Mystery Collection, Disc 25

Big Town After Dark, 1947, b&w. William C. Thomas (dir.), Philip Reed, Hillary Brooke, Richard Travis, Anne Gillis, Vince Barnett. 1:09.

Crime reporter sells her first novel, gets teased about it by the managing editor (who’s also fond of her), resigns with two weeks notice. Owner of paper has niece who wants job (but he’d just as soon see her not get one); managing editor decides to hire niece as new crime reporter as tactic to convince the other one to stick around. Yes, there’s a nod to similar plots: someone in the newsroom at police headquarters mentions “Remember what happened to Hildy?”

Seems that the niece isn’t exactly the innocent journalism student she claims to be. There’s a fairly complex and quite lively plot involving semi-legal private gambling clubs, “kidnapping” and more. It all works quite well, and was a pleasure to watch. $1.50.

Born to Fight, 1936, b&w. Charles Hutchinson (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, Jack La Rue, Frances Grant, Fred “Snowflake” Toones. 1:05 [1:08]

The mystery here is mostly why this is in this collection. It’s a boxing film primarily—with lots of stuff about honor and, strangely, two big musical numbers. The hero is a handsome young lightweight boxer in New York who devastates his opponents with a 1-2-3 punch combination and then makes sure the opponents are OK. His manager won’t take him on the road, but he’s still Destined for Greatness.

Until the local hotshot crooked gambler encounters him at a swanky restaurant, yells at him for not taking a dive in the latest fight and costing the gambler a chunk, and punches him—to which he responds, of course. At which point, with the gambler injured, his manager tells him he has to get out of town—thumb his way to Chicago.

During which process, as he winds up in a hobo camp, we get a bunch of hobos staging a multipart-harmony original song, conductor and all; we get an even younger and small hobo who’s being picked on by the other hobos and who fights back; we get a free-for-all with the boxer involved; and, before we know it, the kid and the boxer are on the lam, make their way to Chicago, and the boxer becomes the kid’s manager, using an assumed name…and trying to teach the kid to lead with his left, not his right.

I won’t bother with the rest of the plot. There’s another bizarre musical number. It’s interesting that we get a happy ending only because somebody gets shot dead at a convenient plot point. Lots’o’boxing, not a whole lot of acting, a somewhat sketchy print and, at best, worth $0.75.

Borderline, 1950, b&w. William A. Seiter (dir.), Fred MacMurray, Claire Trevor, Raymond Burr, José Torvay, Morris Ankrum. 1:28. Previously reviewed (C&I 8:5, May 2008):

Maybe I saw too much of Raymond Burr on TV, but his bad-guy movie roles always strike me as suiting him better than Perry Mason. This one’s no exception. Burr is a drug ringleader (or one rung below leader) in Mexico. MacMurray and Trevor are two different American agents sent—by two different agencies—to infiltrate the gang. Naturally, each of them thinks the other one’s part of the gang. Naturally, they fall in love. Naturally, it all works out. It’s an odd combination—part comedy, part noir, part “melodrama” as the sleeve says—but, to my mind, it works pretty well. For that matter, MacMurray makes a fine leading man and tough guy. I found it enjoyable and the print’s pretty good. $1.50.

The Girl in Lover’s Lane, 1959, b&w. Charles R. Rondeau (dir.), Brett Halsey, Joyce Meadows, Lowell Brown, Jack Elam, Selette Cole. 1:18 [1:16].

We begin with a young man in a suit being chased in a trainyard by two punks—and at one point he tosses his wallet into an open freight car, just before the punks catch him, knock him out and complain that there’s no wallet. The drifter who’d been in the freight car pulls him in and, after he wakes up, discusses the realities of being a hobo. (The drifter is notably also fairly well-dressed and clean-shaven.) The kid has $100, a fortune apparently; he’s running away from his wealthy parents (because they’re thinking of divorce) and is willing to provide the dough if the two can travel together for a while.

They get to a small town, Sherman. Almost immediately the kid gets in trouble in a pool hall by flashing his money—and the four punks at the pool hall clearly want to beat up the two guys and take the $100. Somehow, that’s not how the fight works out. There’s also a café with a lonely beautiful young waitress (daughter of the owner/cook)…

Long story short, the older guy gets involved with the girl (but still aims to leave town) while filling part-time at the café; a local creep (Jack Elam) who “seems harmless” but pretty clearly isn’t resents the older guy; as the two are ready to leave town, they split up, the younger one does leave, and the local creep kills the waitress—who’s discovered, just before she actually dies, by the older drivter who’s decided he does love her and wants to stick around. Naturally, he winds up at the sheriff’s office and it’s clear a lynch mob will form. Which it does.

A real paean to small-town life: There’s a house of prostitution involved as well, half of the kids are criminal punks, the townsfolk immediately set out to lynch someone who might have done something; and the obviously-bizarre local isn’t suspected until he confesses. The print’s not very good, with some dialog missing and some fuzziness. Still, the flick’s not without some merit. I’ll give it $1.00.

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