OK, so I don’t spend all my time on the two overlapping book projects—that would drive me nuts. I’m also reading books from the library and magazines (although I’m way behind on those), I’m playing video poker (not for money—and maybe the topic of another post at some point), I’m going for the usual Wednesday hikes and, on Wednesday afternoon when I’m not much good for serious writing or research, I usually watch an old movie. That’s down from the two a week I was watching… meanwhile, here’s a foursome from the 60-disc 250-movie Mystery Collection.
The King Murder, 1932, b&w. Richard Thorpe (dir.), Conway Tearle, Natalie Moorhead, Marceline Day, Dorothy Revier, Don Alvarado, Huntley Gordon. 1:07.
Right off the bat, you get this feeling that you’ve been dropped into the middle of a longer movie—a classy woman’s standing next to a counter, a cop walks by, seems to sneer at her, and walks out of what’s labeled a Homicide Bureau. Things don’t get better.
I can’t even begin to summarize the players and the plot, partly because I found little to differentiate them; I’m not even sure I know how many characters there were. I know there’s a society type, his (wife? fiancée?), his (girlfriend? mistress? blackmailer?), a second-story man, a thug involved with the mistress/blackmailing her, and apparently lots more, most of them with motives… It may be indicative that the seemingly most important character is eighth in the IMDB list.
This one’s just a mess: Lots of odd plots that seem tossed in at random and don’t cohere very well, with a murder weapon that seems absurd and a denouement that’s equally silly. Either this was just poorly written and filmed on no budget and with no directorial skill, or it’s a badly-edited selection from a longer movie or a serial. In any case, I can’t give it more than $0.75.
The Lady in Scarlet, 1935, b&w. Charles Lamont (dir.), Reginald Denny, Patricia Farr, Jameson Thomas, Dorothy Revier, James Bush, Lew Kelly. 1:05.
A wise-cracking detective and his sidekick/secretary/girlfriend/wife?, who he refers to as “Ignorant” or “Stupid” as seeming cute names, and who seems to have his office in a bar, finds himself investigating the murder of an art dealer because he’s friends of the dealer’s wife (who used to be in musicals and who the dealer correctly thought was cheating on him with a doctor). That’s part of a complicated plot involving another murder (the doctor), suspects galore, a stolid and seemingly stupid police detective who consistently lets the private eye run the show—and a final Everyone In The Same Room bit.
But it’s cute, the plot’s not bad, and it moves right along. Not great, but maybe worth $1.25.
Sinister Hands, 1932, b&w. Armand Schaefer (dir.), Jack Mulhall, Phyllis Barrington, Cranford Kent, Mischa Auer, Louis Natheaux, Gertrude Messinger, and James P Burtis as Detective “Don’t Call Me Watson” Watkins. 1:05.
We begin with a lady consulting a swami and his crystal ball. We continue with an odd set of scenes involving people around a swimming pool, apparent hanky-panky between residents of two adjacent mansions, a known gangster who’s trying to marry the daughter of a rich man man and more. Oh, and the rich man’s dictating letters to his secretary (on a Dictaphone, wax cylinder and all) and, in the process, recording what could be the argument that proves who killed him…or not. That evening, all and sundry are gathered at the man’s estate with his wife (the lady consulting the swami) and the swami. Turn off the lights for a proper reading and, shazam…the man’s been stabbed to death.
After that (and it’s actually much slower than the summary might suggest—this is a slow-paced movie), we get the police detective conducting pretty cursory interviews with each of the apparent suspects, with a judge (who’s among the guests) in on the interviews. The judge writes down a list of all the suspects, at the end of which the detective makes a joke about whether the judge should add his own name. At this point, we know how it’s going to turn out, don’t we?
In the interim, we have a “heavily-guarded house” (where all the suspects are sleeping over) where it’s easy to sneak around, remove the knife from one body, stab someone else, go in and out of bedrooms past sleeping police…and a running joke about a stolid policeman’s last name. Followed by the time-honored traditional closing: The Big Scene with Everybody in One Room, where the detective points out each suspect and then says why he or she didn’t do it. (The extreme case: The suspect was not only the only one who was loyal to the first victim, he was the second victim.) Although it’s a little on the slow side, it’s good enough; I’ll give it $1.25.
The Lady Confesses, 1945, b&w. Sam Newfield (dir.), Mary Beth Hughes, Hugh Beaumont, Edmund MacDonald, Claudia Drake, Emmet Vogan, Barbara Slater. 1:04.
A young woman answers a knock on her apartment door, to be confronted by her fiancé’s wife—who disappeared seven years earlier and was presumed dead. The wife says she’ll make sure he never marries the young woman or anyone else, and storms off.
Meanwhile, the man—Larry—shows up at a nightclub several sheets to the wind, downs two more double Scotches rapidly, and winds up sleeping it off in the singer’s dressing room, after first making sure he confronts the club’s owner. A few hours later, the singer wakes him up to answer a phone call from the young woman; he picks her up and drives her to his wife’s place (he says she showed up a couple of weeks earlier but intends to divorce him)…and when they get there, a bunch of police are present along with the wife, strangled with a cord.
He has a perfect alibi, clearly. Her alibi isn’t as good. The club owner also knew the wife (she’d loaned him serious money to start the club). As things progress, with the young woman doing her own detective work, we wind up with another murder along the same lines—the singer this time—and almost a third.
It’s pretty well done, but I think there’s one serious flaw: We learn the murder’s identity about halfway in, and it would have been a much better movie if we were in the dark. (Oh, and the Beaver’s dad had a darker side in his earlier movie career…) Given that (and, frankly, that portions of the motivation just don’t make sense), I can’t give it more than $1.25.