Mystery Collection, Disc 2

Four more B movies, each roughly an hour long—three Dick Tracy, one The Shadow. Most of the way through the first, I realized that I’d seen it before: Five years ago, on a freebie old-movie set that preceded the megapacks. But, of course, since the two aren’t from the same company, the print quality might be different, and it’s only an hour, so… (The second Tracy was also on the earlier set.)

Dick Tracy Detective (aka Dick Tracy), 1945, b&w. William Berke (dir.), Morgan Conway, Anne Jeffreys, Mike Mazurki, Jane Greeer, Lyle Latell, Joseph Crehan, Mickey Kuhn. 1:01.

This movie has some of the virtues of comic books (snappy dialogue) but more depth to its characters than you might expect—and it’s not played as a live-action comic strip. It’s no wonder Tess Trueheart (Jeffreys), Tracy’s fiancée, is so slender: They never manage to go out to dinner and she’s mostly waiting up for him. For good reason: There have been three slashing murders, each apparently linked to a payment demand from “Splitface,” and the mayor’s terrified because he’s received such a demand. Other than the murder method and the payment demand, they don’t seem to have anything in common. Dick Tracy is, of course, on the job.

Turns out they do have something in common—and unless Tracy intercedes, there will soon be 15 deaths in all. There’s an astrologer/astronomer who sees a little more in his crystal ball than is strictly healthy and an undertaker named “Deathridge.” It all comes to a head in a satisfying manner for a flick of this particular genre. Not great art, but well done of its kind. Only some blips in the generally-good print lower this to $0.75.

Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome, 1947, b&w. John Rawlins (dir.), Boris Karloff, Ralph Byrd, Anne Gwynne, Edward Ashley. 1:05.

Gruesome being Boris Karloff—really not in any way gruesome enough for the name, but it’s just as well that they didn’t make him up badly. The story this time is that he’s out of prison, wants a new score and tracks down a scientist who’s developed a freeze-bomb: A grenade that releases a gas that paralyzes people for a short time. What a great way to rob a bank!

Ah, but Tess is in the bank, happens to be using an enclosed phone booth and so, unlike everybody in a very large bank, doesn’t get frozen. (Apparently they had airtight phone booths back in the day…) She calls Dick and the chase is on…

More plot, less character. Trademark comic book names: Dr. Lee Thal, Dr. I.M. Learned, Dr. A. Tomic. A different Tracy (Byrd), who I found perhaps more lantern-jawed but less appealing. The frozen-people effects are amusing, but I found this one considerably less appealing than the first. The print’s fine, so it all balances out to the same: $0.75.

Dick Tracy vs. Cueball, 1946, b&w. Gordon Douglas (dir.), Morgan Conway, Anne Jeffreys, Lyle Latell, Rita Corday, Ian Keith, Esther Howard. 1:02.

Cueball is one of several aliases for a bald crook just out of prison, who’s obtained some stolen rare gems and strangled a person (aboard a docked cruise ship) in the process, using a knotted leather strip that turns out to be a hatband made in Cueball’s prison.

The plot involves a jeweler and his employees (the jeweler apparently honest, employees not so much), an antique dealer (decidedly less than upstanding) along with Vitamin Flintheart and the usual cast. Several murders, some saloon action, a high-speed car chase or two, and Tracy’s sidekick getting knocked out again. We get some of those classic Tracy names—Jules Sparkle (jeweler), Percival Priceless (crooked antique dealer), Filthy Flora (proprietor of the Dripping Dagger saloon). The end of Cueball is dramatic, if a bit unsatisfying.

For some reason, I found this the most enjoyable of the Tracy trio—the tone, acting and plot all seemed to gel nicely. Ian Keith is a hoot as the eccentric Vitamin Flintheart and Dick Wessel does a solid job as Harry ‘Cueball’ Lake. The print’s good, although the sound has some background noise. It’s still a one-hour B flick, but I’ll give it $1.00.

The Shadow Strikes, 1937, b&w. Lynn Shores (dir.), Rod La Rocque, Agnes Anderson, James Blakely, Walter McGrail. 1:01.

Man-about-town Lamont Cranston swoops down on criminals, shrouded in a black cape, while still trying to solve the mystery of his father’s murder. Because of such swooping, he winds up impersonating a lawyer and witnessing the death of a wealthy man about to change his will—and, of course, must work to find the murderer.

All nicely done—but the movie Shadow has no apparent ability to cloud men’s minds or anything of the sort. He’s just quiet and sneaky. He doesn’t even wear a disguise. The movie uses none of the classic Shadow lines—and at times Cranston’s last name seems to begin with a “G.” It’s a decent B flick, but nothing special. $0.75.

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