Nancy Drew, Reporter, 1939, b&w. William Clemens (dir.), Bonita Granville, John Litel, Frankie Thomas, Mary Lee, Dickie Jones. 1:08.
It’s fluff, but it’s really good fluff. Nancy Drew (who manages to combine being quite grown up, her own car and all, with being somewhat innocent—a tough act!), daughter of a prominent attorney, enters a newspaper’s contest for the best reportage from a high schooler—and turns it into an investigation into a poisoning and frameup. It’s more comedy than mystery, and Drew is all spunk and wits throughout.
Drew’s relationship to her neighbor Ted is strange, but that’s part of the charm, although Ted’s nasty tween sister and male friend, brats who suddenly turn professional entertainers when required, are a little hard to take. It’s hard not to love the scenes in a Chinese restaurant with a full-scale Chinese big band, all in traditional outfits—and the whole hotel sequence near the end is a long, complicated hoot.
The print’s fairly good and the whole thing’s quite a romp. It’s short (and not that mysterious), so I’ll only give it $1.25.
The Kennel Murder Case, 1933, b&w. Michael Curtiz (dir.), William Powell, Mary Astor, Eugene Pallette, Ralph Morgan, Robert McWade, Robert Barrat, Frank Conroy. 1:13.
Philo Vance raises prize dogs as well as doing some amateur detecting—and after his dog comes in second in breed, he chats with some irritating folks at the kennel club. The most irritating of all turns up dead the next morning, in a room bolted from the inside and with locked windows, an apparent suicide by gunshot. Only Vance, who’s told about it as he’s about to sail off on a cruise, doesn’t think it’s suicide, cancels the cruise and the fun begins.
William Powell as Philo Vance—right there, you can assume an enjoyable movie. You get the detective (Pallette) who’s all too ready to call it a suicide and declare the case over, even when it’s demonstrated that the guy died from a knife wound and suffered a blow to the head before that. You get the irritable coroner (Girardot) who gets called out twice while he’s trying to eat lunch (yes, twice—there’s another victim, the chief suspect in the first murder). You get a DA (McWade) who, for some reason, consistently pronounces the noun “suspect” as though it’s the adjective, accenting the second syllable. You get the niece (Astor, fine as always) who admits she had reason to kill the victim (but didn’t). Lots of odd little mustaches, romantic intrigue, and a victim who had nothing but suspects, since all those who knew him had reason to despise him.
It all works out in the end, of course, in a movie that’s mostly detection, well played and quite nicely done. (Turns out I’d seen it before, five years ago in an entirely unrelated set of public domain movies—but it was well worth watching again.) Decent print, but with just enough missed frames and syllables to be irritating, which is what reduces this to $1.50.
The Death Kiss, 1932, b&w. Edwin L. Marin (dir.), David Manners, Adrienne Ames, Bela Lugosi, John Wray, Vince Barnett, Alexander Carr, Edward Van Sloan. 1:15 [1:10].
Movies within movies are always good plot devices, and this movie takes place almost entirely on the set of The Death Kiss and other areas of the studio. Seems an actor who’s being shot at by eight other actors, with the usual blanks, was also being shot by someone not using blanks. The victim’s a Lothario, with lots of possible enemies. A little early amateur sleuthing, recovering a fragment of the bullet, demonstrates that this wasn’t a prop man’s accident: The fatal bullet’s a different caliber than the prop guns.
This time, a screenwriter who’s in love with the heroine of the flick (who’s been arrested as a likely suspect) becomes amateur detective (aided by a nearly-Keystone Kops-style studio cop) in order to find the real culprit. The real cops are, as you might imagine, less than overjoyed about the help. (If you’re wondering, Bela Lugosi is the studio head, in a relatively small but significant part, played entirely straight.)
Good setup—but I found the plot wanting and the movie a lot less interesting than I’d hoped. It doesn’t help that this print has those little gaps that lose a syllable or word, making some of the dialogue hard to understand. It’s also noisy (background noise). All things considered, I come out with $1.00.
Suddenly, 1954, b&w. Lewis Allen (dir.), Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, James Gleason, Nancy Gates, Kim Charney, Willis Bouchey, Paul Frees. 1:15.
In the sleepy little California town of Suddenly (it has something to do with the gold rush, although Suddenly seems to be slightly north of LA), the President’s going to arrive on a special 5:00 train, to go off on vacation. The sheriff (Hayden) and nearby cops cooperate with Secret Service agents who arrive on the regular 1:30 train to make sure everything’s secure—and that includes paying a courtesy visit to the house on the hill (with a direct sightline to the train station), where lives a retired Secret Service agent—he was the boss of the head of this detail—and his widow daughter, whom the Sheriff is trying (unsuccessfully) to woo.
That’s just the start of this excellently-acted, tautly-plotted, “half-time” movie (that is: the movie’s about 1:15 long and it covers only a little more than twice as much real time—from 1:30 to about 5:02). The kicker here is Frank Sinatra and two friends, who show up first at the house on the hill, saying they’re FBI agents there to protect the president. (After the father protests that the IRS protects the president, Sinatra says the agencies are cooperating.) But Sinata’s really an assassin, a pure mercenary out to collect the second half of a half-million-dollar fee.
Quite a movie, with Sinatra doing a remarkable job and all the rest acting credibly. It’s a thriller more than a mystery, and it’s excellent. I’d actually seen it several years ago, but thoroughly enjoyed seeing it again. About the only negatives are a couple of glitches and slight print damage; even so, it’s worth $1.75.