the cast, and dour George Coulouris seems to be in another movie entirely. Durbin warbles "Silent Night," "Give Me a Little Kiss" [in the nightclub], and "Night and Day" and does a fine job with all of them. Her acting is only so-so, however. Durbin later married the director.

Verdict: Some nice things but it isn't very good all told. **.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Stanwyck struts her stuff

LADY OF BURLESQUE (1943). Director: William A. Wellman.

"Grand opera bring crowds like this into the place? Goils! That's what the public wants!"

Stripper Gypsy Rose Lee's novel "The G-String Murders" was the basis for this movie that takes place in a faded opera house that's been turned into a venue for burlesque performers. Dixie (Barbara Stanwyck) is new but has already become a popular draw  [Stanwyck isn't much of a singer but she still sounds better than Dietrich]. She keeps dodging passes by the persistent Biff (Michael O'Shea) because she's had bad experiences with comics. But both of them have other things on their minds when the snooty Lolita La Verne (Victoria Faust) is found murdered in the dressing room. Charles Dingle plays the police detective who comes to the theater to investigate; Iris Adrian, even more vulgar than usual, is Gee Gee; Stephanie Bachelor is the heavily [and phonily] accented "Princess;" and Gloria Dickson is the heart-broken Dolly, whose secret husband, Russell (Frank Fenton), is one of the worst singers I've ever heard. Pinky Lee and Marion Martin are also in the cast as an unlikely couple. Stanwyck is as good as ever, the other actors are all competent and game, but this trifle isn't particularly compelling as a mystery, hasn't very many laughs, and becomes tiresome long before the conclusion. O'Shea later did the TV series It's a Great Life.

Verdict: Stanwyck is always interesting, but this isn't one of her better vehicles. **.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


HORROR ISLAND (1941). Director: George Waggner.

When Bill (Dick Foran) and partner Stuff (Fuzzy Knight) discover that the former has inherited an island with a castle on it, they decide to bring tourists there for a treasure hunt. Tobias (Leo Carrillo) insists that the island hides pirate Henry Morgan's treasure, but half of his map showing where it is supposedly located has been stolen by a phantom with a mask and cloak. This same phantom shows up on the island, of course, where he sneaks among such guests as Wendy (Peggy Moran), George (John Eldredge) and Arleen (Iris Adrian). Although there are a couple of murders, if you're expecting anything really horrific on or in the badly named "Horror Island," try another movie. This is an okay time-passer with reasonably pleasant performances and a very slight dab of atmosphere.

Verdict: At least it's not very long. **1/2.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


NANCY DREW (2007). Director: Andrew Fleming.

The venerable girl detective, Nancy Drew (Emma Roberts), leaves River Heights for California with her father (Tate Donovan) and discovers culture shock, bitchy valley girls, and a mystery involving a famous actress who once lived in the mansion she and her father are renting. Barry Bostwick and Bruce Willis have cameos in the film, which is more light-hearted than the novels and geared for younger viewers. Josh Flitter and Max Thieriot are effective as, respectively, Corky and Ned, the two boys who vie for Nancy's attention. Pat Carroll plays a landlady, and Caroline Aaron is the real estate agent, "Barbara Barbara." Bonita Granville played Nancy years ago in such films as Nancy Drew, Detective and Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase. For more on the girl detective as well as the Hardy Boys, click here.

Verdict: Okay for kids but the books are better. **1/2.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1942). Director: Richard Wallace.

Writer Jeff Troy (Brian Aherne) and his wife, Nancy (Loretta Young), movie into an apartment at 13 Gay Street in Greenwich Village in a building that was once a speakeasy. Nancy hopes it will provide the right atmosphere for his new book, but they get more than they bargained for. Troy has an altercation with a guy at a nearby restaurant (presided over by Lee Patrick), and the fellow winds up dead as a doornail on their patio the next morning. Sidney Toler of Charlie Chan fame plays the detective assigned to the case. A very large turtle that Jeff knew as a boy wanders around the apartment. Gale Sondergaard, James Burke and Blanche Yurka are in the cast. There are some laughs, Aherne and Young are okay doing the "cutesy" bit, but the film is not that memorable.

Verdict: A bit too precious. **1/2.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


MR. AND MRS. NORTH (1942). Director: Robert B. Sinclair.

"Oh! Bristles from Brussels!"

There's trouble afoot when a body is found in the apartment of Mr. and Mrs. North (Gracie Allen and William Post Jr.) Paul Kelly [Secret Code] is the cop on the case; Virgina Grey, Jerome Cowan, Tom Conway, Rose Hobart, and others are among the suspects, which include the title couple. There's also a "Fowler Brush" salesman (Felix Bressart) who has important information to impart to the police, if they'll only take him seriously. Allen basically plays the usual daffy characterization that she was famous for; Post provides more sensible support. The film is light-hearted and easy to take, but also quite easy to forget.

Verdict: Gracie is always fun. **.