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Love on a Bet (1936)
Fun characters in entertaining cross country adventure
Fast talker Gene Raymond wants to produce a play. His rich uncle refuses to back the play because its plot is ridiculous: A man leaves New York in his underwear and arrives 10 days later in Los Angeles with a new suit, $100 in his pocket, and a beautiful fiancée.
It's not ridiculous, Raymond argues. He says that he could do it himself--and bets his uncle that he will. If Raymond wins the bet, his uncle finances the play. If Raymond fails, he takes a job in the uncle's meat packing plant.
Meanwhile, Wendy Barrie and her aunt Helen Broderick discuss whether Barrie should marry wealthy Addison Randall. She would rather not but they're broke so, "All right, dear," she says, "I'll marry him." Barrie and Broderick set out on a cross country drive to Los Angeles to catch up with Randall; not at all surprisingly, on the way out of town, Raymond jumps on board as a travel partner and the unlikely trio set off together.
Their adventures along the way include a lesson from Raymond on roasting marshmallows ("Just keep your head down, your eye on the marshmallow, follow through"), a cider drinking contest with a surprise winner, and an encounter with a couple of wanted criminals.
Gene Raymond is brash and funny; Wendy Barrie is a good match, feisty and energetic. The plot is nothing too original, and for the most part this picture is a pretty standard entry in the cross country romance genre. However, the characters are well drawn and the stars are fun to watch. Overall this is a fun picture.
The Beloved Brat (1938)
Very entertaining in spite of silly plot
Poor little rich girl Bonita Granville is lonely. It's her birthday but her parents are too busy even to have lunch with her. "I'm sorry, I can't make it," her father tells her casually. "Now, anything else you want for your birthday, just name it and it's yours."
Granville wanders off and makes a friend - a kid named Pinky who has a pop gun and likes to go fishing. But when Granville invites Pinky over to her house, the butler calls him a ragamuffin and throws him out. Now Bonita is mad and you can hardly blame her. One thing leads to another and soon she has set her bedroom on fire, helped to cause a car accident, and been sent to a girls' school to reform.
It's sappy and predictable but this family drama is still hard to resist. Bonita Granville pours on the wild mood swings pretty heavily, but in spite of the overblown emotions she remains charismatic and even charming. She makes us cringe a couple of times but we are certainly happy to root for her.
Donald Crisp and Natalie Moorhead give competent but thankless performances as the clueless parents. Dolores Costello is fine as the lead teacher at the school who urges patience with Granville; she strikes up a friendship with Donald Briggs, the one adult whom Granville seems to trust. A young Leo Gorcey appears in one scene and pushes Bonita into a river.
Overall, Bonita Granville is pretty much the whole show. It's a ridiculously corny plot but, surprisingly, it works.
The Patient in Room 18 (1938)
Lively mystery with some laughs
Patric Knowles is noted author and crime specialist Lance O'Leary. He has been acting strangely after failing to solve a case and winds up in the hospital with a nervous breakdown. The doctor prescribes him rest and an absolute ban on anything to do with crime solving. Ann Sheridan is nurse Sara Keate, who tends to Lance and runs the hospital ward. Nurse Keate is Lance's girlfriend, is currently mad at him, and turns out to have an investigative streak of her own.
The setup is definitely comedy, and while the plot involves murder and missing radium, the emphasis is mostly on laughs in this modestly entertaining B mystery.
A rich patient has just bought the hospital $100,000 worth of radium and then checked right in. They put him in room 18 and he goes off to sleep with the radium taped to his chest. (Yes, taped to his chest--partly to safeguard the radium but mainly for the excellent health benefits.) Almost immediately the patient is murdered by a shadowy figure; the radium disappears. Who did it?
Among the suspects are a lawyer, a doctor, and various other characters who sneak around the hospital acting suspiciously. The police are called in, of course, but they seem perfectly happy to let Lance work on the case, while Nurse Keate gathers clues as well.
The plot really isn't much but Knowles and Sheridan are fun to watch. Knowles's best trick is hiding a lit cigarette in his mouth--until Sheridan catches him at it. Like that old trick, this movie is nothing particularly original but plenty enjoyable nevertheless.
Muss 'em Up (1936)
Edgy whodunit with complex plot, the usual suspicious characters
Tough guy private detective Preston Foster is summoned via telegram. Rich client Alan Mowbray is having trouble: Someone has shot his dog and sent him a letter warning that "The next time it will be you."
Foster gets to work quickly but Mowbray's daughter is kidnapped, his chauffeur's son is killed...and the house is full of shady suspects.
Margaret Callahan is fine as the secretary who actually sent the telegram asking for Foster's help; she and the detective naturally suspect each other's abilities before teaming up. Ralph Morgan is Mowbray's sneaky brother-in-law. John Carroll is a suspicious-looking smooth talker who is involved with the daughter. Mowbray, the rich client, is known as "the guy with a house full of guns," and entertains himself by taking indoor target practice.
Preston Foster is not bad as the rough-and-tumble investigator who wants the facts and makes no pretense at being a gentleman detective. He is assisted by Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, a bodyguard who spends his spare moments reading up on parlor tricks. (A rare moment of comic relief features Williams attempting a funny disappearing egg trick that he doesn't understand.)
The picture's tone is more that of a gangster drama than a typical parlor mystery. Overall, though, the complex plot and good performances make for a solid whodunit.
Blind Alibi (1938)
Artist and dog search for stolen letters in bland museum drama
Richard Dix is an artist with a nice little Parisian garret. His sister asks him to retrieve some letters that are being used to blackmail her. He almost succeeds in stealing the letters but the packet slips away, concealed in a shipment of artworks on its way to a California museum. Dix moves west and hatches a plan to get into the museum: He pretends he is blind and hangs out in the museum studying and making copies of its sculptures.
Once in the museum, Dix digs around when he can, hoping to stumble on the packet. Whitney Bourne plays the beautiful museum director who takes an interest in Dix, little knowing his real purpose there. Eduardo Ciannelli and Paul Guilfoyle are a couple of crooks working for the blackmailers--they are also after the letters and Guilfoyle even picks up a job as a museum guard.
Dix and Bourne do their best but the far-fetched plot is never remotely believable. Weak dialog, predictable characters....I hate to say it but there just isn't a lot to recommend about this one.
Ace the Wonder Dog has a featured role as Dix's seeing eye dog. Unfortunately, even Ace's scenes aren't particularly convincing.
Exclusive Story (1936)
Newspaper vs. crooks in solid drama
Madge Evans tracks down a newspaper reporter and asks for help: she overheard a racketeer pressuring her grocer father to sell more numbers - or else. Hard-nosed reporter Stuart Erwin is on the case but newspaper lawyer Franchot Tone thinks it's a lot of fuss over nickel and dime gambling.
Erwin investigates while Evans assists and worries about her father. Tone gradually comes around and joins the fight. It's a predictable plot but this fast-paced crime drama features some solid performances.
J. Farrell MacDonald is sympathetic as Evans's father, the kindly grocer. Joseph Calleia is appropriately nasty as the clever racketeer who threatens MacDonald and leers at Evans. The cast of familiar B movie veterans also includes Robert Barrat as the head mobster, Wade Boteler as a bodyguard, and Raymond Hatton as a newspaper editor.
Erwin has the juiciest role as the hard-working wise guy reporter. In one great shot, he's about to board a flight out of town, coat on, cigarette in mouth. He says goodbye to his wife, takes out his cigarette, kisses her--and then exhales smoke.
Evans and Tone are a little less colorful but both come across as attractive and convincing. Overall it's an enjoyable and fast-moving adventure that is fun as long as you don't think about it too much. (For example: Evans calls up Erwin to report that a man has been murdered on her doorstep. His response: "I'll be right there. Hold everything. And don't call the cops!")
Midnight Court (1937)
Fast-paced crime drama is entertaining but predictable
One-time district attorney John Litel has fallen on hard times. He's down and out, drinking in a dive bar. The cops raid the joint and take everybody to night court. Charged with drunkenness, Litel makes a passionate speech to the judge about how wrong he was to try and protect a thankless public when he was the DA. Suddenly court clerk Ann Dvorak calls out his name. He passes out on the courtroom floor.
It's not too believable but John Litel and Ann Dvorak give sincere performances in this modest crime melodrama.
We soon learn that Litel and Dvorak were formerly married, before he got all broken down and bitter. Having taken him to her apartment for breakfast, Dvorak challenges Litel to pull himself together...at which point he announces that he has decided to go to work for a local mob boss and become "the greatest criminal attorney this town has ever known."
Litel succeeds in starting up a new career getting crooks acquitted. The bad guys love him, including boss William B. Davidson. Their car stealing racket is going great. Litel is certainly getting rich...but Dvorak holds out hope for his redemption. What will it take to turn him back around?
Plenty of dramatics but not a lot of careful character development in this standard fast-moving B picture.
Flight from Glory (1937)
Good performances in aerial drama
A band of outcast pilots fly mining supplies over the mountains. Their South American outpost is remote, their planes are decrepit, and their boss is unsympathetic. Lead flyer Chester Morris tries to keep his colleagues' spirits up but another pilot has just died in a crash. The team gets a shakeup when replacement pilot Van Heflin shows up with beautiful wife Whitney Bourne.
Morris informs Heflin that this isn't the glamorous job he thought he signed up for. Then he asks Heflin what the black mark is on his background, knowing there must be something: "Every new man that lights here thinks he's the first and only black sheep. Well, we're all black sheep."
The supporting cast includes Solly Ward as the crusty old mechanic who used to be a Russian soldier; Douglas Walton as the handsome pilot from a wealthy background whose reasons for being here are vague; Richard Lane as a trusty flyer. Onslow Stevens is appropriately sinister as the company boss who recruits disgraced pilots to fly his broken-down planes.
Whitney Bourne is just fine as the wife caught in a bad situation. She sticks with husband Heflin despite being encouraged by both Morris and Walton to go back to civilization--indeed, they both offer to pay her way. (Morris even grabs her and kisses her: "Maybe now you've got a reason to go," he says, "If that's what you needed.")
Van Heflin is quite good as the troubled newcomer: he's scared of flying, he's scared of failing, and he drinks too much. Morris quickly spots Heflin's weakness, which of course complicates his efforts to help Bourne....
Overall it's not bad - the plot is just okay but the characters are well developed.
Forty Naughty Girls (1937)
Backstage murder mystery never really clicks
Drama behind the scenes: Broadway star is engaged to her producer but fooling around with the press agent. The press agent is blackmailing the show's author. The prop manager eavesdrops outside dressing room doors. Lots of intrigue but suddenly -
Inspector Oscar Piper and his friend Hildegarde Withers arrive at the theater, looking comical in their evening attire. Oscar has trouble with his top hat and stick as they bumble their way through the lobby and find their seats. Is this a comedy now?
The mystery and the humor just don't mesh in this slow-moving series entry. It's a pretty standard plot: The shady press agent is found murdered in an actress's dressing room; the inspector is summoned from his seat to start the investigation; Miss Withers tags along and picks up clues.
James Gleason is fine as always as the irritable inspector. He'd like to start asking people questions but is annoyed to discover that the show is still going on: "What am I supposed to do, stand around playing mumblety peg till the show is over? This is murder!"
Zasu Pitts makes her second appearance as the nosy but perceptive Hildegarde Withers. In this case, she steals the dead man's handkerchief then wanders around the theater sniffing everybody in search of a matching scent.
Joan Woodbury is fun as the glamorous star of the show. Tom Kennedy is hilarious as Gleason's slow-witted assistant--but he has just a handful of lines. Marjorie Lord has a sympathetic bit as a cast member.
Unfortunately, the story really plods along.... Less detecting and more character interaction might have livened this one up.
Living on Love (1937)
Boarding house comedy
Whitney Bourne is behind on her rent. Her landlord doesn't want to kick her out, though...he likes her. The landlord's solution is to have Bourne move into the basement apartment with James Dunn, who is also behind on his rent. Bourne has a daytime job, Dunn works at night - they will never even have to meet.
While that far-fetched setup never quite convinces, this attempt at madcap comedy does have some fun moments.
Dunn is a would-be artist who has somehow captured the fancy of sausage heiress Joan Woodbury. Preferring to make it on his own, Dunn rejects her advances as well the cushy job in her father's sausage factory.
Bourne, meanwhile, has just gotten a job selling electric razors. New roommates Dunn and Bourne have never seen each other but quickly decide they are bitter enemies...and then of course they meet in a restaurant and become friends. Unaware of their ironic situation, Dunn and Bourne romance each other in fits and starts, while continuing to play wicked practical jokes on each other back in the apartment. (She replaces his toothpaste with a tube of paint; he puts a lobster in her bed.)
The stars do their best but weak dialog really limits their ability to come across as charming or intelligent. Otherwise, Tom Kennedy is fine as a big-hearted fellow lodger who drives a cab. Solly Ward plays the landlord and is quite enthusiastic about solving his boarders' problems as well as peeking through their keyholes. Franklin Pangborn is humorous if a bit creepy as the sales manager who coaches his staff of young women on how to sell razors. Joan Woodbury is fun as the pushy society girl who is used to getting her way.
Overall, it's really not too good but it's a cute story that has a few laughs.
I Am a Thief (1934)
Jewel robbers on a train
A string of sensational jewel robberies has rocked Paris. Unnerved insurance executives hatch a plan. They will lure the thieves into the open by auctioning off the famous Karenina diamonds....
Mary Astor and Ricardo Cortez are outstanding in this wild tale of jewel robbers chasing each other across Europe. Cortez outbids Astor and purchases the famous diamonds ("Impertinent fellow but very handsome," she comments), but Astor remains intensely interested in the jewels. Indeed, she sneaks into his hotel room in the middle of the night--only to find his bodyguard knocked unconscious and a would-be thief just leaving. Not surprisingly, Cortez has hidden the diamonds in a safer place than his hotel room, and laughs off the whole attack.
Very soon Cortez is en route to Istanbul to sell the diamonds. Astor hops on the same train carrying a duplicate set of the same jewels. A pushy baron (Robert Barrat), a sly count (Irving Pichel), and a rich American (Dudley Digges) also make the trip in pursuit of the Kareninas. The various characters appear to form rivalries and alliances....But who is really who?
Part of the fun is guessing--and the exciting climax features a couple of gasp-inducing moments. A fast-paced and stylish adventure.
Fair mystery-comedy is easy to watch but rather confused
Ventro the ventriloquist disappears just days after his arrival in New York. His daughter asks friend Nikki Porter for help, knowing that Nikki works with mystery writer and amateur detective Ellery Queen. They discover Ventro's dead body in his penthouse hotel suite....but who killed him? And where is the treasure he brought back from China to raise money for his Chinese friends?
Ellery and Nikki alternately flirt and bicker in this entertaining but not overly exciting series mystery.
Margaret Lindsay is fun to watch as Nikki, Ellery's spirited secretary. Fed up with typing for Ellery, Nikki quits and heads to the hotel to investigate the murder. She sneaks into the suite but she's not alone: A crook is sneaking around in the dark, a mysterious woman watches from a neighboring balcony, the coroner and his team come in to collect the body - it's a busy place.
Ralph Bellamy is fine as Ellery Queen, although his effectiveness as a genius crime-solver is perhaps hindered by the fact that he seems more interested in Nikki than he is in the actual case. Bellamy and Lindsay do their best to generate one of those witty rivalries but most of the dialog between the pair just isn't that good. (Lindsay: "The way you order me around, anyone would think I was your wife." Bellamy: "Yeah. Listening to you a stranger would assume you were.")
Unfortunately, as the plot thickens, the action slows way down. The somewhat muddled story involves Russell Hicks and Eduardo Cianelli as crooked business associates with a scheme to grab Ventro's treasure; Anna May Wong is Ventro's mysterious Chinese contact who may be involved somehow. Mantan Moreland brightens up his scenes as Hicks's butler.
It's plenty passable for fans of mystery series and character actors....but overall this one just lacks focus.
Lively comedy with likeable characters
Ralph Bellamy and Margaret Lindsay investigate a murder and have a good time doing it in this entertaining comedy.
Bellamy is a clever and playful Ellery Queen. "Did you buy this book?" he teases the police detective who asks him to autograph his latest book. "I've missed several from my study lately."
Lindsay is also fun as Nikki Porter, a would-be mystery writer herself. She has a shelf full of Ellery Queen's books but claims she can't stand him. Naturally the two soon meet, start bickering immediately, and only gradually become friends and allies.
The plot includes a murder but it's mainly an excuse to get Ellery and Nikki together. Nikki gets herself trapped in the outer office of a cranky millionaire who then dies mysteriously in the inner office. Ellery helps Nikki escape before the cops arrive. While the police look for Nikki, who has left her fingerprints all over, she hides out in Ellery's house--which of course is also the home of Ellery's father, Inspector Queen, who is investigating the murder.
That sounds like a dangerous ordeal but Nikki proves she is game: "You know something, Ellery?" she says after a narrow escape. "I'm beginning to like being a murder suspect. As long as they don't catch me."
Charley Grapewin is a colorful and fast-talking Inspector Queen. James Burke is fun as loyal assistant Sergeant Velle.
The murder suspects barely appear--this really is much more a comedy than a traditional whodunit. The stars eventually do some detecting but the focus is almost always on lively banter rather than murder clues. Overall, it's no showcase for amazing skills of deduction...but it is very easy to watch.
Eight Bells (1935)
Fast-moving ocean drama
Cargo ship captain Ralph Bellamy is all set for the next voyage. If they complete the trip in good time, it will mean a big contract for the company. "If I don't bring her in by June 12th," he promises, "it'll be because the bottom's dropped out of her."
Unfortunately for Bellamy, the ship owner's daughter is engaged to John Buckler, who's not an experienced sailor but comes from an upper crust family. Buckler is appointed captain and Bellamy, a good sport, accepts the demotion to first mate for this one voyage.
Ann Sothern is very good as the spoiled and obnoxious shipping magnate's daughter. She stows away on the ship, Bellamy snaps at her for stealing his cabin, and the two are enemies--at least for now.
The plot is nothing too original but it's handled nicely: As Sothern realizes that fiancé Buckler's gentlemanly polish isn't much use in a crisis, she also learns to appreciate the qualities that the crew respect so much in Bellamy. An especially effective moment is a scene where Buckler chats blithely to Sothern about moonlight....while she watches Bellamy tend to wounded and exhausted workers.
The supporting cast offers a bit of humor (Franklin Pangborn as the captain's valet) and a crew of sensitive souls who dream about their families and futures back home. The production is fine, with sea storms and boiler room emergencies providing excitement. Bellamy and Sothern work together nicely--their initial animosity softens convincingly and without seeming to rush it, which is a good trick in a 70-minute story.
Overall, it's a well done B adventure picture that gets better as it goes along.
Woman in the Dark (1934)
Strong cast can't cheer up dreary drama
Ralph Bellamy is just out of prison, back home in his little cabin and grimly determined to be left alone. His old girlfriend sneaks over to see him, even though her father the sheriff has warned Bellamy to stay away from her.
If that isn't dangerous enough, here comes glamorous Fay Wray stumbling along the dark country road in a shimmering long gown, right to Bellamy's door. She's obviously running from someone, but when she enters Bellamy's living room, disheveled and distressed, Bellamy stands scowling, leaning his elbow on the mantel, pipe in hand, unconcerned. Moments later, oily playboy Melvyn Douglas comes looking for her with his drunken pal Reed Brown. Words are exchanged and Bellamy knocks Brown into a wall where he cracks his head. Fearing the worst, parolee Bellamy goes on the run--accompanied by Wray, who just wants to get away.
The plot is actually not bad: Bellamy and Wray hide out with prison buddy Roscoe Ates and his wife Ruth Gillette, while sheriff Granville Bates tracks them and shady Melvyn Douglas pursues his own sinister ends.
Wray and Bellamy establish a gloomy rapport that almost passes for a romance. Wray is pretty good as the down-on-her-luck beauty who has no good options and throws in with Bellamy. Unfortunately, Bellamy's gruff character is just not especially likeable. The rest of the characters are even more unpleasant: the mean-spirited sheriff, sleazy lawyer, crooked cops.
Ates and Gillette have a couple of moments that come close to comic relief, and an exciting climax lifts spirits a bit....but all in all there aren't that many bright spots in this picture.
The Fuller Brush Girl (1950)
Frantic comedy has many funny moments
Lucille Ball and Eddie Albert would like to get married and buy a model house. They both work for shady boss Jerome Cowan, who has a plan to use Albert for a crooked scheme and then fire him.
When a friend selling cosmetics visits the office, switchboard operator Lucy decides to get started right away selling Fuller products door-to-door herself. Unfortunately she spills powder and lotion all over the switchboard and burns it up--having first splashed the powder all over Cowan. It's not subtle but how can you not laugh?
Lucy's adventures selling door-to-door include a funny cameo by Red Skelton, as well as a hilarious episode selling perms to four bridge ladies, whose hair falls out when a kid next door gets the hair rinse mixed up with his chemistry set.
Meanwhile, boss Cowan's shady deal leads to multiple murders...and the police discover that Lucy is leaving her fingerprints everywhere. Can our heroes get to the bottom of things before the cops catch up with them?
The plot is ridiculous but really of secondary importance; Lucille Ball's antics are the main attraction here, and Lucy does a pretty good job of keeping us watching. While the picture has some dry spells, the funny parts are very funny indeed. Albert's rooftop fight with John Litel is one highlight--they keep bumping into TV antennas and mixing up everybody's TV shows in the apartments below them.
Eventually everybody winds up on a cargo ship full of bananas, wine barrels, and a couple of parrots. (Mel Blanc as a parrot delivers several of the picture's funniest lines.)
Eddie Albert is solid as Lucy's loyal but slightly dopey boyfriend. The rest of the cast is fine but they're really just support. It's no classic but Lucille Ball is certainly fun to watch.
The Crime of Helen Stanley (1934)
Murder on the movie set
Movie star Helen Stanley is jumpy, nervous. She checks the gun in her dressing room desk drawer. She calls up her friend Inspector Trent and urges him to come to the studio. By the time Trent arrives, Helen Stanley has been murdered while filming a dance scene. Inspector Trent investigates.
Gail Patrick is only on screen for about 15 minutes as the temperamental Helen Stanley, but that's plenty of time for Patrick to establish her character as one of those mercurial celebrities who race through life making enemies.
It's up to Ralph Bellamy, as Inspector Trent, to sort through those enemies and identify which of them is the murderer. His long list of suspects includes everyone on the set--cameraman, director, bodyguard, crew members. Shirley Grey has a nice role as a script girl who is engaged to cameraman Kane Richmond. Lucien Prival is the veteran movie director, Phillip Trent an assistant, Bradley Page an agent, Ward Bond a crew member--and all seemingly had reasons to do away with the much-hated actress.
Bellamy is fairly low-key as the pipe-chewing Inspector Trent. He offers a few nuggets of detective wisdom ("Those open and shut cases sometimes are the toughest ones to crack") but mainly hangs around the studio asking the obvious questions. That leaves the focus on plot, which along with all of those suspects involves a lost diary and a missing murder weapon. It all moves fairly quickly from one short scene to the next. Overall it's pretty standard, a reliably entertaining B mystery.
Atlantic Adventure (1935)
Unconvincing ocean liner mystery
Reporter Lloyd Nolan is frustrated. Every time he has a hot date with girlfriend Nancy Carroll, his editor orders him out on a story. Nolan grumbles ("I've stood Helen up three times in a row already") but covers the big fire as ordered.
One day, desperate to meet Carroll for lunch, Nolan skips the press conference at the D.A.'s office. Of course he's late for the lunch so Carroll dumps him...and then the D.A. gets shot at the press conference that Nolan is skipping, so he gets fired too.
That's a pretty bad day but by that same evening Nolan is down at the pier snooping around the S.S. Gigantic, accompanied by his sidekick and photographer Harry Langdon, who has managed to bring Carroll along too. They all end up on board the ship when it sails for Southampton--and Nolan is sure that this is his big chance to get back his job (and his girl) by capturing the D.A.'s killer, who may be fleeing the country on the ship.
This whole plot line is wildly improbable but the story does take some interesting twists. Besides the escaping murderer, a couple of crooks are on board carrying a stash of stolen diamonds, and yet another pair of crooks is spying on them. Carroll gets mixed up in the mystery when somebody hands her an envelope full of cash, apparently mistaking her for one of the gang.
The various crooks are actually kind of fun, as are the ship's very British officers, who are not amused by their American passengers' shenanigans. Harry Langdon's comic relief consists mainly of making funny faces.
Both Lloyd Nolan and Nancy Carroll are energetic and look good. However, the roles don't quite work--Carroll's character is smart and generally self-sufficient, so what does she see in overconfident dunce Nolan? And why does she keep letting him boss her around?
Not very believable but it mostly moves fast.
Before Midnight (1933)
Well-plotted mystery is a little slow moving
Inspector Trent arrives at the old dark house on a stormy night, having been summoned by rich old Mr. Arnold. Trent gets right down to business:
Trent: "What's the trouble?" Arnold: "Somebody wants to kill me." Trent digs deeper: "What makes you think that?" Arnold: "I've been warned in the most peculiar way."
Plenty of clichés pop up in this generally enjoyable murder mystery. Inspector Trent quickly learns about the old legend of the house--years ago, the big grandfather clock stopped right before the current Mr. Arnold's great-grandfather was murdered. Sure enough, just when Trent has gathered the household in the hall, somebody exclaims that the clock has stopped. Suddenly the windows blow open and the lights go out--and when they come back on, there's a dead body on the floor.
Ralph Bellamy doesn't waste many words as the methodical Inspector Trent. A full roster of suspects includes the dead man's personal secretary, the secretary's wife (who may be a blackmailer), and beautiful June Collyer, the old man's ward who may or may not stand to inherit a big chunk of his money. The doctor, the banker, the lawyer--all behave suspiciously.
The plot involves a case of switched identities, a stolen diary, and an ink pen. The dead man was poisoned by a hypodermic needle in the left arm...or if not by a hypodermic, how?
Bellamy is a self-assured but rather single-minded inspector--this serious criminologist has no time for light-hearted banter with the suspects.
The plot is carefully laid out but not especially thrilling--which I guess is why the picture is interesting but never terribly exciting.
Ladies' Day (1943)
Madcap baseball comedy is loud but unconvincing
The Sox are in a pennant race. The ballplayers' wives are more excited than the players: they need that extra Series money for their winter plans. The team's chances center around star pitcher Wacky Waters, who is not married and--according to his manager--needs to swear off dames and concentrate on pitching.
When Wacky meets glamorous movie star Pepita Zorita, who is making a ballpark appearance to sell war bonds, it's love at first sight. Wacky and Pepita are quickly married; Wacky's pitching suffers; the team sinks into a losing streak. The player's wives decide that something must be done.
Eddie Albert smiles a lot as the overly enthusiastic Wacky, but the character really is a dunce. Lupe Velez at least shows some spirit as Pepita, and has a couple of good scenes where she displays her skills as a fast-talking spitfire.
Patsy Kelly, Joan Barclay, and Iris Adrian are the players' wives who decide that if the Sox are to have a chance at winning, then Wacky and Pepita must be separated. They waylay Pepita in a hotel in Kansas City and make plans to keep her there until the Series is over.
Jerome Cowan is kind of amusing as the team owner who knows nothing about baseball. Cliff Clark is predictably hard-boiled as the team manager. Tom Kennedy is funny as a suspicious hotel detective. Max Baer is actually pretty good as the burly ballplayer who is completely intimidated by wife Patsy Kelly.
As the leader of the wives, Patsy is loud but at least looks like she knows what she's doing. Unfortunately, most of the picture is not so convincing. Albert and Velez are fine but their characters are just not very interesting, and the whole goofy plot just doesn't really have any surprises. That's too bad because it is a fun cast.
Air Hawks (1935)
Far out plot packs a few surprises
Ralph Bellamy runs a small fleet of mail planes but his company needs to land the big contract to outdo Consolidated, their powerful competitor. Some crooks from Consolidated want to buy out Bellamy's business--and when he refuses to sell, they turn to dirty work.
Douglass Dumbrille is enthusiastically nasty as the head bad guy. The plot of this aerial adventure veers into sci-fi when Dumbrille hires mad scientist Edward Van Sloan to build a working version of his experimental ray machine that can destroy bridges and airplanes. Van Sloan eagerly starts shooting down Bellamy's airplanes, jeopardizing the big contract.
Meanwhile, Bellamy finds time to exchange corny banter with beautiful Tala Birell, a club singer who is mixed up with the crooks. Bellamy explains to her how airplanes are like women: "They take you up in the skies and then without any warning they let you down with a crash." Birell's quick reply: "But aren't most of the crashes the cause of the men at the controls, who try to go too far or too fast?"
The plot has plenty of twists, some of which make little sense.... For example, when the beleaguered airline is about ready to fold under the mysterious attacks, Bellamy decides it's time for a publicity stunt: He will save his business by attempting a cross country speed record. This is baffling until a few minutes later, when famed pilot Wiley Post wanders into the picture and agrees to take the flight himself.
Bellamy looks uncomfortable during a couple of silly melodramatic scenes but he is generally easy to watch as the hero. Victor Kilian has a fun if predictable role as the newspaper reporter who has a hunch, sneaks into the crooks' hideout, and has a narrow escape. Douglass Dumbrille is just fine as the villain always ready with a dastardly scheme.
The story is kind of wild and sometimes it feels like it's just barely holding together...but the picture's second half is quite enjoyable and moves at a nice steady clip.
The Mandarin Mystery (1936)
Uneven B mystery with a few laughs
The world's most valuable stamp is arriving in port. Reporters crowd the dock to welcome the beautiful Miss Templeton, who owns the stamp and carries it in her purse. At the same time, noted mystery writer Ellery Queen is at the dock. He accidentally tosses some flowers into Miss Templeton's lap while she is being interviewed, which is apparently a cute way to meet.
The plot develops quickly: Miss Templeton visits a hotel to meet a collector who may buy the stamp. A stranger sneaks into Miss Templeton's room, steals the stamp out of her purse...and moments later he is murdered in a side room. We don't really think Miss Templeton killed him but she did come running out of that same room with the stamp in her hand.
The murder investigation is led by Inspector Queen, with inevitable help from his son Ellery, who after all is already acquainted with the leading suspect. Other suspects include the collector, his nieces, a boyfriend....
Charlotte Henry is earnest and cute as Miss Templeton but the character doesn't offer many surprises. Eddie Quillan is a mischievous and energetic Ellery who talks nonstop. His confident banter is sometimes humorous but often merely obnoxious.
Franklin Pangborn has a moderately amusing bit as the flustered hotel manager. Wade Boteler comes across well as the irascible Inspector Queen, and this picture's best moments are probably those that feature interplay between the two Queens.
Overall, Quillan is fun in the role but not especially convincing as a master of deduction. And the mystery itself--involving counterfeit stamps, a missing tangerine, and a locked door--is hard to get too excited about.
One funny line, though: Ellery pounds on the door of a hotel room that he knows is full of cops, and says, "Open in the name of the law!"
The Hidden Hand (1942)
Okay attempt at spooky comedy
Breakout at the insane asylum: No one knows how the dangerous inmate escaped, but while the sheriff and warden stand discussing it, the escapee sneaks into the sheriff's rumble seat and waits to be driven off the grounds.
The dim sheriff heads over to the mansion where the escaped killer's sister lives. He tells Aunt Lorinda to watch out for her crazy brother but she says she's not afraid of him--and we soon discover that it was she who actually arranged the escape. She needs her brother's help: All their greedy relatives are coming over and she is going to test them to decide if she should leave them her money. She assigns the crazy brother to pose as a butler and they wait for visitors.
Milton Parsons is a little creepy but mostly just goofy as the insane brother. Cecil Cunningham is enthusiastically unbalanced as rich old Aunt Lorinda. Her scheme to test the relatives seems promising and includes an odd sequence in which she takes a sleeping potion to convince everyone that she is already dead. Unfortunately the relatives are generally a bit bland, as are the handsome young lawyer and secretary (Craig Stevens and Elizabeth Fraser) who strike up a romance while also trying to investigate. Willie Best is stuck as usual playing the timid servant who is scared of everything.
It's a passable plot even if there's nothing real original about it. Overall, unfortunately, it just doesn't quite work....It's not really funny enough to be a comedy or scary enough to be a thriller. This Warner Bros. B production looks polished but it might have worked better as one of those unabashedly amateurish bargain basement PRC productions.
Shake Hands with Murder (1944)
Good-natured low budget comedy
Iris Adrian and Frank Jenks are partners in a bail bond business. Adrian is happy bailing out small time crooks but Jenks dreams big and rashly drops $25,000 on a single client. When Adrian points out that if the client jumps bail, it will put them out of business, the pair quickly agree that they had better track down that client and keep an eye on him.
Douglas Fowley is the expensive client. Accused of embezzling, he is doing a little investigating, hoping to find the real culprit. When his former boss is found strangled in his office, Fowley is a suspect again, and (after much confusion) he joins forces with Adrian and Jenks to capture the real killer.
It's a super cheap production but the chemistry is actually pretty good among the three leads, who do their best to give life to some really silly dialog. (Jenks: "We're sitting on top of the world!" Adrian: "Yeah, well, go on before we fall off.")
Eventually our heroes and the five suspects wind up at a lodge where the stolen securities may be hidden. A secret vault and a suit of armor figure into the story, which doesn't offer many surprises but certainly moves along quickly.
Not bad, really--it's nothing profound but makes for a fun hour.
Below the Sea (1933)
Totally corny but exciting sea adventure
Expert deep sea diver Ralph Bellamy is hired by German sailor Fredrik Vogeding and shady seaside hotel proprietor Esther Howard to help locate and bring up a cache of WWI gold bars from the bottom of the sea. Vogeding has the map; Howard finances the plan; and Bellamy will do the diving.
Ralph Bellamy scowls his way through most of this watery adventure. As the "best diver there is," he is marginally more honest than his two partners, who immediately begin making plans to double cross him and each other. The partnership grows darker and bleaker the longer the two men work together: "I used to figure all the things I'd do with that gold," Bellamy tells Vogeding. "But now it only means one thing to me, Schlemmer. Gettin' rid of you."
The plot thickens when the trio wind up on a scientific expedition financed by rich girl Fay Wray. Noticing that Bellamy never smiles, Wray of course is smitten with him, and the sparring between this pair begins. Finally he embraces her and kisses her, then is shocked when she likes it. Wray: "I suppose you would have liked it better if I'd slapped your face." Bellamy: "Yeah, I would." She slaps his face. He smiles. Wray: "Good heavens! You do know how to smile!"
Some of this dialog is kind of nauseating but it doesn't seem necessary to take it too seriously. Fay Wray looks beautiful but out of place on a heavy duty marine expedition; Ralph Bellamy looks good too but isn't completely convincing as a hard boiled sailor. However, if the dramatic bits are shaky, the adventure scenes really are exciting: a big ocean storm early in the picture is impressively loud and wet, and the climactic rescue attempt at the bottom of the sea is exactly where the whole picture was headed but thrilling just the same.
Pretty silly but lots of fun. And the moment right near the end when Bellamy grabs the binoculars and has a look--that is a brilliant twist.