Mystery Collection Disc 13

The Mandarin Mystery, 1936, b&w. Ralph Staub (dir.), Eddie Quinlan, Charlotte Henry, Rita la Roy, Wade Boteler, Franklin Pangborn, George Irving, Kay Hughes. 1:06 [0:53]

This one’s a charmer—a relatively short, fast-paced Ellery Queen mystery (loosely) based on The Chinese Orange Mystery. A young woman arrives in New York with a uniquely rare stamp she’s agreed to sell to a doctor—who is investing his niece’s trust fund in rare stamps. As she’s arriving, she runs into Ellery Queen (Quinlan), a charming young PR man who was hoping to meet another woman but who will gladly chase after whoever’s available.

The stamp’s stolen before she can take it to the doctor; then she believe she’s retrieved it—from a dead thief (murdered in a locked room). Inspector Queen (Ellery’s father) arrives and the two of them, in very different ways, investigate a growing web of crimes including a second murder and stamp forgery, with enough suspects to make your head spin. Snappy dialogue, fast-moving, pretty decent acting (with Franklin Pangborn a hoot as the nervous hotel manager), in all a good time. It’s clearly a second feature/B movie, but a fun one—even with 13 minutes missing. $1.25.

High Voltage, 1929, b&w. Howard Higgin (dir.), William Boyd, Carole Lombard, Owen Moore, Phillips Smalley, Billy Bevan, Diane Ellis. 1:03.

Already reviewed as part of the 50 Movie Pack Hollywood Legends. Here’s what I said in Cites & Insights 9:1 (January 2009):

An odd title for an odd short flick with a fine cast. The setup requires a fair amount of disbelief: A coach or bus apparently going from Sacramento to Reno during a huge snowstorm. When it stops for gas, the station attendant says they’ll never make it through and should stop there, but the blowhard driver says he can make it. Passengers include one banker, one young woman on the way to meet her fiancée and a cop taking a woman (Carole Lombard) back East to serve out a prison sentence. The last two passengers are on their way to catch a train, as is (I believe) the young woman. The film is set in a time when there are not only buses but airplanes—but, apparently, either no train running from Sacramento east or the train’s so unreliable that it makes more sense to ride a bus out into a huge snowstorm. I suppose there was such a period, but it’s a little implausible.

Naturally, the bus gets stuck. Somehow, it’s 40 miles to the nearest city or town—but there’s a church close enough so the stranded group can see it and make their way there. Where they find a hobo (William Boyd), who (it turns out) is on the lam. (You may know William Boyd by the character he played in about 70 movies and 40 TV shows starting in 1935: Hopalong Cassidy. He’s a lot darker here!)

That’s the setup. The hobo has food but probably not enough for the ten days he estimates they’ll be trapped (based on nothing obvious). There’s jockeying for position, shoving around, threats…and mostly lots of talk and very little of anything else, although the hobo (who pretty much takes command) does manage to push them all out to get some fresh air, leading to two of them falling through ice (and being rescued). The hobo starts to go off in the night with the woman on her way back to prison (he knows of a ranger station ten miles away)—but when a plane starts circling overhead, he can’t go through with abandoning the others, and they agree to serve their time and move on from there. (Sorry for the plot spoilers, but there’s not much plot here to spoil.)

So I guess it’s a drama of tension among half a dozen stranded types. I suppose, but hardly enough tension to justify the title. Reasonably well acted. Some film damage. One real oddity: The opening credits refer to the characters as archetypes—The Boy, The Girl, The Detective, and so on—even though they all have names in the movie. Knowing the date does make a difference: This is a very early talkie. I’ll give it $1.

The Man Who Had Influence, 1950, b&w. Franklin J. Schaffner (dir.), Stanley Ridges, Robert Sterling, King Calder, Anne Bancroft. 0:59.

Not really a movie at all, and the sleeve’s clear about this: It’s a 1950 episode of Studio One, an early (live?) dramatic TV series—presented here including the three Westinghouse commercials within the story. It’s presumably a kinescope, that is, a film made from the TV broadcast, which helps explain the generally poor video quality (and sometimes poor audio quality).

The plot: We have an Influential Wealthy Lawyer—who’s backing a Senate candidate instead of running himself because he’s more powerful behind the scenes—and his absurdly overprivileged son, who’s always gotten away with everything because of his father and who just flunked out of college. He’s a drunkard but somehow has a fiancée who really should know better (she’s the daughter of the senatorial candidate).

After he comes home, he goes out with his fiancée, drinks too much, makes a play for the cute cigarette girl (notably, his fiancée is used to his leaving with somebody else!)…and the next thing we know, it’s the next morning, the car’s not at home, he is but doesn’t know what’s happened. What’s happened is a car crash and a dead cigarette girl, who he abandoned at the scene.

That’s the setup. The rest has to do with just how much influence the father has and how he gets it. It involves conversations with a copy who seems to spend his time in the jail cell with the son, playing cards and eventually bemoaning the fact that he shoulda been police chief but couldn’t be bought by the father…and a sort of redemption. Sort of.

I guess it’s golden age drama. Other than the achievement of doing this live, I can’t say that it’s all that wonderful—hammy, simplistic, and almost hard to watch. (There’s also something new on this and the next movie: A Mill Creek Entertainment logo in the bottom right of the picture for a few seconds every 20 minutes or so. I hope that was a temporary madness.) I’ll give it $0.75.

The Strange Woman, 1946, b&w. Edgar G. Ulmer (dir.), Hedy Lamarr, George Sanders, Louis Hayward, Gene Lockhart, Hillary Brooke. 1:40.

Bangor, Maine, 1824, a mostly-lawless logging town where the town drunk’s daughter is a handful—including an early scene where she nearly drowns a boy, then makes it look as though she saved him from drowning. She grows into a beauty, determined to marry a wealthy man—and manages, in the person of a much older man (the father of the boy, now away at college).

In the course of events, she seduces the son and makes it clear that she considers the father (her husband) a nuisance—and, when the son comes back alone from a trip to the logging camp, rejects him out of hand. She has eyes for the fiancée of her friend—and what Jenny wants, Jenny gets. The son turns drunkard, and eventually hangs himself—after telling the person who’s now her husband (and heads up the logging-and-shipping operation she inherited) what happened.

There’s more—specifically, a revivalist in buckskins from Ohio, whose third service is “The Strange Woman” and who seems to be speaking directly to her. Things do not lead to a happy ending—and, given Jenny’s sociopathic nature, it’s hard to see how they could wind up well. Hedy Lamarr gives a fine performance as a mostly-affectless beautiful woman plowing a path through all around her. George Sanders is upstanding and noble as her eventual husband, who stands by her to the end. The movie’s slow moving and there are a few glitches. Not great, not bad; I’ll give it $1.50.

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