11 June 2010 | rick_7
Zippy Mike Shayne outing, based on Chandler story. Only complaint: it's too short.
Time to Kill (Herbert I. Leeds, 1942) – Lloyd Nolan's final outing as Michael Shayne, Fox Studios' cocky private eye, is one of the earliest Raymond Chandler adaptations, drawing its inspiration from The High Window. Shayne – the irrepressible, quick-witted, appealing Nolan – takes on an apparently simple assignment from the wealthy Mrs Murdoch (Ethel Griffies) and finds the bodies piling up around him. Fox's lack of faith in the series is evidenced by the slim running time, with this one playing barely more than an hour. That means you get 56 minutes of tightly-scripted thriller – with a sardonic sense of humour – before the scripters have to cram in a wordy, five-minute explanation of Chandler's convoluted plot. It's an absolute riot until then, though, and a return to form after a slightly disappointing sixth outing.
The series opener – Michael Shayne, Private Detective – is a classic of its type, with a hilarious script and slick, fast-moving direction, making a virtue of its low budget. The second film put him on a train (Sleepers West), the third took him to a theatre (Dressed to Kill) and the fourth and fifth appeared to have been made with spare Charlie Chan screenplays someone had left lying around. There's something of the Warner Oland Chan about the ship-bound Blue, White and Perfect, while The Man Who Wouldn't Die – set in a haunted house and with a genuinely ingenious mystery – is pure Toler. Just Off Broadway, which had Shayne solving a case whilst sitting on a jury, was less accomplished, but this one ends the Nolan series on a high, effortlessly recapturing the flavour of the first film. Tracing a murky investigation from the second Shayne gets pitched into the mystery – fielding the call in his dingy office and reeling off a list of made-up references – to the moment he wraps it up, it's a real treat. It's also nice to see Shayne get a girlfriend who can handle him. An extra 10 minutes would have been welcome, allowing the whodunit to be unwrapped in a more leisurely fashion and providing time during the climax for something other than solid exposition, though given half a chance I'm sure Nolan would have spent it all wisecracking anyway.