Friday, October 09, 2015


Late one night, Officer Murphy nabs Everett Digberry (Byron Foulger) as he climbs over a wall and out of a cemetery. Digberry, a middle-aged milquetoast guy with a wife and five daughters (this fact is what passes for a running gag in this movie), says he's been blackmailed by someone calling himself The Panther (whose notes are signed with a inked paw) and was following instructions to place $1000 on his Aunt Kate's grave. When police commissioner Thatcher Colt (Sidney Blackmer) investigates, he discovers that several people, all associated with the Gotham Opera Company, for which Digberry is a wigmaker, have gotten the same notes, including opera diva Nina Politza and singer Enrico Lombardi, also known as the "Mad Baritone." Soon, the mystery of the Panther is solved: Digberry sent out the letters to cover up a loan he made to Nina, who is nearly penniless. But when Nina is found dead, wearing a gray wig made by Wilkins, one of Digberry's rivals, Colt and his assistant Tony Abbot find themselves in the middle of a murder case. All signs point to Digberry, but who is the mysterious man named Galloway who people know but never see?

Thatcher Colt was a pulp fiction detective created by Anthony Abbot (in an apparent inside joke, that's the name of Colt’s assistant in the movie), but as played by Blackmer, he seems to have absolutely nothing unique or interesting about him—no goofy character trait, no personality facet, no physical or cultural markers to make him stand out. I like Blackmer but he's so passive and soft-spoken here that he practically vanishes even as he's talking. Rick Vallin as Abbot is handsome and slightly peppier, but the real star of the show is Foulger as Digberry. His personality is similarly drab (on purpose) but at least his situation is moderately interesting and he gets far more screen time than Colt. Also adding some spice (albeit possibly unwanted) is African-American actor Billy Mitchell who plays an elevator operator in the demeaning manner that was the norm for black characters of that era. The film begins well, but once the fake blackmail plot is out of the way, the mystery becomes convoluted—the culprit is a minor character who was barely on my radar. There are some pleasures to be had here, most involving Foulger's character, but this forgotten B-movie doesn't really need rediscovery. Pictured above, from left, are Blackmer, Vallin, and Foulger. [YouTube]

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