Friday, September 09, 2016


It's a busy night at Chandler Undertaking Parlors. McNaughton, a hot shot political figure, is dead. He supposedly died in a car accident, horribly mutilated, but undertaker Joseph Chandler and a couple of cronies are trying to hide the real cause of death (a murder involving unsavory underworld figures). Young assistant Tommy is supposed to prep the body, but he's a bit skittish about it, so he heads out for a drink first. Meanwhile, Dr. Ray Everette, who has a lab in the morgue, is about to elope with Ruth Daniels against the wishes of her father. Mr. Daniels arrives at the lab, unseen, to have it out with Evertette. We see them in silhouette behind a door arguing. Next thing we know, Ray and Ruth have ducked out to get married, and two passersby find a dead body in the alley and carry it in to the undertaker's. When Tommy gets back, all alone in the morgue, the recently arrived body, assumed to be Mr. Daniels, rises up under the sheet and sends poor Tommy racing out of the room. Next morning, someone is buried in McNaughton's coffin, but Chandler isn't sure who. As a topper, a befuddled but amiable amnesiac shows up thinking he knows something about the various events of the night before. They manage to track him down to a boarding house where he was befriended by the scatterbrained landlady Sybil—who nicknamed him Snookie. So Sybil, Snookie, and Detective Brubacher work together (not always comfortably) to figure out who's dead and who's not.

There is promise here; the first 20 minutes or so (out of about 65) are amusing and atmospheric—though a lack of background music hurts. Unfortunately, once the narrative focuses on Sybil and the cop, the proceedings slow down and become distinctly blander. Zasu Pitts (Sybil) is an acquired taste—I can take her ditsy persona best in smaller doses, but she's a little too front and center here for me. Eugene Pallette (the cop) is similarly best when used sparingly (Friar Tuck in the Errol Flynn ROBIN HOOD, the patriarch in MY MAN GODFREY), but he's a little less blustery here than he could be. I enjoyed Lucien Littlefield as Snooki, Theodore von Eltz as Ray, and Harold Waldridge as Tommy (the latter two pictured above), and part of me wishes the plot could have been carried through without bringing Pitts and Pallette into it at all. The plot machinations do get a bit complicated, and every five minutes or so, the plot gets summarized, and re-summarized, in newspaper headlines—which makes me wonder why one of the main characters wasn't a reporter. The timing and pace are a little off, which I blame on the direction by Bruce Humberstone, who knocked out some 30 B-movies between 1932 and 1950. His career peaks were probably the handful of Charlie Chan titles he did in the 30s and some 50s-era Tarzan films. If you don't mind the antics of Pitts and Pallette, or the slack Poverty Row production values, this might be up your alley. [Streaming] 

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