Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Mr. Abbot files a missing persons report about his Aunt Martha (Henrietta Crosman) who disappeared just before she was supposed to finalize the sale of her house, which she was being forced into by her nephew. Meanwhile, we see Martha sitting on a park bench with her few belongings, wondering where to spend the night when she winds up befriending Tommy, a young man (Richard Cromwell) who is looking for a lost puppy. Actually, Tommy is the junior member of a trio of thieves led by Gordon (Arthur Hohl), owner of an antique shop. Tommy works at Gordon's store as a cover, and reluctantly takes Martha to the shop so she can spend the night in the room in the back. When the cops come nosing around, Gordon sees that the presence of a granny-figure defuses suspicion, so he hires her as a housekeeper. Soon, Martha realizes that Tommy is caught up in criminal behavior—she even supplies him with an alibi when the cops arrive in the middle of the night chasing the thieves—and she tries, with the help of Judy, a young woman who lives nearby and who is sweet on Tommy, to get him to quit the gang. He slowly softens toward Martha, but decides he needs to participate in one last job, and of course, things go wrong and Martha herself winds up taking the rap for the jewel robbery. Will Tommy step up and be a man?

This is an example of a genre I call the Grandma movie; seemingly quite popular in the 30s, the main character was, if not an actual grandmother, then a kindly older woman—aunt, maid, spinster—who was able to fix family problems or solve crimes or play matchmaker (which reminds me that sometimes it was a male character, as in a number of mid-30s movies with George Arliss). Actresses such as Louise Dressler, May Robson, Edna May Oliver and Helen Lowell starred in such films—one example is EMMA with Dressler and Richard Cromwell—and they are reminders of a time when older actresses could still have commercial mainstream movies built around them. This one is fairly run-of-the-mill. Crosman is OK as Aunt Martha, though her character is given virtually no backstory except that she's run away from her family, and that makes her less compelling as a lead character. Cromwell (pictured with Crosman) is also OK; he always looks rather petulant which makes it hard to care about him even as we sense that we're supposed to. Arthur Hohl, a character actor who usually hovered in the background, winds up being the most interesting character almost by default. The look of the movie, lots of shadows and some striking lighting, might attract noir fans. As a donut lover, I appreciated a running bit about Crosman making homemade donuts which Cromwell ignores at first until he begins to warm up to the old lady. [TCM]

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