Saturday, November 17, 2001


I was in a Chester Morris mood after PUBLIC HERO #1, so I dug this up. It's a nifty little B-movie, a comedy-thriller with Morris as a mystery novelist trying to crack the case of the Black Ace, a killer who leaves a black ace (duh!) as a calling card to announce his next murder. The next victim takes a ride in a private plane hoping to avoid the announced murder (at seven), but the killer strikes anyway. The rest of the movie takes place in a mansion as the various suspects circle each other warily. The limits of the budget are clear in the minimal sets involved, especially in the latter half. The mystery itself has lots of loopholes, but the atmosphere helps make up for the lack of coherence.

The comedy, in the form of Allen Jenkins and Frank McHugh as a pair of bumbling cops, actually works. Maybe it's just that I've gotten used to these two, having seen them in a number of 30's B-movies recently. This made me think about the evolution of the movie mystery. It seems that in the 30's, most mysteries were largely comic in tone, or at least light--even as late as EYES IN THE NIGHT with Edward Arnold in 1942. At the very least, they almost always had comic relief characters. Even many of Universal's horror films (THE INVISIBLE MAN, the later MUMMY movies) had stretches of comedy. Other crime films, like prison or gangster films, were more serious in tone. Then, with the coming of film noir (THE MALTESE FALCON in 1941 is as good a place to start as any), the light mystery begins to disappear. Certainly some noirs have light moments (FALCON, THE DARK CORNER) but nothing is played for slapsticky laughs. Comedy pretty much vanished from the movie mystery until the Agatha Christie adaptations began in the 60's. Since I'm more used to serious mysteries, it was hard to get used to the comic elements of TOMORROW AT SEVEN. Ultimately, it was an enjoyable diversion.

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