Thursday, April 12, 2007


Last year, I reviewed two movies in the Boston Blackie series. These mysteries were done on the cheap and it shows, but I generally enjoy actor Chester Morris and the light touch he brings to the character, so I was pleased to see a batch of Blackies show up on TCM recently. MEET is the first in the series (not counting a handful of silents which seem to be lost). Morris, on a passenger ship returning to the U.S., saves Constance Worth from molestation by Nestor Paiva. When the ship docks and Paiva is found dead, Morris, already under suspicion by inspector Richard Lane for selling stolen jewels overseas, is now under suspicion for murder. Morris and his sidekick The Runt (Charles Wagenheim) follow Worth to Coney Island where she's killed in the Tunnel of Love by a supposed mechanical man. Morris gets away from the scene when he hops a ride with innocent bystander Rochelle Hudson, and she helps him clear his name (despite Lane's insistence to Morris that he's "gonna sizzle like a squab in a pan!") and expose a spy ring at the park. The proceedings remain lively, though the climax is too short--I guess when they got close to an hour, the bosses at Columbia just said, "Cut!" There are a couple of fun running gags, one of which has Morris leaving messages for Lane written in soap on mirrors (nicely counterpointed at the end when Lane leaves one for Morris on his windshield). I like that it's implied that Morris is indeed guilty of the jewel robbery but that Lane lets it slide. Schlitze (real name, Simon Metz), one of the "pinheads" from FREAKS, can be seen here in a freak show scene. One problem with the low budget is that Morris lives in the most under-designed and under-decorated penthouse ever.

By ALIAS, the third in the series, underrated character actor George E. Stone had taken over as The Runt, a happy occurrence, and he appears in most of the rest of the films. Looking back on my earlier reviews, I see that I wasn't all that crazy about Stone, but now I have come to appreciate him more and I think he does fine work here. With my weakness for all things Christmas, I was pleased that this film opens with Morris and Stone decorating a Christmas tree. That's about it for any real holiday spirit, however, as the two head off to take part in a volunteer vaudeville show at the local prison where Morris does a magic act (magic was a real-life interest of the actor). Afterwards, one prisoner (Larry Parks), who claims to have been framed, dresses up as a clown and escapes with the troupe, and to show the Inspector (Lane again) that he wasn't in on it, Morris has to track him down. Of course, Parks has a sister (Adele Mara) who gets Morris to help prove Parks' innocence. Lloyd Corrigan as Morris' rich, eccentric friend Arthur is carried over from CONFESSIONS, and Cy Kendall begins the recurring role of Jumbo Madigan, an underworld contact. There's a fairly exciting climax and a Christmas toast at the end.

A couple of years later, Columbia made a stab at expanding the audience for these films by giving them titles without the Boston Blackie name. ONE MYSTERIOUS NIGHT doesn't come anywhere near living up to its title; "Inspector Boston Blackie" would. The famous Blue Star of the Nile diamond disappears in broad daylight from a charity exhibition and the Inspector calls on Morris for help, even deputizing him and giving him a badge, then spreading a cover story in the press that Morris is wanted for the theft. Brassy, nosy reporter Janis Carter becomes a pain in the ass for Morris (and oddly, never becomes a romantic interest until the very last minute of the film). William Wright makes a fine thuggish bad guy. Morris and Stone get to don a few disguises (and Morris wears them very well, especially his "old man" outfit). Mark Roberts plays a hotel manager who is implicated in the crimes and Dorothy Malone (at this point in her career still uncredited) is his sister who tries to get him out of trouble. It's about average for a Boston Blackie entry, but there isn't much "mysterious" about it. Generally, I find these films not quite on a par with the George Sanders Saint films but they're a bit more memorable than some of the other B-thriller series of the era. [TCM]

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