Mystery Collection Disc 36

A typical “sixth disc” with six short movies—except that this time around two of them aren’t all that short. (At least according to the sleeve—which turned out to be wrong in both cases.)

Night Life in Reno, 1931, b&w. Raymond Cannon (dir.), Virginia Valli, Jameson Thomas, Dorothy Christy, Arthur Housman, Dixie Lee, Clarence Wilson, Carmelita Geraghty, Pat O’Malley. 0:58

Here’s what the sleeve says: “A woman finds her husband in a compromising position and decides to seek a divorce from him. Heading to Reno to secure a divorce, the woman learns it will take six weeks for her divorce to be granted. Finding she has to wait in Reno for the six weeks, the woman ends up living the wild life and taking up with a married man.”

Here’s what I saw: The first two sentences are accurate enough, with the divorce attorney being somewhat of a comic character. But then we get a long, slow, languid…sequence where the husband (who’s followed her, finds the attorney, and pays him to attempt a reconciliation) is drunk in a casino (where only the swells play and all they play is roulette), hangs out with another stiff, attempts the world’s worst pickup and, somehow, winds up drinking with the other stiff’s friend and with, well, his wife (under an assumed name). The wild life appears to consist entirely of playing roulette and drinking way too much.

In any event, the last ten minutes have all the action—almost enough action for a five-minute short. The wife goes off with the other man, he makes a pass, she deflects it and phones her soon-to-be-ex, she leaves the apartment, the other guy’s ex (or soon-to-be-ex?) shows up and plugs the guy. Next morning, the maid arrives, sees the corpse, the cops show up and, given obvious evidence, arrest the heroine. At which point her husband shows up and confesses (falsely). Fortunately (?) as she’s released and back in her hotel room, the other woman shows up to kill her as well, and since she was about to call someone through a switchboard, cops show up to save the day. The woman and husband reunite and leave Reno, with the attorney doing an odd sort of bit.

Damned if I can tell what this was supposed to be. Badly paced, incredibly slow, with acting seeming mostly to consist of looking one way and then the other…and if that was Reno in 1931, its reputation as a hot town was exaggerated. Maybe the missing 14 minutes make a big difference, but this one already made 57 minutes seem an eternity. As a period piece, very generously $0.75.

Convicts at Large, 1938, b&w. Scott E. Beal & David Friedman (dirs..), Ralph Forbes, Paula Stone, William Royle, John Kelly, George Travell, Charles Brokaw. 0:57.

Two setup plot lines: A prison break on one hand, an architectural office where one architect is clearly moonlighting—when he should be drawing up a basement design for a building, he’s busy with plans for his own Happy Home LLC company to build homes that are “scientifically designed” to maximize the happiness of residents—a concept he just can’t shut up about (including selling an idea as though it was a going concern). He’s also hung up on a local singer, to the dismay of his housemates.

He goes for a walk to escape his housemates’ incessant chatter. One escapee grabs him, knocks him out, and takes his clothes. As he wakes up—third plotline—two thugs (one a typical comic thug) from the nightclub where the singer works drive by and toss a bundle of clothing out to what they assume to be the escapee (the nightclub owner paid for the escape). Oh, and in the pocket of the clothes is some money, but the comic thug used badly-made counterfeit money instead of real money.

You can almost see how things come together. The architect, wearing the clothes in the bundle, finds himself in front of the nightclub and goes in to get something to eat. He strikes up a conversation with the singer (who, for unclear reasons, is almost immediately taken with him). The thugs and owner—who have no idea what the escapee (a jewel thief who’s supposed to split a $200,000 haul with them) looks like—decide this guy must be the thief and bring him and the singer back to the Back Room.

Anyway: Lots more action, the assumption that—when the actual thief shows up—the couple (which is apparently what they are now, an hour after they met) will be killed, and a Happy Ending. Yep: As they’re being held in adjacent cells until the architect’s sister shows up to clear them, he proposes to her—and she accepts even before he finishes the proposal. All of this within, what, 12 hours of them first meeting?

What it is, is a combination of romantic comedy and farce with some crime thrown in for good measure. (Definitely some farce: When the architect, pretending to be the thief, is drawing a map of where the heist is supposedly hidden, he makes a mistake and asks for an eraser—at which point the dumber thug hands him his pistol. You know: His eraser.) You even get one song on the radio and another song-and-dance number (Paula Stone has a good voice and did a fine dance routine). Another indication as to its plausibility: When the thugs, the club owner and the actual thief—all of them obviously armed—are digging up the jewels, the other three apparently have no idea at all that the thief could possibly double-cross them. But hey, it’s a romp—and not a bad one. Given the length, I’ll say $1.00.

Tough to Handle, 1937, b&w. S. Roy Luby (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, Phyllis Fraser, Harry Worth, Betty Burgess, Johnstone White, Burr Caruth, Stanley Price. 1:00 [0:58]

For some of you, “a Frankie Darro flick” may be all that needs to be said, for good or for bad. He’s not the East End Kids, but he’d never be my favorite actor either. That said, this wasn’t a bad little B/second-feature flick, especially using one trick (more on that later), although it was an odd mix of thriller (not really much mystery), romantic comedy and musical, a lot to pack into 58 frequently slow-moving minutes.

The basic plot (the sleeve copy gets it entirely wrong): a nightclub owner is running an Irish Sweepstakes racket—or, rather, he’s sort of running it. The racket: Print up phony tickets, sell them, PROFIT. Except that one set of plates accidentally had real sweepstakes numbers instead of impossible ones—and one of them wins. Darro enters (right at the start) as the winner’s grandson and a newspaper peddler, who sells his grandfather the “Sweepstakes Extra” that prints all the winning numbers and names—and is surprised as his grandfather (a) says he has a winning ticket (for $16,000) and (b) says the newspaper prints the winner’s name as some woman in another state. Naturally, Darro also sells his paper to the nightclub owner/crook—oh, and Darro’s sister is a singer dating an investigative reporter. Can you see where this is heading?

I guess there actually is a mystery (in addition to the absurdly bad “drunk” play by a club patron who turns out to be, supposedly, an undercover agent—and who’s clearly acting in cahoots with the bartenders who feed him no-alcohol drinks all day, which makes no sense at all): who’s actually in charge of the racket? By now, you’ve probably figured that one out.

Did you know that most modern DVD players can play a DVD at exactly double speed without chipmunk noises? You hear the dialog (or singing) at its original frequency, just twice as fast. That’s how I made it through this movie, especially once the musical numbers started. (It also made the absurd fistfights more tolerable.) Given that I watched the 58-minute movie in 45 minutes, it was appropriately paced. For Frankie Darro fans, maybe $0.75.

The President’s Mystery, 1936, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Henry Wilcoxon, Betty Furness, Sidney Blackmer, Evelyn Brent, Barnett Parker. 1:20 (0:53).

The setup (accounting for the title) is unusual: Supposedly, Franklin Delano Roosevelt loved mystery stories and wondered how a millionaire could disappear (and start a new life)—with his money. Six writers put together a story; this movie is based on that story (and the story is referenced in the film); the lead titles say the proceeds from the story and the screenplay both went to FDR’s Warm Springs Foundation.

That said, it’s very much a movie of its time, in the heart of the depression—when, at least according to this flick, predatory businessmen were shutting down competition and refusing to grow and employ people because it might cut profits. They were also sending hotshot lawyers to Washington to assure that bills to ease credit and reopen factories wouldn’t pass. The hotshot lawyer in this case also loves fishing and has a loveless marriage, and goes fishing in a town that’s essentially shutting down because the local cannery went under. The owner of the bankrupt cannery is a beautiful young woman (Betty Furness) who feeds the town using illegal fishing methods (actually, her father owned the cannery and committed suicide when it went under).

You can probably guess where this all leads. A combination of Message film, love story and good old American (cooperative) save-yourself knowhow, it’s a pretty good story for a one-hour flick. I do wonder about the missing 27 minutes (actually, the first IMDB review suggests that it’s all exposition, setting up the lawyer’s method for “losing” his money without losing it). I’ll give it $1.25.

Racing Blood, 1936, b&w. Victor Halperin (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, Gladys Blake, Arthur Housman, James Eagles, Matthew Betz, Si Wills, Fred ‘Snowflake’ Toones. 1:01 [0:55]

What? Another Frankie Darro B flick? Yes—but this one’s not too bad. Darro’s the kid brother (named Frankie) of a jockey and the proprietress of a horse-themed diner (parents never in evidence); he begs $4.85 from his sister to buy an injured colt about to be shot. (The seller gives him back the $4.85 to go towards hay.) After lots and lots of calendar-pages flying by, the colt’s healthy, fast, and will only let the kid ride him. Which he does in a $1,000 race, after scrounging the $100 entry fee from various friends. And, of course, wins—racing against his brother, the favorite, who was deliberately fouled by riders in the employ of a ruthless gambler. Oh, and after that, the kid’s naïveté leads to his brother’s being barred from racing (don’t ask).

One thing leads to another, and we have—in short order—the brother seriously ill and lacking the will to live, the colt being poisoned by the gambler’s henchmen (except that they actually poison another horse), the kid being kidnapped and, in a truly bizarre last 10 minutes, the kid conquering all odds (he’s shot, he’s loaded into an ambulance, he steals the ambulance and drives off, he can barely stand as he goes to get weighed in…) and winning the Derby. Your suspension of disbelief has to be really firmly in place (e.g., since the gambler had already decided to kill the kid so there are no witnesses, why doesn’t he just do that?). But, hey, for what it is, it isn’t bad. Mostly for Darro fans, maybe $1.00

The Shadow: Invisible Avenger (aka The Invisible Avenger), 1958, b&w. James Wong How & Ben Parker (dir.), Richard Derr, Mark Daniels, Helen Westcott, Jack Doner, Jeanne Neher, Steve Dano, Dan Mullin. 1:10 [0:57]

I think this is the first of several “The Shadow” flicks I’ve seen in which The Shadow’s mystical powers actually come into play. To wit, with the counsel of his compatriot Jogendra (who seems to be telepathic or at least able to project thoughts), he’s able to fade out in the minds of beholders, leaving only a shadow. Jogendra can apparently instantly hypnotize anybody by staring at them, even from across the room, and get them to do anything he chooses, so “disappearing” is no big deal.

The plot? Set in New Orleans, where the deposed president of Santa Cruz (your basic Caribbean nation) is in exile after being overthrown by a dictator—a dictator with lots of hired hands and guns working for him, who fears (correctly) that the president’s supporters may overthrow the dictatorship. The hired hands do in a jazz trumpeter who’s trying to help the president and who has contacted Lamont Cranston to see whether he can contact The Shadow. And the race is on…

Jogendra on more than one occasion points out that if somebody fires (accurately) at the shadow, Cranston will be just as dead as if he hadn’t overused his power—but the only time this comes into play, it’s somehow the person behind the shadow who dies. Never mind. We have a present in which executions are actually shown on TV—and, of course, all the Hispanics in Santa Cruz speak English. There’s a little low-key sort-of romance, a lot of music (some pseudo-jazz, one fairly bizarre misogynistic semi-reggae piece under the opening credits, a little Nawlins stuff), and all turns out well. Except that, given the way things turn out, I don’t see that Cranston’s/The Shadow’s activities really made much difference at all. The flick has the feel of being a clumsily-assembled set of serial episodes, with total blackouts between segments. (It was originally intended as a TV pilot.) Oh, and The Shadow’s tagline (“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Only The Shadow knows. Bwahahahah…”) ends with a laugh that would have you think The Shadow is a villain, not a hero. The missing 13 minutes might have helped. But it’s not bad: $1.00.

 

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