Midnight Manhunt, 1945, b&w. William C. Thomas (dir.), William Gargan, Ann Savage, Leo Gorcey, George Zucco, Pauil Hurst, Don Beddoe, Charles Halton, George E. Stone. 1:04 [1:02].
Let’s see…villain (Zucco) enters victim’s hotel room, shoots victim (Stone) (who’s recognized him), removes wallet full of diamonds. Victim, not quite dead yet, staggers to door of room. Next, we’re in the Last Gangster Wax Museum (really!), which somehow has a cop manning a desk in the office—and a tired, would-be retired, proprietor who’s taken in $20 after standing all day. His worker is the ever-annoying Leo Gorcey, replete with malapropisms and an unlightable cigar. There’s also a somewhat disgraced female reporter who lives upstairs from the pathetic museum and her ex-boyfriend, another reporter who also shoots craps with loaded dice.
The plot? Joe Wells, assumed dead for several years, is dead but not for five years—he’s the victim, and he expires on the stairwell to the reporter’s apartment. From there, he keeps appearing and disappearing—on exhibit and in one or another car as villain, reporters, police all wander around looking for him and making wisecracks. None of it seems to make much sense or matter much. This is an odd trifle—I guess it’s a comic mystery, but there’s no mystery and precious little comedy—that seemed overlong at an hour. For fans of Leo Gorcey or Ann Savage, it might be worth $0.75.
Murder by Television, 1935, b&w. Clifford Sanforth (dir.), Bela Lugosi, June Collyer, Huntley Gordon, George Meeker, Henry Mowbray, Charles Hill Mailes, Hattie McDaniel, Allen Jung. 0:53 [IMDB and actual runtime, but sleeve says 1:00]
Experimental subjects are forced to watch “reality” TV until they rip their own heads off in despair. Well, no…but the real plot’s even stranger. During the experimental years of TV, one experimenter has designs years ahead of everybody else—and not only won’t he sell out for several million dollars, he hasn’t even patented the stuff. He arranges The Big Demonstration, at his laboratory in a house full of guests (all in formal dress). It’s impressive: He can cover the whole U.S. from a single broadcast station, the enormous piece of equipment—seemingly a single camera—cuts to different angles as though it was a three-camera setup. Oh, and there’s another twist: He can dial in views from anywhere on earth—apparently, this TV doesn’t really require a camera.
But he also keels over midway through this phenomenal (and, dare I say, wholly implausible) demonstration. Thus starts the mystery—which is an odd mix of slow and fast, with vignette scenes, a police inspector who seems to accept that a “brain scan” unit absolutely identifies whether somebody has a criminal mind or not (and, if not, of course they must be innocent), some clown who keeps trying to get in the house on important business (comic relief, I suppose) and some star turns by Hattie McDaniels of Gone with the Wind fame (but that was four years later). Oh, and Bela Lugosi…well, to explain his role would involve plot spoilers.
But between the print—with just enough missing spots to obscure some important dialogue—and the bizarre staging, it really doesn’t hang together very well. The acting is…well, there really isn’t any to speak of. As generous as I might want to be, I can’t give it more than $0.75.
The Moonstone, 1934, b&w. Reginald Barker (dir.), David Manners, Phyllis Barry, Gustav von Seyffertitz, James Thomas, Herbert Bunston, Charles Irwin, Elspeth Dudgeon, John Davidson. 1:02 [0:46]
Clearly, I need to read the Wilkie Collins book itself—since what there is to this movie doesn’t amount to much. We open with Inspector Cuff called in by his superior at Scotland Yard and told to go to a remote mansion because the Moonstone (a fabulous yellow diamond with, possibly, a curse on it) is going to be delivered there and it will be a target for thieves.
Then we cut to the mansion, where we have a doctor who seems to be mostly a befuddled scientist incapable of paying his bills, another doctor who isn’t who he seems, a daughter who’s extremely willful, a friend of the daughter who wants to have her for his own (but her fiancée is about to arrive—he’s the one bringing the Moonstone along with a Hindu servant who speaks flawless, unaccented English), a smart-talking housekeeper, a maid who’s also not who she seems to be…and a money-lender who’s about to foreclose on the mansion.
Moonstone arrives, in the midst of a terrible storm that forces the money-lender to stay overnight. Lights go out, Moonstone disappears, Moonstone reappears, people go to bed, Moonstone disappears, Cuff asks lots of questions…and eventually The Mystery is Solved.
Well, except that the sleeve copy says “the thief resorts to murder and assault to cover their tracks”—which might have happened in the full B flick, but not on this substantially shorter version, one almost totally free of violence. I don’t really know what to make of this: Some dialogue is missing, the acting is peculiar, it’s remarkably slow-moving for something no longer than a TV episode and it doesn’t seem to amount to much. $0.50.
Great Guy, 1936, b&w. John G. Blystone (dir.), James Cagney, Mae Clarke, James Burke, Edward Brophy, Henry Koller, Bernadene Hayes, Edward McNamara, Robert Gleckler, Joe Sawyer. 1:15 [1:06]
The chief of the Department of Weights and Measures winds up in the hospital because of an “accident”—and appoints former boxer Johnny Cave (Cagney) as his chief deputy inspector, in charge while he’s hospitalized. Cave, tough as nails and twice as honest, won’t touch the ready bribes—and is convinced his girlfriend’s boss is a crook. One thing leads to another; with the help of apparently-honest and incorruptible police, the good guy wins.
The best thing this flick has going for it is Cagney. Even with a few minutes missing and some clipped dialogue, he does a fine job, making a fairly ordinary picture entirely watchable. It’s flawed, but it’s good. On balance, I’ll give it $1.25.