Mystery Collection Disc 23

The Great Flamarian, 1945, b&w. Anthony Mann (dir.), Erich von Stroheim, Mary Beth Hughes, Dan Duryea, Steve Barclay. 1:18.

We begin in a theater in Mexico City (1936), where an odd act with a guy swirling a cloth is ending and one with a clown is beginning. Suddenly, shots ring out… The woman in a husband-and-wife team is dead, the husband’s the obvious suspect, but we’ve seen somebody climbing up into the rafters and hiding. We soon find that the woman was strangled, not shot—but the husband’s still the obvious suspect because, you know, he’s the husband. It doesn’t help that the wife apparently had eyes (and whatever) for others within the troupe.

As the police leave and the clown closes down the theater, we hear a thump, as the guy in the rafters falls to the stage, almost but not quite dead—he was the recipient of the shots. He tells the clown that he’ll be dead by the time the police arrive and tells his tale: The rest of the movie, told as flashback. The guy (von Stroheim) is The Great Flamarian, a remarkable trick-shot artist with a little act built on him catching his (stage) wife with her (stage) lover. The woman (Mary Beth Hughes) is a gold-digger out for herself. Her husband at the time (and lover in the act), Dan Duryea, is increasingly a drunk but knows she was a petty crook until they got married.

We have a tale of conniving, an innocent man who lives only for his work, and the results you’d expect—death and betrayal. It’s quite a story, and although it’s short of greatness, it’s good noir, well-acted and done well enough to get $1.75.

Parole, Inc., 1948, b&w. Alfred Zeider (dir.), Michael O’Shea, Turban Bey, Evelyn Ankers, Virginia Lee, Charles Bradstreet, Lyle Talbot. 1:11.

Based on the opening title, this is propaganda for tough parole laws and boards, with the implication that parole boards are commonly releasing dangerous criminals. The actual film is sort of a potboiler, with a federal agent going undercover to prove that one state’s parole board is being bribed to let people out. Good cast, but to me, the whole thing felt a little forced—and, frankly, I don’t believe a real undercover agent in this situation would tell the three men setting him up for the sting what his cover name was going to be, since he’d have no way of being sure one of them wasn’t corrupted and it’s information they don’t need.

Good cast, mixed acting. Overall, OK, but it didn’t quite ring true for me. And, of course, there’s no real mystery, since the movie’s all flashbacks while the injured agent’s dictating his report from a hospital bed—where if things had really gone bad, he wouldn’t be dictating any report $1.00.

Baby Face Morgan, 1942, b&w. Arthur Dreifuss (dir.), Richard Cromwell, Mary Carlisle, Robert Armstrong, Chick Chandler, Warren Hymer. 1:03 [0:59]

We open with telegrams being delivered to cheap grifters in four different areas—and, separately, a cute scene with a soda jerk/waiter and his somewhat more worldly cousin and the cousin’s girlfriend (a remarkably vapid girl who’s never heard from again). Then the plots converge: The telegrams are bringing the grifters back to re-form the mob that had once ruled Central City with a protection racket, back before their boss, Big Mike Morgan, was killed. One smart guy’s decided to rebuild the racket, using Big Mike’s son as a front (without his knowledge). First, though, he wants to check out the son—who turns out to be the soda jerk who, thanks to an overheard and wildly misinterpreted phone conversation (his boss’s initials are DA, he dropped off some pineapples—which the mobsters assumed to be grenades—at the sheriff’s office, and he picked up bill payments from some customers), is assumed to be a hardass criminal and immediately nicknamed Baby Face Morgan (he does indeed have a baby face), although he doesn’t know that.

That’s the start of what could be film noir but is, in fact, a nicely done little comedy—as the son & cousin, set up as heads of the shell Acme Protection Agency, get bored doing nothing (they have no idea what’s actually going on) and start selling insurance to local business owners, beginning with one cute young woman (a trucking company owner) who’s resisting the racketeers. The racketeers blow up one of her trucks; the Acme Protection Agency immediately writes a check to cover it—that check, unknown to them, being funded by the protection money—and we’re off. Rabbits play a role as well. The close is a little improbable, but it’s an interesting blend of noir and comedy. Despite its short length, I’ll give it $1.25.

The Woman Condemned, 1934, b&w. Dorothy Davenport (dir.—credited as “Mrs. Wallace Reid” in the film itself), Claudia Dell, Lola Lane, Richard Hemingway, Jason Robards (Sr.), Paul Ellis, Douglas Congrove, Mischa Auer. 1:06 [1:01]

I’m not sure what to make of this one—part noir mystery, part romantic comedy, part farce (I guess), and for most of its length, a short movie that seems very slow, as though it was written as a 15-minute sketch and expanded to a one-hour movie.

The plot involves a woman singer who takes a “vacation,” tells her boss & would-be fiancée that she doesn’t know when she’ll be back, and tells her maid to tell everyone she doesn’t know where she is. There’s a phone conversation with a mysterious and evil-looking man who points out that, while something is expensive, she wants to be free to live her life—and he doesn’t take checks. (A contract murder?) There’s a female detective from out of town, hired by the boss to find out what’s going on—a detective with a truly lousy skill at being unnoticed. And there’s a wisenheimer reporter (or something) who hangs around night court and, thanks to an even more wisenheimer judge, winds up married to this detective he’s never met before. Oh, and identical twins are crucial to the plot.

That’s just the start of a complex plot; there is an actual murder, which if this is intended as a comedy makes it a bit less amusing. Everything gets resolved, more or less, in a final eight minutes that almost makes up for the lethargic pace of the rest of the movie. All in all, though, it felt underdone and confused. Charitably, $0.75.

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