Mystery Collection, Disc 21

Cause for Alarm!, 1951, b&w. Tay Garnett (dir.), Loretta Young, Barry Sullivan, Bruce Cowling, Irving Bacon. 1:15.

Part near-real-time mystery, part melodrama, and more effective than I’d expect. Woman’s husband has some unstated but wholly debilitating heart disease—but he’s convinced that she and their doctor (who she was acquainted with before marriage) are trying to kill him. He sets up a frame (e.g., spilling most of his heart medicine so he can claim overdose), then writes a letter detailing it all to the DA… which she mails (not knowing it’s the DA, and of course she’s innocent). Then, increasingly crazed, he decides to shoot her—but has a fatal heart attack in the process.

Most of the movie has to do with whether or not she can retrieve the letter, since she’s convinced that (although innocent) she’ll fry if it gets to the DA. I won’t mention the ending. There’s a fair amount of tension, and the lovely Loretta Young is quite effective and Barry Sullivan is convincingly nuts—and Irving Bacon may be the world’s greatest whining postman. Not a great movie, but not bad at all. $1.25.

Woman on the Run, 1950, b&w. Norman Foster (dir.), Ann Sheridan, Dennis O’Keefe, Robert Keith, Ross Elliott. 1:17.

This one’s noir, San Francisco…and surprisingly effective. A man’s out walking the dog at night on one of SF’s many stair/street combinations; he sees a car above him pull to the side, hears a shot, sees a body come out of a door, hears another shot…and finds that somebody’s shooting at him. Cops arrive, identify the victim as a witness for a forthcoming trial of a mobster, spot two bullet holes indicating that the shooter must have aimed at the witness’s shadow, note that he saw the shooter directly under a street lamp.

Meanwhile, as they’re dealing with something else (and getting his semi-estranged wife from their nearby apartment), he decides he doesn’t want to get involved and disappears. That sets things in motion. The wife wants to find the husband—more so when she discovers that he really does still love her and has a heart condition requiring prescription medicine. The cops want to find both of them, since the husband’s the only real witness against the shooter. And a reporter teams up with the wife to get a big story…or is he a reporter?

Very well done, with excellent dialogue, a fair amount of tension and good use of SF atmospherics. Sheridan (the wife) and O’Keefe (the “reporter”) are both effective, as are most secondary players. Not quite a classic, but pretty close: I’ll give it $1.75.

A Life at Stake, 1954, b&w. Paul Guilfoyle (dir.), Angela Lansbury, Keith Andes, Douglass Dumbrille, Claudia Barrett. 1:18 [1:14]

A guy’s a little down on his luck: He was a successful house designer/builder, but his partner gambled away the firm’s funds—including $35,000 of life savings that friends invested in the company. So the guy keeps a framed $1,000 bill as an odd pledge to make things right. He’s visited by a lawyer who represents a couple interested in backing him in restarting the firm, to the tune of $500,000.

He meets with the wife, a young and hot Angela Lansbury (29 at the time), who explains the deal: She sold real estate for several years before getting married, so she’ll handle the real estate side while he handles the building side—and her husband will bankroll the whole thing. She also gives him every reason to believe that she’s a fringe benefit.

One little problem: The husband quite reasonably insists on key-man insurance for the builder, to the tune of $250,000 (which he talks down to $175,000)…and the builder’s become a little suspicious of motives. He also meets the wife’s younger sister, a 21-year-old charmer who makes her older sister seem like a conniving bitch.

Things progress from there. Are the couple trying to kill him to collect the insurance money—or is he paranoid? When he finds out that the family’s money is mostly from a life insurance policy on the woman’s first husband…well, that doesn’t help. I won’t give away the ending.

Nicely plotted and really quite well done and well acted. Good print, and I don’t sense much missing. $1.50.

Hell’s House, 1932, b&w, Howard Higgin (dir.), Bette Davis, Pat O’Brien, Junior Durkin. 1:12.

Previously viewed, in 50 Movie Hollywood Legends. What I said then:

Rural kid sees his mother get run over by a car (driver gets out, looks at victim, drives away; kid makes no move to remember license plate or, apparently, call authorities). Next scene: Kid shows up at urban home of aunt & uncle, who have a boarder who acts like a hotshot—and the uncle’s out of work. Next scene: Kid asks hotshot if he knows of a job; hotshot, who’s actually a bootlegger, hires kid to take phone calls but never say who he works for or where he lives. Next scene—this movie moves fast—cops show up, kid won’t talk, kid gets sent to reformatory for three years.

Then there’s a bunch of reformatory stuff, with a side plot of newspaper reporter trying to blow the lid off the terrible conditions there but not getting cooperation. Kid’s best buddy, another kid with a heart condition, tries to smuggle letter out for kid, gets caught, won’t snitch, goes to solitary, where the ticker goes worse. Kid knows this, busts out (in the outgoing garbage), pleads with hotshot to help. Despite hotshot’s not actually knowing anybody, he manages to get in to see the reporter, kid tells story—and, as the cops arrive, the bootlegger finally develops a heart and signs a confession. After which, of course, the reformatory gets cleaned up (the kid doesn’t go back). Oh, his friend dies.

Pat O’Brien’s the hotshot. Bette Davis is his girlfriend, who suspects he’s mostly a blowhard.

All a little too formulaic—and maybe it doesn’t matter in this case. While the print’s so-so visually, the soundtrack is so scratchy that I almost gave up on it several times. I can’t imagine most sane people would ever listen all the way through. Given that, it can’t earn more than $0.50.

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