The Greene Murder Case

With reference to The Canary Murder Case (dir. Mal St. Clair).

“The murderer copied every detail of the crimes from these books, from actual criminal history, the experience of hundreds of criminals, plus the science of the world’s greatest criminologists.”

“Say, gimme a break, will ya? Who is it?”

Mordaunt Hall in his review wrote of “the superbly analytical mind of Philo Vance” (New York Times).

“Why, the old man-killing safe idea!”

“Just that.”


Roman Scandals

West Rome, county seat, West Rome, U.S.A.

Hopelessly corrupt in all its works.

The building racket thrives with payoffs to the mayor and the police chief.

Not only does the film go back two thousand years for an imperial precedent, it passes steadily through the Marx Brothers and Bob Hope and Red Skelton and Danny Kaye to Woody Allen and Mel Brooks.

Eddie Cantor, the Goldwyn Girls, a great cast noted in the reviews.


Charlie McCarthy, Detective

He sings the title number sashayed around a nightclub floor by Bergen.

When police want to hook

A desperate crook

I dragsim in speedy but gentle.

“You do?”

“Yeah, but any similarity between the ones that I catch and the ones that they want—”

Is purely coincidentaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll.

Because the press baron in league with the mob has a reporter framed to quash the story. Another county is heard from.

IIIIIIII’m Mortimer Snerd, Defective,

The worst in the world it’s a lie,

You definitely

Never heard of me

‘Cause I’ve never...

“Hand me that flower bowl.”

“This one?”

“That’ll do!”

A ruling from the bench proves nothing but the bigger they are, the easier they stick to the pavement with chewing gum.

Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times is a case in point, “nondescript... slapstick foolery... very hard to take.” TV Guide, “it’s good for laughs.” As our detective says, “I love the rich, they’re so polite to the poor.”

Bergen the “corner sewer” of modern art. “As a matter of fact, it’s a very fine example of Surrealism.”

“Surreally! Hm, hm, hm, hm, hm!”

Halliwell’s Film Guide, “slightly tiresome” (citing Variety, “will have to struggle”).

Business matters are so inscrutable, the truth so very hard to discern.

It’s true that you were just pretending,

But, darling, how was I to know?

Cf. Preminger’s Margin for Error a few years later.

“Boy, there’s one dame you can really see through!”

“Well, that was the artist’s intention.”

“It was?”




This Gun For Hire

In all the decades since this film was made, it seems altogether likely that not one critic has ever pointed out the title’s significance as describing not only the unruffled hit man Raven but the company he works for, unknowingly, Nitro Chemical Corporation, which sells its poison gas formula to the highest bidder and thus provides, in Ellen Graham’s memorable phrase, “Japanese breakfast food for America.”

This is the sense in which the film is to be understood, and a great Graham Greene parable it is. Veronica Lake is a magician who makes balls appear in her fingers out of thin air, and fish in a dry aquarium. Sen. Burnett gets her to work for the government. “No mystery about me,” he says, “just a hick lawyer the voters got stuck with.” She and her beau, a San Francisco police detective named Crane, just want to get married, but there’s a little matter in Los Angeles she’s not at liberty to discuss.

Willard Gates, a Nitro executive, owns the Neptune Club and has a sideline in “leg shows”. He hires her at the Fletcher Theatrical Agency in San Francisco, she takes the seven p.m. Southern Pacific alongside Raven (Gates has a sleeping compartment). Raven has been set up with an ingenious plan. He kills a chemist on orders from Gates (whom he knows as Mr. Johnson) to stop blackmail against the company, and is paid in money supposedly robbed from the supposedly beaten paymaster by none other than himself. The police are after him, he’s after Gates, he and the girl are both after Gates’ employer.

Mr. Brewster is the head of Nitro Chemical Corp., an elderly man in a wheelchair who dips his biscuits in milk and is far above the moral concerns of the young. His last gasp is a desperate lunge with a poison-gas pen as he signs a confession. The strain of this effort kills him.

In scenes that are practically a sendup of Hitchcock, Raven takes the girl with him, first planning to kill her, then rescuing her from a delicate murder arranged by Gates’ chauffeur in the Hollywood Hills, “a work of art”, sash weights tied to her body with “soft catgut” (fat Gates cringes at the word) that will dissolve in weeks to float a reservoir suicide.

With Crane in pursuit of the chemist’s murderer, she leaves a trail of monogrammed playing cards (and a powder-puff mark on a brick wall) to a gasworks, where two large storage tanks make an expressive, Hitchcockian background, one marked with structural “x” trusses and the other with plain rings. A tunnel leads to the railroad yard, where a workman shortly finds “a cop wherever ya spit.”

Raven’s father was hanged, his mother died, an aunt beat him till he was 14, deformed his wrist with a hot flatiron. He killed her.

A practice drill at Nitro puts employees in gas masks. Raven meets Gates disguised as the chauffeur. Together they go up to see Mr. Brewster. At the end, Raven spares the detective for the girl’s sake, and dies shot by the police.

A film that, if it has not been understood by critics, is well-known to certain directors, Mike Hodges for one, who reproduced the sordidness of Raven’s San Francisco hotel room in Get Carter.


Lucky Jordan

The plush bright streamlined New York offices of a firm called Investment Consultants, Inc., run by a racketeer who just got drafted, there’s a war on.

Hitchcock figures mightily in this, Foreign Correspondent for the Torch of Holland tulips, etc., also Vincent Sherman’s All Through the Night for mobsters getting real cute with the Nazis who after all (as one of them admits) are just that themselves, but the title character objects, a man of principle who doesn’t push old ladies around (Mel Brooks remembers “Mom” in Blazing Saddles), nothing like a Nazi or a cockroach, on the contrary.

So he serves his hitch, just to get even.

A very brilliant film, which is Tuttle’s usual standard.


The Magic Face

Austrian artiste mocks the great, loses his wife and stage assistant to the ruler (she wants to be a singer), goes to prison, escapes as the warden, becomes the ruler’s valet and kills him, takes his place, leads the country to ruin.

The artiste’s doublings are a major enterprise, his amusing Mussolini and grave Haile Selassie, the warden and the valet, joking Neville Chamberlain and der Führer.

This was all “nonsense” to Bosley Crowther of the New York Times. Halliwell’s Film Guide agrees, citing Gavin Lambert as of the same opinion.


General Electric Theater

Dan Holiday starts to explain the plot to a pretty girl at a barn dance, then submits to Lt. Kling’s diagnosis, “crazy.”

The holder of Box 13 falls for a chestnut where an interesting story is what he’s trying to write, all of this he scornfully admits at the lunatic asylum where he’s been checked in under a dead man’s name with a lot of money riding on the deal, just a shabby old plot, “the oldest gag in the world.”