12 December 2013 | kevinolzak
First Crime Club from Universal
1937's "The Westland Case" began the regrettably short-lived series of Crime Club mysteries from Universal, clearly superior to their Inner Sanctums but more difficult to find. Of the 7 official entries, 3 starred Preston Foster as hard drinking, perpetually sleepy Detective Bill Crane, and Frank Jenks as his wisecracking sidekick Doc Williams; such was the case with this first one, as Robert Westland (Theodore von Eltz) has only six days left to live, convicted of murdering his wife, whom he was in the process of divorcing. Crane and Williams are summoned when someone sends Westland a note promising to alibi him, but every time a new lead becomes promising, the subject winds up dead. The dead wife was discovered locked in her room, her key still lying on the table beside the body, and her husband in possession of the only other key, plus his gun has seemingly disappeared after the murder. Foster and Jenks excel in their tailor-made roles, not dissimilar to the "I Love a Mystery" duo, Jack Packard (Jim Bannon) and Doc Long (Barton Yarborough), who also did 3 features in 1945-46. Russell Hicks and George Meeker make a decent pair of suspects, and Ward Bond plays Westland's fellow death row inmate Connors, who puts him onto the right lawyer to get him out, played with great relish by scene-stealing Clarence H. Wilson (frequently seen opposite Charlie Chase in 2 reel Hal Roach comedies). The other Bill Crane titles are "The Lady in the Morgue" (bringing back Thomas E. Jackson and Barbara Pepper) and "The Last Warning" (both 1938). Editor Otis Garrett graduated to director with the next Crime Club, "The Black Doll," missing out on just one, "The Last Warning."