By Philip Schweier
Recently, thanks to the kind folks at Netflix and someone known only as “Public Domain,” I had the opportunity to sit and stare at a few films that in their heyday were clearly the B film prior to something better… like maybe SOS Titanic. Here’s a rundown of what I witnessed:
Homicide for Three (1948): I don’t know how I managed it, but practically from the get-go I had the solution sussed out. In this film, Navy Lt. Peter Duluth (Warren Douglas) has a 36-hour pass in which to enjoy his wedding night, one year late. Instead of matrimonial bliss, he instead spends his time dodging murder charges as bodies start to pile up and he becomes the hottest thing to hit the
area since 1849. San Francisco
Aside from its predictability (which you may or may not notice; your mileage may vary), it real charm is its co-star Audrey Long as the lieutenant’s bride. She has a charm that urges the restless young bridegroom further and further into the mystery, continuing to put their wedding night on hold.
Exposed (1947): What starts out as an interesting little mystery quickly spirals downward as the resolution evaporates into thin air. The only original thought in the whole film is that it features Adele Mara as Belinda Prentice, a wise-cracking and more-than-competent private eye who is sucked into what later becomes a mystery surrounding the murder of a local industrialist.
Both films were directed by George Blair, who at the time was honing his craft in the short form. After cutting his teeth on B movies of the 1940s, he made the jump to directing episodic television, with such shows as The Adventures of Superman and Lassie.
When the partner of Inspector Harris (Lloyd Corrigan) of Scotland Yard falls victim to Rawlings, Harris begins to suspect the man. His investigation reveals Rawlings to be a murderous doctor who disappeared 18 years earlier. Rawlings’ defense is rather original, yet to the point of being preposterous, turning what promised to be an entertaining thriller into a complete and utter waste of 53 minutes of film.
Mystery (1935) is a murder thriller featuring the “play fair” sleuth Ellery Queen. Created by cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee, Queen is noted for providing the audience with all the clues necessary to solve the crime, rather than withholding vital information to which only the fictional detective may be privy, thus making Nick Charles or Hercule Poirot’s powers of deduction seem all the more remarkable. Spanish Cape
Queen (Donald Cook) and his pal Judge Macklin (Berton Churchill) are visiting
where they discover Stella Godfrey (Helen Twelvetrees; oddly enough, she receives top-billing) tied up in their rental cottage. It seems she was kidnapped the night before from her family home nearby, and her cousin is later found dead under mysterious circumstances. Some of the other family members at the Godfrey estate are meeting in an attempt to break an elderly aunt’s will. California
When two more murders occur, the vacationing Ellery Queen is disinterested in solving the murder, and his lack of enthusiasm is infectious, making the whole story one dull affair. It’s only when Stella is framed for yet another murder that Ellery takes an interest, because he’s spent 80 percent of the film schmoozing up to the young heiress. The solution to the crimes is predictable, so I wouldn’t recommend the movie to anyone but the most diehard of mystery fans.