Saturday, November 12, 2016

Stubs – Destination Murder

Destination Murder (1950) Starring: Joyce MacKenzie, Stanley Clements, Hurd Hatfield. Directed by Edward L. Cahn. Screenplay by Don Martin. Produced by Edward L. Cahn and Maurie M. Suess. Run Time: 72 minutes U.S. Black and White Crime, Film Noir

Destination Murder starts with a very interest plot point. During the intermission at a movie theater, Jackie Wales (Stanley Clements), tells his date he’s going outside to get a smoke, but instead leaves the theater in a car driven by a man named Armitage (Albert Dekker). While they’re driving, Jackie is told to put on his deliveryman outfit.

Arriving at the home of Arthur Mansfield (Franklyn Farnum), Jackie pretends to have a delivery but instead shoots Mansfield as he stands in the doorway. Mansfield’s daughter, Laura (Joyce MacKenzie), who has been away at school, reaches the door just in time to see Jackie jump over the gate, get back in the car and drive away.

Lieutenant Brewster (James Flavin) has Laura look at delivery boys in a line up and while she can’t positively identify anyone, Jackie is one that she feels might have been involved. But without a positive ID, the police have no choice and let everyone, including Jackie, go free. Lt. Brewster offers Laura a ride home, but she insists on taking a cab home.

A line up of delivery boys looking for the killer of Arthur Mansfield.

Outside, Jackie takes notice of her and offers to give her a ride home. She accepts, but is cautious, not letting Jackie immediately know where she lives. Feeling she can trust him, she lets him walk her to her door. He asks if he can see her again and she says yes. Excitedly, Jackie leaps over the gate, just like he had the night before. Laura immediately calls Brewster, but he tells her that’s not enough evidence to make an arrest.

Laura (Joyce MacKenzie) goes out on a date with Jackie (Stanley Clements), her father's killer.

Undeterred, Laura goes out on a date with Jackie, trying to keep her own tabs on the suspect. He takes her to a gambling club where he promptly gets in over his head to the tune of $1500. Looking for quick cash, Jackie drives to the Vogue club, where nightclub manager Stretch Nelson (Hurd Hatfield) tries unsuccessfully to dissuade Jackie from seeing Armitage, who has his office upstairs.

Jackie tries to get more money from Armitage to pay off his gambling debts.

Inside Armitage’s office is Alice Wentworth (Myrna Dell), a blonde that Armitage is in love with. When Jackie asks for more money to cover his gambling debt, Armitage, who refers to himself in the third person, asks for music. Stretch starts the player piano. Armitage then beats the young boy and has Stretch throw him out of the club.

Laura, who has been waiting in the car, takes Jackie home but returns the next day. Wanting to learn more, she asks for a job as the club’s cigarette girl, using the name Laura Ashton. Stretch, reluctant at first, agrees to take her on. Alice, who has a thing for Stretch, is obviously jealous and makes a play for Stretch, which he rejects.
Stretch suggests to Armitage that they kill Jackie and make it look like he is an accomplice of Frank Niles (John Dehner), a business rival of Mansfield, whom the police have put in jail for the crime.

Laura gets a job as a cigarette girl at the nightclub.

But before that plan can happen, Alice goes to Jackie and makes him a proposition. She tells him to write a letter confessing to the murder and to use that to blackmail more money from Armitage. She’ll hold the letter for safekeeping for a split of the cash. The night Jackie returns to the club, Laura is there selling and avoids Jackie seeing her face. The blackmail plan works and the two split $5000 with an eye to milk Armitage again and again.

Alice (Myrna Dell) pitches to Jackie the idea of blackmailing Armitage.

Stretch suggests that Armitage use Alice’s charms to get the letter back from Jackie. Later, Alice sees Jackie with Laura and when Jackie tells her that he’s dating the victim’s daughter, Alice realizes what’s going on. She takes the letter to Stretch at his apartment and tells him of the blackmail plot, offering to cut Stretch in on the deal. But unbeknownst to her, Armitage is in the next room and overhears everything. Alice is killed there in the office, with a player piano once again covering up the noise. (Did they move the one from Armitage’s office for the occasion?) While Armitage is murdering Alice, Stretch pretends to burn the confession, hiding the real letter under a couch cushion. Stretch tells Armitage to get rid of Alice’s body.

Alice offers to let Stretch (Hurd Hatfield) in on the blackmail scheme.

Later, Lt. Brewster informs Laura that Jackie has been found dead in an apparent suicide. He tells her that they have their own suspicions about Armitage’s involvement and he, once again, tries to dissuade her from her own investigation.

But Laura starts to date Stretch, hoping to get closer to Armitage. When Armitage makes a play for Laura, Stretch reveals himself to be the real boss of the operations. He wants Armitage to learn his place and also sees a way of implicating Armitage for the murder of Laura’s father. Laura falls in love with Stretch and after he proposes marriage, she confesses everything to him and asks his help in bringing Armitage to justice.

Armitage (Albert Dekker) makes a play for Laura.

Stretch writes his own version of Jackie’s confession, but implicating Armitage and tricks Armitage into meeting him, under the guise of giving him ownership of the Vogue. While Laura waits in the other room, Stretch drugs Armitage and puts a gun in his hand, which he fires. When Laura hears the gun shot, she picks up the gun Stretch has left for her and goes into the office. Stretch acts like he’s in danger and Laura shoots Armitage dead to protect him.

While Armitage’s murder has been ruled self-defense, Brewster tells her that the police suspect Stretch is involved with her father’s murder. Niles, who has been in jail for his own protection, is sent by Brewster to tell Stretch that he’s taking over Armitage’s territory for himself. Stretch tells him that he’s the real boss and offers to become Niles' partner, not knowing the police have planted listening devices and are recording everything.

Laura is sent into the office and informs Stretch that everything is being recorded. Stretch grabs for Niles’ gun and tries to take Laura hostage, but he is quickly gunned down by the police.

With the case finally wrapped up, Laura apologizes to Brewster for interfering with the police’s investigation. He commends her for her courage, but this time when she plans to take a cab home, he insists that a squad car take her.

Destination Murder was shot during the month of December 1949 by Prominent Pictures at the Motion Pictures Center Studios, one of the first homes of Metro Pictures and now the home of Red Studios Hollywood. RKO acquired the film from Prominent and released it on June 6, 1950. The film did not receive rave reviews, the premise was called “ridiculous and plot confused” by Herb Rau of The Miami News.

Now a little confusion can be a good thing with a film noir and while I agree that the premise is a little hard to believe (you know a film is in trouble when you have to use unbeknownst or a similar word more than once to describe the story), it is not the plot that bothers me so much as the wooden acting by pretty much everyone involved, especially Hurd Hatfield, an actor who had already found fame as the lead character in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), only his second film in Hollywood.

Joyce MacKenzie is perhaps best remembered as Jane in the Tarzan series of films starring Lex Baxter. Judging by her performance here, perhaps the monkeys were carrying her. Stanley Clements, who’s career was interrupted by service during World War II, never really made it big in Hollywood. After this film, he would end up replacing Leo Gorcey as Huntz Hall’s sidekick in The Bowery Boys series, appearing in eight films from 1956 to 1958.

Myrna Dell would start her film career as a dancer in A Night at Earl Carroll’s (1940), but her status as starlet was as far as she would go. By comparison with the others in the cast, her performance, along with John Dehner’s as Frank Niles, seems lively.

Armitage, played by Albert Dekker, is a memorable character, but for all the wrong reasons. His referring to himself in the third-person seems unmotivated and gets tiresome pretty fast. And James Flavin as Lt. Brewster never seems quite right, even though I think I’ve seen him in similar roles before I saw this film.

While the title intrigued me, I never really got into the film as much as I wanted to. The plot and the acting just don’t seem up to par, even for an obvious “B” picture. Destination Murder is thin, to say the least, and not one I would recommend.

Be sure to check out our Film Noir Review Hub for reviews of other films in this genre.

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