Sunday, December 14, 2008

(Crime) Doctor in the house

TCM’s Saturday morning salute to Columbia’s Crime Doctor series continued yesterday morning with a curious skipping-over of Shadows in the Night (1944; the third film in the series, and one of the best) onto entry #4, The Crime Doctor’s Courage (1945). I have mixed feelings about this one, in part because while it has one of the strongest casts in the series the movie’s plot takes a turn into Carlton E. Morse/Scooby-Doo territory… supernatural overtones that are easily explained away at the conclusion.

A young man named Gordon Carson (Stephen Crane) is having a string of bad luck in the marriage department; his first wife was killed in a freak swimming accident, and the beginning of Courage shows him quarreling with Wife No. 2 when she loses her footing and tumbles off a mountain cliff. Carson is found to be not negligent in this accident as well—though the brother (played by serial hero Dennis Moore) of his first wife continues to pressure the investigator of the case that Carson’s responsible. “I’m not looking for vengeance,” he says, “I believe he’s insane!” Apparently the third Mrs. Carson (Hillary Brooke) is of the same mind; she tracks down our hero Dr. Ordway (Warner Baxter)—who’s vacationing at a pleasure resort, and is an old friend of hers—and invites him to a dinner party to be held later that evening. Ordway meets a curious cast of characters, including author Jeffers “Jeff” Jerome (Jerome Cowan, previously seen in Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case) and a brother-and-sister dancing-acrobatic team, Miguel (Anthony Casino) and Delores Bragga (Lupita Tovar). The dinner party ends on a bummer when Carson is found dead in his locked study…apparently the victim of a successful suicide attempt. (While waiting for the cops to arrive, Ordway goes poking around the corpse, handling the murder weapon and such. When Jerome admonishes him about contaminating the crime scene, Ordway responds: “Nobody but authors bothers about fingerprints any more.”)

Most of Courage’s plot revolves around the Braggas; as the film progresses numerous attempts are made to convince the audience that they are not of this world and may possibly be vampires because, as several characters note, “they are never seen in the daytime.” Their act—described by Cowan’s character as “a haunting experience”—is performed in a nightclub called The Friar’s Glen—a place so snazzy Jerome and Ordway order up some of their fine cuisine…two club sandwiches and two bottles of beer. (“Bring the beer right away,” Ordway tells the waiter.) Introducing the Bragga act is a surprise appearance from announcer Ken Carpenter—who I’m guessing was only there because the Kraft Music Hall was closed that night. After they perform their dance (more boring than “haunting,”—though Delores does vanish in mid-air halfway), Carpenter comes back out to tell us:

I’m sure you’re all wondering what Mr. Bragga did with his partner. Perhaps you think it was a trick performed with mirrors. It wasn’t—they’re superstitious about mirrors. The truth is the Braggas have the power to make themselves invisible.

One person applauds after Carpenter makes this statement—so either the audience is jaded or drunk. (Maybe Ken would have received a bigger hand if he brought out Bob Burns and his bazooka.) Apart from the supernatural stuff (which turns out not to be as such), Courage is a fairly okay entry in the series, and also features Emory Parnell (as the detective investigating the case), Lloyd Corrigan, Mark Roberts, Charles Arnt and Jack Carrington.

In Crime Doctor’s Warning (1945), an aspiring young painter (Coulter Irwin) calls upon Ordway for help when he begins to experience a series of blackouts, emerging from these episodes with no memory of what he’s done. Not uncoincidentally, several artists’ models end up murdered during these periods of time—which makes our poor suffering would-be artist Suspect Numero Uno. Warning’s a better-than-average Crime Doctor vehicle—directed by future schlockmeister William Castle—and is notable for the number of character actors who appear in the movie but for some reason received no credit…including character actors Eduardo “Dr. Satan” Ciannelli (as a colorful male model) and Alma Kruger (as Irwin’s suffocating mother). John Litel is the cop who partners up with Ordway (you’ll no doubt remember he played the bad guy in the first Crime Doctor feature), Miles Mander plays an art dealer, and TV fixture John Abbott an artist who sells silhouettes for a living.

Next Sunday: my favorite of the Crime Doctor movies, Crime Doctor’s Manhunt (1946) and Just Before Dawn (1946).

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