Special Investigator (1936)

Passed   |    |  Crime, Drama, Romance

Special Investigator (1936) Poster

Criminal lawyer Bill Fenwick goes undercover in Nevada to catch gold thieves when the gang kills his brother.



  • Margaret Callahan and Joe Sawyer in Special Investigator (1936)
  • Richard Dix in Special Investigator (1936)
  • J. Carrol Naish in Special Investigator (1936)
  • Margaret Callahan and J. Carrol Naish in Special Investigator (1936)
  • Richard Dix and Joe Sawyer in Special Investigator (1936)
  • Margaret Callahan and Richard Dix in Special Investigator (1936)

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21 April 2017 | AlsExGal
| Special Investigator is not that special...
... because it basically throws just about every crime drama cliché and plot device from the 1930s into a bowl, mixes, and bakes until done, with one rather interesting exception which I will get to later.

Richard Dix is the titular "Special Investigator", but first he is a defense attorney for guilty gangsters, Bill Fenwick. He gets the big checks from the acquitted gangsters, he has the stereotypical bleached blonde "moll" type for a girlfriend covered in furs, and he has a little brother who is a Fed. Little brother George comes into Bill's spacious office right before he is to be part of a raid to get Bill to see the light of what he is doing by putting crooks back on the street. Then George goes right out and gets killed by 'Eddie' Selton (J. Carrol Naish) in that raid. The gangsters fought back with everything they had because they had half a million in gold bullion.

His brother's death at the hands of Selton, recently acquitted of a murder charge due to the efforts of a lawyer just like himself makes him abandon his profession. He wants to join up with the Feds and help then grab the criminal responsible for George's death, but the question is where? That question is answered, oddly enough, by the criminal he just got acquitted who considers Bill a friend of his. He says that gold is not a good commodity. You can't ship it, you can't use it to buy anything. He says the only way you could ever get your money back would be to turn it into ore from a fake mine. This is the one interesting plot device I was talking about as I don't think I have ever seen this trick employed before.

So Bill does join up with the Feds and poses as a new small town lawyer near a mine that has recently struck gold owned by a bunch of outsiders that the locals had never seen before. But he needs to get inside that carefully guarded mine to figure out if it is indeed Selton's gang trying to launder their bullion. He finds a few excuses in the person of a female visitor to the ranch with whom he hits it off. She happens to be Eddie Selton's sister who has shown up concerned about her brother's health since he was wounded in the shootout with the Feds back in Chicago. Bill does not know she is Selton's sister, and she doesn't know this small time lawyer is in fact an undercover Fed. Yet they genuinely fall for one another.

In another subplot, the trigger happy meathead members of Selton's gang do not comprehend the word "subtlety" when dealing with the locals and are starting to think they don't need Selton after all, especially with him bed ridden.

How will this all work out? Watch and find out.

It's interesting to watch everybody going to Reno for their nightlife since Las Vegas won't even be started until after WWII. It is also interesting to see this "gold problem" among thieves in a western environment. It had only been two years before that gold coins went out of circulation.

I'd watch this one for Richard Dix who is a versatile actor who can play mouthpiece, special fed officer, and greenhorn lawyer all with great style. Honorable mention has to go to Erik Rhodes as Benny Gray, the guy Bill got acquitted in the first part of the film. He'd be a great guy if he wasn't a gangster. It's a departure from his parts as the comic relief in the Fred and Ginger films.

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