Tuesday, May 01, 2012


Josephine Temple (Charlotte Henry) arrives in New York City to sell a rare and extremely valuable stamp, the Chinese Mandarin, to Dr. Kirk, though others are interested.  Because of publicity, she is briefly the toast of the town and soon young Ellery Queen (Eddie Quillan), son of the respected police inspector, is squiring her about—they meet cute when, because his girlfriend has stood him up, he tosses a bouquet into a crowd and accidentally hits Josephine in the face.  Kirk is using money which belongs to his nieces Martha and Irene, to whom he is legal guardian; he sees the purchase as a good investment but they're not happy about it, especially Irene who wants to marry young Donald, a gadabout who seems to be on the verge of hitting it big with a business deal.  While Josephine is on the phone with Ellery, someone sneaks into her hotel room and steals the stamp (which she was keeping, not in a safe or even a drawer, but in her purse!).  Later, at Kirk's place, a dead man is in found in the library, his jacket on backwards and buttoned up, speared against a door in a standing position.  Oddly, the rare stamp features a Chinese man in a backwards coat as well.  When it's discovered that Josephine was present in the room just before the body was discovered, she becomes a suspect, and Ellery and his father are soon on the case.

The Ellery Queen movies of the 30s and 40s are difficult to find.  Most of them, which featured either Ralph Bellamy or William Gargan, were B-films from Columbia and haven’t been released on DVD or licensed by Turner Classic Movies yet.  However, the first two in the series were made at the B-studio Republic and have been circulating as public domain prints on tape and DVD.  THE SPANISH CAPE MYSTERY with Donald Cook wasn't bad, but this one is suffers on at least three counts.  One is Eddie Quillan—he's perfectly acceptable in comic relief supporting parts (LONDON BY NIGHT) but he's too lightweight for leading man material, even in a B-movie, coming off more like a cute little juvenile in an MGM musical rather than a playboy detective.  He also has zero chemistry with Charlotte Henry (pictured above with Quillan), who herself is no great shakes as a leading lady.  Liability #2 is the music.  There are two major musical failings in B-movies: no background music at all, or too much.  Here the problem is too much of what is mostly inappropriate music seemingly chosen at random with no concern for fitting the mood of a scene.  Thirdly, the print is in terrible shape even though it's on a disc (called Great Detectives: Hollywood Classics) released under the auspices of American Movie Classics.  The amusingly dithery Franklin Pangborn makes the most of his two short scenes.  I liked Rita La Roy as Martha, who should have had more to do.  Not a total waste of time, but not one to go out of your way to see.  I hope the Columbia Ellery Queen movies become available soon.  [DVD]

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