The Mysterious Miss X (1939) Poster

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Murder and slapstick, a deadly combination.
mark.waltz10 January 2019
Warning: Spoilers
If I had a nickle for every low budget film involving a murder and a bunch of nuts running around trying to avoid becoming the next victim as well as to find the killer, I'd be rich. If I had a nickle for every one of those films that was actually good, I'd be broke. These films, to "coin" a phrase, are a dime a dozen, basically enjoyable as fluffy time killers, filled with characterizations that are so outlandish and unbelievable, and premises that run the range from convoluted to confusing to absurd. They always surround the most dimwitted of characters whom the audience is supposed to believe has the brain capacity to be able to solve a crime let alone not become a victim. Here, the two nitwits are a vaudeville team (Michael Whalen and Chick Chandler) who end up in a small New York town while on their way to the big city who become suspects in a murder in their overnight hotel simply because they were the only ones there other than the brain fried manager (Mabel Todd). On their train in, they met a young woman (Lynne Roberts) who becomes the main suspect, and it is their mission to clear her and keep her safe from the real killer.

Others in this ensemble of crackpots are the victim's widow (Dorothy Tree) who is searching for money of hers which her late husband somehow stole from her, Tree's slimy brother (Regis Toomey) and the D.A. (Frank M. Thomas) who is a bit suspicious himself. Much of the action surrounds the search for the mysterious Miss X, a cloaked woman seen running around the halls of the hotel who somehow manages to disappear every time she is spotted. The attempted comic relief of the addle brained Todd trying to woo Chandler while getting into all sorts of scrapes is just annoying overplayed, making Todd overstay her welcome even from the very first scene she is in. With a voice that makes Fran Drescher sound like Julie Andrews, Todd's character shouldn't be put in charge of a litter of newborn kittens let alone an entire hotel. Her schtick was amusing when I first saw her in the Warner Brothers musical "Hollywood Hotel", but in seeing other films she's been in, it is apparent that writers wrote her style of comedy to make fun of supposed mentally defective people whose defects didn't have a medical name at the time. In films where she didn't overplay these syndromes ("The Cowboy and the Lady"), she was mildly amusing, but her characterizations in B films like this and "Mystery of the White Room" could actually be considered offensive.

As a result of his alleged romantic pairing with Todd, Chick Chandler comes off as an absolute idiot, making his overplayed comedy rather unfunny. The slapstick utilized in the many chase sequences is amusing in small doses (Todd literally diving between a mattress and bed spring), but the film is at its best when it focuses on the mystery, not the comedy. Roberts provides the film with a great mysterious character, and Tree is an interesting femme fatale with a great backstory. Whelan underplays the comedy to become a more appropriate romantic hero, while Toomey gives a fine supporting performance as a rather amoral character, always seeming like he's sneering while hiding what he's got up his sleeve. You can't expect much from these very typical D grade murder mystery comedies other than a fast moving time passer, but it's just more of the same, often just overly annoying.
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