Friday, December 21, 2007


This B-thriller from Columbia is the first of three films based on a popular radio show from the 40's, also called I Love a Mystery. The show was about three war buddies who run a detective agency in Hollywood, and the stories, according to Thrilling, often delved into Indiana Jones-adventure territory. The films, however, are more like traditional detective tales which involve some bizarre story elements verging on the supernatural (but always explained away by the end), and there are only two detectives, Jack Packard, the more traditional heroic private eye (Jim Bannon), and Doc Long, a drawling Southerner (Barton Yarborough--imagine a slightly less whimsical Kay Kyser).

This one begins with headlines telling about the decapitation, in a car accident, of rich man Jefferson Monk (George Macready). In a flashback, we see Monk get into an altercation at the Silver Samovar, the restaurant which Jack and Doc call their home base. He's being followed by a creepy man with a steel leg, carrying a valise big enough, as Monk puts it, for his head. Monk hires our heroes for protection, and we learn that he is on the run from an ancient secret society that has offered him thousands of dollars for his head; he's apparently a dead ringer for the preserved but deteriorating corpse of the group's founder and they want to replace the corpse's rotting head with his. The living leader of the group, known only as Mr. G, predicts that Monk has one year to live. Understandably, Monk doesn't want to part with his head and doesn't believe G's prediction, but later G predicts that Monk's wife (Nina Foch) will wind up paralyzed, and by gosh, she does. At any rate, Jack and Doc take the case and there are some wild plot twists (some predictable, some not) before the ending. This film has a crammed-full, convoluted plot, but it's handled well enough that it never becomes seriously hard to follow. I can see why the two leads never really made it out of B-movies--they're both awfully wooden--but they don't ruin the movie (and Foch and Macready are both very good). It's quite atmospheric and enjoyable. I'll report on the other two films in the series tomorrow. [TCM]

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