By Philip Schweier
Too much time on my hands means that I’ve been frittering it away indulging in Netflix. There, thanks to the science of the Interweb we get to use one of mankind’s greatest technological accomplishments to enjoy second-rate movies that are close to 70 years old. Never mind all that James Cameron digital special effects stuff; just gimme a good old-fashioned murder mystery made on a shoestring budget.
The Adventures of Kitty O’Day (1945) features Jean Parker in the title role, a switchboard operator at the Townley Hotel. A fan of detective stories, she “suspicious characters” with every other guest until she overhears Williams, the owner of the hotel, getting gunned down over the phone. With her hapless boyfriend Johnny (Peter Cookson), she is thrilled to investigate, until she finds Williams’ body sitting in her apartment in the hotel.
Kitty and Johnny are jailed by the cops, led by Inspector Clancy. Clancy is played by Tim Ryan, in the same kind of cop role he played in previous Monogram B pictures such as Fashion Model and The Mystery of the 13th Guest. Convenient, since Ryan is credited with the screenplays of all three films, and many others.
Clancy calls all the potential suspects together for a grilling, where Mrs. Williams (Lorna Gray) claims her husband is in
. With no corpus delecti to prove otherwise, Clancy lets them all go, but not before and Kitty insinuates Mrs. Williams has been carrying on with fellow employee Nick Joel (Hugh Prosser). Chicago
Kitty’s instincts tell her to look into another employee, the effete Roberts (Byron Foulger), but upon entering his apartment, they find the body of Harris (Bill Ruhl), a hotel guest revealed to be an insurance investigator looking into the hotel’s recent jewel thefts. But more dead bodies follow, and a wacky chase throughout the hotel. On the dodge from the law, Kitty discovers not only Williams’ body, but the murderer himself.
The movie plays as more of a comedy, without much mystery. The solution is revealed by accident, and the culprit is of course the least likely suspect.
The Living Ghost (1942) involves the disappearance of local financier Walter Craig, so the family calls in Nick Trayne (James Dunn) to investigate. Trayne, a former investigator for the DA’s office, has taken up practice as a pseudo-swami/professional listener, Craig’s secretary, Billie Hilton (Joan Woodbury) convinces him to come out of retirement.
While visiting the home, Train’s experience with handling eccentrics makes him well-suited to dealing with the dysfunctional family. That night, Craig (Gus Glassmire) reappears, seemingly in a catatonic state. Arthur Wallace (Howard Banks), Craig’s would-be son-in-law, becomes suspect #1 when another body turns up and circumstantial evidence points his way.
That theory falls apart when Craig attacks Trayne with a knife. He and Billie follow the clues to an abandoned house, looking for the man whom they believe induced Craig’s catatonic state. This leads to their coming up with a means of exposing the murderer.
This movie is a little more inventive than most, while presenting many of the tropes of murder mysteries: spooky butlers, clandestine meetings, footprints in the garden, all presented efficiently under the hand of director William “One-Take” Beaudine, so nicknamed for his prolific output. He learned his trade in the earliest days of the film industry when movies were churned out like sausages. He built a reputation for making the being the go-to guy for making a movie quick and cheap.
In A Tragedy at Midnight (1942) John Howard plays amateur sleuth Greg Sherman, trying hard to channel his inner William Powell. One morning, after the missus (Margaret Lindsay) is out for the evening, he finds a corpse in his wife’s bed. Actually, it the bed of a neighbor; the
are staying in the apartment while theirs is being painted, and the owners are on vacation. Shermans
On the lam, Mr. and Mrs. Sherman attempt to suss out the identity of the dead woman, who actually has two identities. The trail leads to boyfriends, gangsters and other disreputable characters before returning to the radio studio for a live, on-the-air reveal of the killer, aided by their Chinese valet, Foo (Keye Luke).
With more development, the story could have become a respectable rip-off of the Thin Man movies. It has serial-style slug-fests and a few witty moments, but overall, the story is too condensed to be anything other than a dull, confusing mess.
The Fatal Witness (1945) stars Evelyn Ankers as Priscilla Ames, who is visiting her aunt’s home near
, when the elderly lady accuses her wastrel nephew John (George Leigh) of theft. He storms out, and after a night of drinking, ends up in the local hoosegow. But for the elderly aunt it’s even worse; she ends up dead. Naturally, all eyes turn to him, despite his ironclad alibi. It up to Inspector William Trent (Richard Fraser) to crack John’s alibi London