Mystery Collection Disc 31

Double Cross, 1941, b&w. Albert H. Kelley (dir.), Kane Richmond, Pauline Moore, Wynne Gibson, John Miljan. 1:02.

One of those hour-long programmers that keeps right on moving. This time, a cop’s gotten friendly with a hard-edged woman who co-owns (?) a nightclub/gambling hall. He’s visiting her when he should be on duty. When the cops raid the joint, she manages to grab his gun, shoot another cop, and shove the gun into his hands as the cops shoot him. That’s just one double-cross in a movie that has its share.

The bulk of the plot involves another cop (friend of the first one), his fiancée (who takes photos at the club), his father (a police captain who’s about to be named commissioner), some semi-undercover work, the backer of the club who sees to it that it keeps reopening (big surprise here), and a surprisingly effective movie. Nothing really special, but this one works. Given the length, I’ll give it $1.

Ellis Island, 1936, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Donald Cook, Peggy Shannon, Jack La Rue, Joyce Compton, Bradley Page, Johnny Arthur, George Rosener. 1:07.

This oddity is really a semi-slapstick comedy about a park ranger who cheats on his long-time fiancée, gets caught at it, wants his buddy ranger to bail him out by lying (saying it was the buddy’s cousin and the ranger was just meeting her at the train as a favor)…and eventually Gets the Girl. Which is a little sad, actually.

The movie’s “mystery” plot is about a ten-year-old bank robbery (one that suggests Federal Reserve guards are worthless) that yielded $1 million, with the trio of robbers—all immigrants—captured and put away for ten years. Now they’re out and being deported (through Ellis Island, where part of the action takes place), with a deportation process that seems to assume nobody’s ever going to put up a fuss or try to escape. Various shenanigans happen, with hoodlums trying to find out where the money’s hidden, a phony Treasury agent also trying to find the money, the niece of one of the bandits involved, and a moderately clever twist.

Not great, not terrible, but an unsettled blend of semi-mystery, romantic comedy, slapstick comedy and more (there’s a stereotypic farmer-with-shotgun, the “get offa’ my land, you chicken thieves!” type). It does not help that the cheating boyfriend is an incredibly annoying character. I can’t really give it more than $0.75.

Exile Express, 1939, b&w. Otis Garrett (dir.), Anna Sten, Alan Marshal, Jerome Cowan, Walter Catlett. 1:11 [1:09]

Another one that’s part slapstick, part murder mystery (with a spy story and an evil chemical formula thrown in), part romance. And partly seems as though they’re making it up as they go along.

The plot: A beautiful Ukrainian immigrant is a chemist’s assistant, on the eve of getting her citizenship. She’s being courted by a handsome young rogue she doesn’t really love. The chemist has combined a number of specific pesticides to create a super-pesticide that’s sort of a permanent Round-Up: It not only kills all the pests and all the crops, it makes the land useless for years to come. He plans to turn it over to the Feds…and when a spy shoots him, he manages to spill acid on the formula before he dies. (The assistant, having been approached by a spy from her homeland, calls him and warns him—and as he’s about to put the formula in his safe, he gets shot.)

The cops assume that the woman had something to do with it and send her off for deportation after she’s acquitted (I guess—it’s just a bunch of headlines). Since she’s in San Francisco and you can only deport people from Ellis Island, she’s put on the “exile express,” a four-day train ride, along with a tax evader/big-shot criminal who’s happy enough to be going home. And a dashing young reporter who’s looking for some story, although it’s not quite clear what. Oh, there’s also a bedraggled Bolshevik; after anybody talks to him, they start scratching themselves.

Anyhoo…the young rogue sees to it that she escapes from the train with the story that she’ll get married to some American chump, go across the border to Canada, then come back as the wife of a citizen—but, of course, the young rogue’s really the spy’s boss. Without going into the rest of the plot, let’s just say that she winds up happily (I guess) married to the reporter.

All a little helter-skelter. OK, it’s a mess. The print’s mixed, but the sound’s worse: It fades in and out, possibly due to some automatic attempt to reduce background noise (it’s dead silent except when there’s dialog or sound effects, at which point there’s lots of background noise—and sometimes the fade-in misses a line of dialog). I suspect this kind of mixed-genre short movie was enormously popular at one point, but it’s hard to make work well. $0.75.

Hollywood Stadium Mystery, 1938, b&w. David Howard (dir.), Neil Hamilton, Evelyn Venable, Jimmy Wallington, Barbara Pepper, Lucien Littlefield, Lynne Roberts, Smiley Burnette.

Based on the description, I was expecting another variation on the “Who in this big crowd pulled the trigger?” theme—but this nonstop flick isn’t quite that. There’s a murder in the first two minutes, but that’s not the crime. We have a beautiful female mystery writer and a handsome male DA who meet cute, are immediately antagonistic to one another, and of course are going to wind up married by the end of the movie. We have a couple of actual murders—one of them the challenger to a boxing title, murdered in a way that involves an odd scent. We have a comedian playing himself, doing a little act to distract people being held for questioning. We have a murderer who seems like an unlikely candidate. There’s humor, some misdirection, and generally almost too much plot for a short film. All in all, fun and well done. Based on the sleeve’s “66 minute” timing, the movie’s missing 13 minutes. In any case, I’ll give it $1.00.

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