"Michael Shayne Private Detective" (1940), is an unexpected charmer: a delightful hardboiled private eye movie that will have you chuckling to the very last frame while trying to figure out the murderer before Mike Shayne (Lloyd Nolan) does.
Starring that thoroughly likable no-nonsense pro, Lloyd Nolan ( who appeared in the first seven of a dozen Shayne movies), and set in the last peaceful days before World War II, "Michael Shayne Private Detective" – the first in the series -- is an enjoyable gift box of welcome surprises: a period piece where the cars are both boxy and racy, men's suits are double-breasted and boxy, and the private eyes think best when they're boxed in.
Private detective Shayne, broke as usual, suddenly gets a juicy assignment. All he has to do is nursemaid a spoiled rich girl (Marjorie Weaver), who has the gambling bug and all the wrong friends. Mike's attempt to show her a lesson backfires, and suddenly he's the chief suspect in a murder.
A little thing like that's not going to stop Mike Shayne. Ingenious and inventive, fast-thinking and fast-talking, he has to dodge the cops while finding the real murderer. And now he's acquired a zany assistant, a proper old lady with a surprising taste for blood.
Aunt Olivia: It was the great piano mystery. The body was found under the piano, his throat was strangled with piano wires, the soft pedal was found embedded in his neck, and somebody had completely severed the head from the body. He was dead!
Michael Shayne: (dryly) Oh, suicide, hmmm?
Mike's proficient with both a riposte and a pistol. ("Hey, that brooch is as phony as a mother-in-law's kiss!") And he's not bad with badinage.
Cop: When are you gonna start talking straight?
Mike: Not until my attorney gets out of law school!
Shayne may have a quip for every question; but he's also sentimental, full of malarkey and blarney, whimsical, perpetually broke and a sucker for a pretty face.
Add a batch of odd characters played by a superb supporting cast: Douglas Dumbrille, Elizabeth Patterson, George Meeker, Walter Abel and Irving Bacon; and you've got a screwball comedy with smooth ensemble acting, an ample supply of corpses and a solution that actually makes sense.
An appreciation of Lloyd Nolan: "The actor who was generally credited with 'A' performances in a decade-long series of 'B' films became so good, in fact, that he permitted himself the luxury of turning down work, a privilege that ordinarily falls to far better known stars." -- The Los Angeles Times.
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