Saturday, July 15, 2017

Stubs - One Mysterious Night

One Mysterious Night (1944) Starring: Chester Morris, Janis Carter, William Wright, Richard Lane, George E. Stone, Robert Williams, Robert E. Scott, Dorothy Malone (aka Dorothy Maloney). Directed by Oscar Boetticher Jr. Screenplay by Paul Yawitz Based on the character created by Jack Boyle. Produced by Ted Richmond. Run Time: 62 minutes. USA Drama, Mystery

Boston Blackie is the brainchild of Jack Boyle. A former newspaper reporter, Boyle became an opium addict and was later jailed for writing bad checks before being convicted of robbery. While spending time in San Quentin, Boyle created the character of Blackie, a jewel thief and safecracker. Under the nom de plume “No. 6066” Boyle published his first story, “The Price of Principle," in The American Magazine in July 1914. Blackie’s adventures would continue in short story form, appearing in such publications as American, The Red Book, The Strand Magazine and Cosmopolitan until December 1920.

Hollywood began making films based on the character in 1918 with Boston Blackie's Little Pal starring Bert Lytell. Some of the films made were based on some of Boyle’s short stories, like The Silk Lined Burglar (1919) based on "Miss Doris, Safe-Cracker," and Blackie's Redemption (1919) based on “Boston Blackie's Mary" and "Fred the Count". A few used the character of Boston Blackie, even if he was not the lead role in the film, such as William S. Hart’s The Poppy Girl's Husband (1919); while Boomerang Bill (1922) doesn’t even have Boston Blackie as a character in it. The last of the early Boston Blackie films was The Return of Boston Blackie (1927). By then, nine different actors had played the character, perhaps the most famous amongst them was 
Lionel Barrymore in A Face in the Fog (1922).

Columbia Pictures revived the character with Meet Boston Blackie (1941), starring Chester Morris in the title role. Like most actors in Hollywood, Morris developed his craft on the stage, appearing on Broadway as far back as the 1918 production Copperhead at the Schubert Theater in New York. By then he had appeared in one film, An Amateur Orphan (1917). Throughout the 1920s, he would appear on both the Broadway stage and in films until Alibi (1929). In his first starring role, Morris was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, losing to Warner Baxter for his role as The Cisco Kid in the film In Old Arizona. Alibi would also receive nominations for Best Picture, losing to The Broadway Melody, and for William Cameron Menzies’ work as Best Interior Design, losing to Cedric Gibbons’ work on The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

Morris was a busy actor in the 1930s, appearing in such film as The Big House (1930) and Red-Headed Woman (1932), but by the mid-decade, his popularity had waned and he was appearing in B-movies like Smashing the Rackets (1938) and Five Came Back (1939).

Playing Boston Blackie revived Morris’ career. From 1941 to 1949, he would appear in fourteen films in the series, after which he virtually retired from films, though he would appear in the 1950s and in The Great White Hope (1970). He concentrated on television work after the series ended, but usually in guest star roles.

One Mysterious Night was the seventh in the series and marks the directorial debut of Oscar “Bud” Boetticher, Jr. Boetticher would be best remembered for the B-Westerns he made with Randolph Scott in the late 1950s, including Seven Men from Now (1956), The Tall T (1957) and Buchanan Rides Alone (1958).

The film was shot over two weeks between May 31 and June 13, 1944, and released on September 19, 1944.

The film opens with the world famous Blue Star of the Nile diamond, on exhibit to help raise funds, being stolen despite a heavy police presence at the Carleton Plaza Hotel. William Wright (Paul Martens) and Robert Williams (Matt Healy) create a disturbance and when it’s cleared up, the diamond is gone.

When pressed, Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane) tells reporters that it is the work of reformed jewel thief Boston Blackie (Chester Morris). Of course, Blackie had nothing to do with it, as he has turned to legitimate business. In fact, it is while he is in a meeting at his friend Arthur Manleder's (Harrison Greene) tool factory that his sidekick, The Runt (George E. Stone), shows him the accusatory headline in the paper.

Boston Blackie (Chester Morris) with The Runt (George E
Stone) go to confront Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane).

Blackie goes to the police station to confront Farraday, who apologizes for the rouse but explains that planting the story was the only way to get Blackie to come to his office. Farraday needs Blackie’s help and deputizes him to recover the stolen diamond. Blackie agrees as long as he can go about it his way.

Blackie returns to the scene of the crime disguised as Professor Hunter.

In disguise as an elderly Professor Hunter, Blackie visits the jewel exhibit firsthand. Feeling around, he discovers a wad of chewing gum stuck underneath one of the display cases. When he learns that George Daley (Robert E. Scott), the hotel’s general manager, is in charge of the exhibit. He first calls Daley’s office and his sister Eileen (Dorothy Maloney), who also works at the hotel as a phone operator, answers the call. She’s been suspicious since unknown men have been calling her brother. She doesn’t know where her brother is, but tells Blackie that he can wait for him in his office. She then intercepts him in the office and, seeing that he’s an older man, feels comfortable leaving him alone in her brother’s office.

Reporter Dorothy Anderson (Janis Carter) turns in Blackie to the police.

Unbeknownst to her, Blackie has already been searching the office and finds a pack of chewing gum in Daley’s desk. When he later goes downstairs to the hotel’s newsstand to ask about Daley’s gum chewing, the woman behind the counter (Ann Loos) tells him that Daley chews a lot of gum. While he’s standing there, a reporter, Dorothy Anderson (Janis Carter), sees through Blackie’s disguises and turns him into the police.

Blackie is questioned by reporters after being arrested.

Back at headquarters, after being questioned by the press, Blackie tells Farraday he’ll have to tell the press that Blackie escaped and then returns to the hotel. This time, with The Runt’s help, they pose as repairmen from the phone company. When Eileen isn’t there, Blackie convinces one of the operators that she and he are an item to get her address.

Blackie returns again, this time as a telephone company repairman.

Meanwhile, back at the apartment Eileen and George share, George refuses to answer any of her questions and instead goes into her room and through her dresser. In the drawer, he takes out one of her purses. In one of her pockets, he’s hidden the Blue Star.

Blackie convinces one of Eileen's co-workers to give him her address.

Later, when Eileen decides to leave, she switches out her purses, taking the one from the drawer. But before she leaves, Blackie rings the doorbell. Once inside the apartment, he accuses George of being involved in the robbery. George denies it, of course, and Blackie leaves. When he does, Eileen decides to follow him. After she’s gone, George realizes that she’s taken the purse with the diamond in it.

Blackie visits George ( Robert E. Scott) and his sister Eileen (Dorothy Malone) about the robbery.

But Wright and Williams show up at the apartment and demand the gem. When George confesses that Eileen has it with her, they give him until later that night to obtain it.

Eileen, meanwhile, has followed Blackie to a Chinese restaurant. There, he shows her the wads of gum and explains his theory about how her brother stole the diamond and hid it in the room. The Runt informs Blackie that the reporter Dorothy is outside the restaurant. Blackie tells Eileen that he’ll see her later that night and then escapes out the back door.

When Dorothy enters, she almost immediately follows Eileen into the powder room. There, using the rouse that she has something in her eye, Dorothy gets Eileen to help her. And while her attention is taken, Dorothy swaps her black purse for Eileen’s very similar looking black purse. Dorothy’s goal is to discover Eileen's name and address.

Upon Eileen’s return to the apartment, George grabs her purse and is very disappointed to find the diamond missing and that she has the wrong bag. But soon after, Dorothy comes to the door to return Eileen’s purse. Soon after she leaves, Eileen discovers the diamond and insists that George meet Blackie that night to give it back.

Later, when George tries to give it back to Blackie, Williams and Wright show up and demand the diamond at gunpoint. Dorothy, who happens to see the confrontation, goes nearby to use a payphone and call the police. But before they arrive, in the ensuing struggle, George is shot and killed. Wright forces Blackie and The Runt into his car and speeds away.

Based on Dorothy’s eyewitness testimony, Blackie is charged with George’s murder. To ensure that the police continue to believe that, Wright takes Blackie and The Runt prisoner. In an effort to buy some time, Blackie tries to convince them that the diamond is a fake and that the real diamond is locked away in the hotel’s safe.

Wright and Williams decide to have the gem examined by Jumbo Madigan (Joseph Crehan), the owner of a
pawn shop. In order to keep Blackie and The Runt from escaping, they are tied upside down to the bottom of a Murphy bed. When they’re left alone, the two manage to escape their ropes and Blackie telephones Farraday with an update. He directs him to Madigan’s shop.

But Wright and Williams are already there and Madigan is examining it when the bell at the back of the door rings. Blackie acts like a delivery boy to get Madigan outside and then tells him to claim the diamond is fake and stall the robbers until the police can arrive.

When they hear the police sirens, Wright and Williams try to take Madigan hostage. But when he fights back, they shoot him. When the police enter the shop, the two gunmen pretend to be a pair of mannequins to fit in with others that are in the shop. They continue to pretend while two fairly dimwitted policemen stay with Madigan until the ambulance arrives.

Once the police leave, Wright and Williams also leave, returning back to the apartment where they had left Blackie and The Runt tied up. Blackie offers to get the real gem back, but Wright and Williams insist on keeping Runt as collateral.

Blackie returns to police headquarters and gives the diamond to Farraday, who orders his assistant, Matthews (Lyle Latell), to organize a police dragnet around the crooks’ hiding place while he and Blackie go in. But the two crooks aren’t fooled so easily and take Farraday and Blackie hostage and they tie them up. Wright and Williams try to escape out the back door. They even go so far as to set the apartment on fire trying to create a diversion to aid their escape.

The police notice the fire and break in and rescue them. Blackie captures Williams and Wright and Farraday apologizes for misjudging him. Dorothy, ever the reporter, takes their photograph for her paper. Blackie ends up chasing after her and the Runt after him.

While not a great actor, Chester Morris seems very comfortable in the role. It’s one of those blends of actors and roles that makes it difficult to imagine anyone else in the part. There was a short-lived ZIV syndicated series, The Adventures of Boston Blackie, which ran for two seasons in 1951. Kent Taylor played Blackie in that series, but I don’t think many people would think of him as the definitive Boston Blackie, that is if anyone thinks of Boston Blackie at all.

The movie plays more like an hour-long TV drama. With regulars like Morris, George E. Stone and Richard Lane playing against this episode's guest stars, Robert E. Scott, Dorothy Malone and Janis Carter.

The plot is fairly straight-forward despite the attempts at having plot twists. The use of chewed gum is both clever and a little gross at the same time. The police from the Inspector on down to the beat cop are shown to be incompetent, which is nothing new for these types of films. If they were better at their jobs, they wouldn’t need an ex-con like Blackie to come in and save the day for them. There is little or no fat on this bone of a story, though the murder of George is sort of passed over as a plot point and his sister, Eileen, is unceremoniously dropped as well.

It was actually the actress playing Eileen, an uncredited Dorothy Malone, under the name of Dorothy Maloney that caught my eye and kept me watching. Dorothy Malone began her film career at 18 at RKO and her first appearance was Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943). She would spend most of her film career in supporting roles in B-movies, many of them Westerns. Perhaps one of her most notable film roles was as the pretty and brainy Acme Bookstore proprietress in The Big Sleep (1946) in which she shares a bottle of Rye with Humphrey Bogart while he waits for Geiger to show.

She would later shed her good-girl image and become a platinum blonde in Douglas Sirk’s Written in the Wind (1956), in which she plays Marylee Hadley, the nymphomaniac daughter of a Texas oil baron. For the role, Malone would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Malone would later star as Constance Mackenzie Carson in 342 episodes of TV’s Peyton Place. Her presence in this film didn’t really have much impact, as Eileen is little more than a throwaway character.

The fact that George and Eileen are portrayed as brother and sister, rather than husband and wife, suggests there may have been something left unexplored about the story. There is little in their give and take that wouldn't have worked as spouses rather than siblings. Not sure why this difference was necessary otherwise to the story. It might have made sense if Eileen was supposed to be a love interest for Blackie, but she's not.

The main love interest, if there is one, is Janis Carter, who plays Dorothy Anderson, a reporter for one of the many daily papers in the city. She’s good, but ultimately forgettable in the role. While she would appear in a couple of movies in the Whistler series, The Mark of the Whistler (1944) and The Power of the Whistler (1945), she may be best remembered for roles in Night Editor (1946), I Love Trouble (1946) and Flying Leathernecks (1951).

While it is not too involving, One Mysterious Night is still a well-made mystery film. But it is one of those films that you’ll like while you watch, but don’t expect for it to stay with you very long after you’re done watching it. Fun, but forgettable by the light of day.

No comments:

Post a Comment