Back in April, I did a write-up for Big Town After Dark (1947) as one of the blog’s “Overlooked Films on Tuesdays”—After Dark being the third film in a B-picture franchise lensed by independent producers William Pine and William C. Thomas (a.k.a. “The Two Dollar Bills”) and released through Paramount. The film series was inspired by the popular radio program Big Town, which originally starred Edward G. Robinson from 1937 to 1942, and resurrected after a season’s hiatus in the fall of 1943 with Edward Pawley in the Eddie G. role.
Big Town Collection—which not only featured the inaugural film but a pair of “lost” episodes of the TV version of Big Town, viewed over CBS and then NBC between 1950 and 1956. (Reruns from the CBS run also aired on the DuMont network from February-Jul 1953 under the title City Assignment.) Since placing that order, Oldies.com has “bundled” Collection with two other DVDs, one with Big Town After Dark and the other Big Town Scandal (1948; though it’s billed by its alternate title, Underworld Scandal). I should have waited to place my order until the bundle became available from Alpha (it was released in May); I could have purchased this set in lieu of that collection of Bela Lugosi silents that featured the terrible Daughter of the Night (1920). (As my Facebook compadre Christopher Snowden remarked: “Ah, the price we pay for free shipping...”)
Since Big Town kicks off the four-movie franchise, it functions as sort of an “origin” tale of how Steve Wilson (Philip Terry) came to assume the managing editorship of The Illustrated Press. Hired by owner Amos Peabody (Charles Arnt) to revive the flagging periodical, Wilson adopts a sensationalistic tone with regards to the Press to boost circulation, taking advantage of such “hot” stories as a shootout at a local theatre (the culprit is a female sharpshooter, played by Veda Ann Borg) and a tragic roller coaster accident at a shoddily-run amusement park. (The amusement park expose is later “spiked” to appease the park’s owner, a major advertiser—things haven’t changed a great deal in seventy years, as you can see.) Wilson constantly finds himself at odds with reporter Lorelei Kilbourne (Hillary Brooke), whose idealism envisions a newspaper that crusades on behalf of the public good; she’s furious at Steve when he kills the amusement park story, in addition to an earlier occasion in which he goes behind her back and assigns a story to fellow reporter Pete Ryan (Robert Lowery) because she’s too close to the folks involved (a woman is found dead in a state senator’s hotel room, and Wilson insists on smearing the victim to sell papers). Finally, a series of “vampire” murders prompts Lorelei and Pete to part ways with the Press when they’re convinced the suspect in the killings (Byron S. Barr) is innocent…and Wilson insists he’s guilty.
|Phillip Reed, Hillary Brooke, and Robert Lowery|
…of MISTER John Dehner (who has a small role as the friend of Wilson’s on the train in the first few minutes of the film) isn’t as pristine as it should be…and why it’s hard to make out at first who this other old-time radio veteran is…
…it’s Will Wright, who has a few lines as a sardonic train employee observing Wilson’s attempts to contact his newspaper. (Future Pink Panther director Blake Edwards also has a bit in this movie as a reporter named “Nixon.”)
|Mark Stevens & Trudy Wroe|
The second show on the Collection DVD is actually the show from the previous week (02/07/55)—“The Sniper.” This one is a good little effort (written and directed by waGGner), in which a cop is brought down by a sniper who apparently went after his target from the roof of The Illustrated Press building…and the clues to the culprit’s identity include a broken pair of sunglasses belonging to a commercial artist. This one is really first-rate because it’s packed to the rafters with TDOY character favorites:
…and Keye Luke as the elevator operator. (You thought I was kidding about the close-ups, didn’t you?) There’s also this bit of hilarity that, admittedly, I’m probably the only person who’d laugh at it—Wilson pokes through an industrialist’s (Chick Chandler) locker at his golf club…
…and seeing the glass, announces it will be of interest to cop Greer. (And that bar of Lux soap will be of major interest to the show’s sponsor.) Lever Brothers continued their radio sponsorship on the TV version (the two shows feature original commercials for Rinso Blue and Good Luck Margarine) with a tag team by AC Spark Plugs (the ads for which feature character veteran Frank Albertson as the Press’ automotive reporter, “Jim Roberts”). The TV Big Town is certainly nothing to race to the DVR to grab and keep, but I found it an amusing way to kill an hour (though the Steve Wilson character seems more like a cop than a managing editor—that was strange).