Of the original Oscar winning actors (prior to Lionel Barrymore, Fredric March and Charles Laughton), an unfair curtain of neglect has descended on them. In one case, Emil Jannings (the first Best Actor winner), he only had himself to blame because he insisted on not only working for Germany in the Nazi period, but he was a full throated supporter of Nazi policies. Despite doing some first rate work after 1927 (including Profesor Emanuel Rath in Von Sternberg's THE BLUE ANGEL), most of his film work is ignored as Nazi propaganda.
The second winner - well more about him in a moment. The third was the splendid George Arliss, the first British actor to win Best Actor (for DISRAELI) and who really gave pretty entertaining performances in his talkies that hold up pretty well. But too many modern critics decry his many "biographical" films, claiming he made Dizzy, Alexander Hamilton, Cardinal Richelieu, Nathan Rothschild, Voltaire, and the Duke of Wellington all look alike and all seem to have two traits: reorganizing or saving society, and uniting young lovers. Actually, Disraeli, Richelieu, and Voltaire do look something alike from their paintings and pictures, but Hamilton, Rothschild, and Wellington don't look alike.
As for the second winner (and first American born actor to win the Best Actor Oscar), Warner Baxter is a peculiar case indeed. From 1928 through 1933 he was turned into a cog in the Hollywood dream factory, turning out one picture after another in rapid succession. Most of these (including his Oscar Winner, In OLD ARIZONA) are rarely shown. Yet some of them (SUCH MEN ARE DANGEROUS, DADDY LONGLEGS, TWELVE HOURS TO LIVE) are pretty good performances. Later films he made showed he was not a performer to brush aside: THE ROAD TO GLORY about the hopeless trench warfare of World War I, THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND about Dr. Samuel Mudd, and KIDNAPPED based on the Stevenson novel, were all worthy films. Yet most people, when asked for his typical film role, recall only one (maybe they'll recall SHARK ISLAND too): Julian Marsh in 42ND STREET.
His fate was to be broken by overwork. His last major performance in a leading production was as "Kendall Nesbit" the wealthy publisher and suitor in Mitchell Leisin's LADY IN THE DARK (1941) with Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, and Jon Hall. He also played the title role in ADAM HAD FOUR SONS which helped introduce Ingrid Bergman and Susan Hayward (as "good" girl and "bad" girl respectively) to American audiences. But he suffered a nervous breakdown due to overwork in the early 1940s. So his output decreased afterward. And his appearances were somewhat easier to take - his intensity was removed, for better or worse.
It was Baxter's luck that he got a detective series' role to play with. In 1943 he first appeared as psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Ordway. Ordway gets the moniker of "the Crime Doctor"* in his series, and solves murders like Nick Charles or Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. Yet the films about those three sleuths (and Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto) are still remembered quite fondly, whereas "The Crime Doctor" series was as forgotten as Chester Morris' "Boston Blackie" or George Sanders / Tom Conway "The Falcon".
(*Interestingly enough, in the unrelated Sherlock Holmes spoof, WITHOUT A CLUE, Ben Kingsley as Dr. Watson offers his services to a skeptical Scotland Yard as a replacement detective to Holmes, to be called "the Crime Doctor"!)
The series did have a good number of character actors supporting Baxter. In THE CRIME DOCTOR'S COURAGE the cast included Jerome Cowan, Lloyd Corrigan, Hillary Brooke, and Emory Parnell. The production values may not match MGM's values for THE THIN MAN series or Warner's for THE MALTESE FALCON, but they aren't to be sneezed at. Look at the sets for the nightclub scenes in this film, where the Bragas (a brother and sister dance and magic act) perform an illusion in which the sister vanishes in front of the audience. It does look like a realistic theater setting.
Dr. Ordway is on a vacation trip to California, and gets drawn into the murder of a fortune hunter. The man apparently committed suicide in a locked room. Ordway is certain the victim was murdered. Gradually methods of entry are turned up (one by Corrigan, who notices a trap door's frame under the carpet - oddly the police did not notice it).
The plot soon bogs down into motives and theories of guilt. The Bragas are odd - they never appear out of their home before sundown. They have no mirrors in their home or in their make-up room in the nightclub. And at least one seems able to be invisible. Could they be vampires?
Baxter does solve the case later, and finds a more prosaic explanation. But the film lacks any sense of reality - it gets so bogged down in details about the supernatural that one suspects it should have stayed in that area for it's solution. Also, Baxter is workmanlike in his detective work, but he's too relaxed (even in his final battle with the villain). One gets the impression that the production staff decided to go easy on him due to the recent breakdown.
My favorite character in this is Emory Parnell as Lt. Birch. Typically impatient and ham-handed (like Donald MacBride or Nat Pendleton in similar films), he admits (at one point) to Baxter that his father wanted him to have a career as a real estate broker. As the film ends, we realize that Parnell would have been an excellent real estate broker!
9 out of 9 found this helpful