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

Thursday, August 9, 2018


Mark Stevens
MARTIN KANE, PRIVATE EYE (aka Martin Kane/1949 - 1954.)

Martin Kane, Private Eye started out as a popular radio series, then spread out to television even as the radio show continued. The NBC half-hour telecast was sponsored by the U.S. Tobacco Company, and many of the ads were sort of incorporated into the story, with characters going into a tobacco shop to buy the sponsor's cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and the like. (This is "product placement" par excellance!) The show was originally introduced with loud organ music like a radio show, and the old style announcer practically shouts out the name of the series in figuratively italicized letters. Martin Kane was played by William Gargan, Lloyd Nolan (of Michael Shayne fame), Lee Tracy, and Mark Stevens. I believe the show was aired live, but despite its low budget it's well-produced, with more movement and action than you may associate with live TV.

Here are some episodes, listed by actor. I give the season and episode number when available.

William Gargan: Pleasant and amiable Gargan [Night Editor] made a very likable Martin Kane. He says good-night to the audience at the end of each episode.

  (S2, E 20) "The District Attorney Killer." A convicted killer (Frank DeKova) clears an innocent man from the witness stand, but then pulls out a gun and kills the district attorney who prosecuted him. Then he says the gun was given to him by his own attorney! Who's telling the truth? And is the "innocent" man guilty after all? Suspenseful story with some good twists and a comparatively complex plot. A.

"Hotel Con Game." A man named Smith comes to Kane to tell him that his entire life savings has been stolen, presumably by the land lady of the hotel where he lives, who is also a fortune teller who importuned him to change banks. Then a murder results. B+.

"Doctored Will." An elderly man is shot to death and his heirs all become suspects, but has someone fiddled with the will? C

"Murder on the Ice." An obnoxious if talented rookie hockey player takes a drink of brandy before a game and drops dead on the ice. Kane is convinced from a smell of almonds that the man was poisoned, but the chemical report on the bottle may contain some surprises. Roland Winters plays one of the suspects. C-.

"Reclusive Sisters" stars an excellent Una O'Connor and Nydia Westman in a darkly comic tale of three weird sisters who live alone in an old mansion and take steps when an elderly lawyer comes to tell them that they're losing the house and must move to a home. B+.
Lloyd Nolan

Lloyd Nolan could be tough when required but generally gives it the light touch after appearing in several Michael Shayne movies such as Dressed to Kill.

  (S3, E 27.) "Black Pearls." Kane is accused of murder when the grumpy man who hired him and who has a fabulous collection of black pearls, is murdered on his yacht and the pearls are found in the detective's pocket. B.

"A Jockey Is Murdered." There are a number of suspects when a jockey (Walter Burke) who throws a race is stabbed to death right in front of a betting window. B.

"Nightclub Murder." Nightclub singer Johnny Silver (Mark Dawson) is shot dead in front of an audience after just a few bars of his hit song, and Kane uncovers the fact that several people in his life had major motives for killing him. B+.

"Rest Home Murder." In one of the worst episodes of the series, Judith Evelyn plays the shady owner of a rest home who tries to find out the whereabouts of a $100,000 check from a "patient," a former client of Kane's who calls him for help. D+.

Lee Tracy [Dinner at Eight] offers one of the most interesting and flavorful interpretations of Martin Kane, adding great charm to his portrayal.

 (S4, E25.) "The Comic Strip Killer." The clever plot has a comic strip artist and writer foolishly telling everyone that he'll reveal the identity of the person who murdered a philandering woman's wealthy husband in the comic strip itself. B+.

Mark Stevens [Time Table] is more of a traditional hard-boiled private eye than the others, and the handsomest of the actors who played the role.

"The Milk Bottle Burglar." Trying to catch whoever is stealing his milk bottles, an elderly major comes afoul of a hit man who is after the thief for other reasons. Robert H. Harris is terrific as the mob boss who ordered the hit. C+

"The Shoeshine Murder." When a shoeshine boy witnesses a murder he goes on the run, then winds up out on a window ledge where Kane and others try to talk to him, and the murderer tries to get him to throw himself down to the street several stories below.  B-.

Verdict: Hard to judge this based on only a handful of episodes (some are on youtube; others on DVD) but it might be safe to say this is a real mixed bag with some hidden gems. **1/2. 


angelman66 said...

I always learn something new from you, Bill, had never heard of this TV film series. Will have to check it out these wonderful actors!

William said...

This was the real "golden age" of television with many actors performing LIVE in front of a much bigger audience than they could get on Broadway. Not much pressure!