Friday, December 23, 2016

Forgotten Noir Fridays: The Case of the Baby Sitter (1947)

In 1947, movie mogul Robert L. Lippert decided to “liberate” Hal Roach’s “streamliner” concept—very short features running anywhere from 40-50 minutes—by producing a pair of detective films starring Tom Neal, the doomed protagonist of the B-noir classic Detour (1945).  Neal played would-be gumshoe Russ Ashton, who takes over an investigative agency that’s down on its uppers, hiring Howard “Harvard” Quinlan (Allen Jenkins) as his partner (though “Harvard” seems to be around mostly for sh*ts and giggles) and Susie Hart (Pamela Blake) as his gal Friday.  Susie is the focus of the first entry, The Hat Box Mystery (1947), in which she’s hired to take a candid of a philandering wife…and winds up involved in murderHat Box also introduced Harvard’s girlfriend, Veronica Hoopler (Virginia Sale), who runs a nearby diner and feeds our sleuthing trio until they can make their bidness a resounding success.

The quartet returned that same year in The Case of the Baby Sitter, which finds Ashton and Company hired to look after the infant scion of the Duke and Duchess of Leradia (George Meeker, Rebel Randall) while the royals attend a function.  The task of keeping an eye on the nipper falls on the dimwitted Harvard…but what our detective heroes do not know is that a) there is no such place as Leradia, and b) the Duke and Mrs. Duke are actually a pair of jewel thieves, Phil and Mamie.  They’ve pulled a double-cross on a safecracker named Silk (Keith Richards—and no, not the Rolling Stones guy) in a heist involving the famous LaPaz diamond…and now Silk, with the help of his moll Maxine (Lona Andre), is going to retrieve the stolen gem while double-crossing his boss”—a gangster appropriately nicknamed “Diamonds” (Ed Kane).

This kid gets his own credit, by the way.  I wish I had his agent.

“Murder Stalked the Nursery...With Diamonds as the Pay-Off!” the promotional material for The Case of the Baby Sitter hyperbolizes, because there isn’t any murderer…and even the (always reliable) IMDb credits the child thespian pictured above as “The Kidnapped Baby”—the little rugrat never leaves his freakin’ crib, ferchrissake.  There isn’t any time in Baby Sitter for this kind of interesting plot development, because most of its 40 minutes has been assigned to the comic relief provided by Jenkins, who is apparently in this vehicle only because Sid Melton had not yet been invented.  The rounding up of the jewel scofflaws is very quick—it’s almost like the filmmakers looked at their watches and remarked: “Geez, this thing is about over…we need to wrap this up pronto.”

My esteemed ClassicFlix colleague—and the man who makes doubly certain the boxes of Goobers and Raisinettes are stacked neat and pretty at In the Balcony—Cliff Weimer has a slightly higher opinion of The Case of the Baby Sitter than I do…though having Allen around is always a plus (he gets more screen time than “star” Tom Neal, interestingly enough) as is the small contribution of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear fave Tom Kennedy as a dumb cop (there’s a stretch) and easy-on-the-eyes Rebel Randall as one of the baddies.  (Kennedy was also present and accounted for in The Hat Box Mystery—though I don’t know if he played the same character he did in Baby Sitter; I haven’t seen Hat Box yet.)  The mercifully short running time of this movie is its chief saving grace, because the script is pedestrian and the production values slightly above that of a set for a dinner theater production.  (Cliff wonders if these two films were planned as episodes for early television…though I tend to agree with him that since they were produced in 1947 that seems awfully early for TV.)

The Case of the Baby Sitter is the second “co-hit” on VCI’s Forgotten Noir Volume 9 set…and at the risk of going off on a rant, there’s nothing remotely “noir” about this entry (though its “Forgotten” status is never without question).  The debate about what constitutes “film noir” rages on in salons and saloons even today; my definition is not unlike that of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s explanation on what defines pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

But with Baby Sitter, that’s the last of the Forgotten Noir releases from the dusty TDOY archives—this feature will continue on Fridays for a couple more months (because I rented some of the later volumes from ClassicFlix), and when I’m done with that—I’ll re-launch the snarky Crime Does Not Pay write-ups that I did previously on an intermittent basis.  If I’m absent from the blog for a couple of days next week, it’s because I will probably be performing in the annual Christmas with the ‘Rents here at Rancho Yesteryear (with special guest stars Sisters Kat and Debbie) …but I’ll try to check in to make sure those dang neighborhood kids haven’t swiped the wreath off the front door.  Happy Holidays, cartooners!

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