ALERT - SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! AHEAD - DETAILED SYNOPSIS OF FILM FOLLOWS
This is finally available on DVD from a private collector, transferred from a badly worn print, which suffers from wobbling due to shrinkage in the first reel and numerous jumps and scratches throughout, eliminating one minute from its 69 minute running time,
Because this film has not been seen since the mid 1950s when it stopped appearing on television, I am writing a detailed synopsis of the plot below, hence:
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! AHEAD
The only reason this film earned two Oscar nominations, in the categories of Original Song (THE CAT AND THE CANARY) and Original Score is that from 1938 through 1945 the Academy allowed every studio to submit a nomination of their best achievement in Sound, Song, Original Score and Score Adaptation. PRC, a third rate company, put this film forth in the two categories mentioned above.
The score is mediocre, typical schlock dramatic underscoring, but there is some equally mediocre jazz as well. The upbeat song THE CAT AND THE CANARY is warbled twice by heroine Pamela Blake. Other songs are WHAT AM I SAYIN?, another upbeat number, and CALL ME, a ballad, the latter also sung by Pamela Blake. Who actually sings the middle number is up for debate, but in the film it is sung by the character, Marion Mason.
Synopsis: On a foggy night three people are walking the pier, one seemingly following the other. A scream is heard and a splash. Later in the hospital, Chris Williams (Sheldon Leonard), a reporter, finds Diana Leslie (Pamela Blake), recovering from her inadvertent swim. The police think it's attempted suicide, but Chris thinks it's murder. He interviews her parents, who describe in flashback, how Diana was unhappy with her life at home (a nasty older brother, a kid sister, a typical older mother and father) and wanted a singing career plus a redecoration of her home. She is dating a clarinet player, Jimmy Lobo (Elisha Cook) and leaves with him for a jam session against her parents' wishes. Later she returns late and is confronted. She decides to leave home. Her parents haven't seen her for seven months.
Chris confronts Jimmy who in flashback tells of the jam session, in which Diana impressed the band with her rendition of THE CAT AND THE CANARY. Chris next visits the club owner, Steve (Paul Guilfoyle) who also in flashbacks describes Jimmy bringing Diana around for an audition as all wait for drunken star Marion Mason to show up. She reprises the song and is added to the chorus.
Chris uses a ploy to get Irene, the musical number director, to talk, but is foiled by Steve. Flo, Diana's roommate, gets Steve to agree to meet later than night and go for a ride. Here the longest flashback occurs. Flo and Diana watch Marion put over a number, WHAT AM I SAYIN? At this point the film is at the halfway mark.
Two men are brought to the girls' table and later accompany them to the gambling room, for which the night club is a front. When one man loses heavily (Diana is told the girls get 10% of the losses, since the gambling is crooked), he kills himself. His partner is shot when he tries to shoot the owner. Diana is sworn to secrecy.
Later Jimmy gets Marion drunk so she can't go on and so that Diana can. Diana has now become hard and is ungrateful for Jimmy's help. Her kid sister has also been let into the club to see Diana's debut, which is a ballad, CALL ME. Diana is angry and swears her sister to secrecy before sending her home. Marion swears revenge.
Flo tells Chris Diana became the object of much hatred as the months went on. Steve and Irene plan to throw her over for Flo's younger sister, Alice, a singing hopeful, but Diana talks her out of it. The tables have turned with Diana in Marion's former position. This good turn after Diana talks to a priest friend. Diana tells Flo she will blow the lid off the Kitten Club.
Diana leaves a letter for Flo, but Marion gets it first after a cat fight between the two women. Chris and Flo's car is chased and forced off the road. Flo dies in the crash. Chris finds Marion dead in her apartment (the same cheap set used for Flo's apartment, by the way). Police are brought in and they learn that Steve and Irene had kidnapped Diana from the hospital. They go to the Club just in time to stop Irene from poisoning the groggy Diana. Steve reveals he is just a front and that the whole crooked gambling racket is Irene's idea. She shoots Steve before being disarmed and taken away. The police chief leaves Chris with Diana, with the admonition that she should have been spanked.
The film is an obvious morality lesson for young people to be careful of the company they keep and be wary of promises that ask nothing in return. The acting is mediocre. Pamela Blake is quite pretty but only so-so. Sheldon Leonard is a bore. Elisha Cook does well as Jimmy Lobo - he is an under-rated character actor. Lola Lane, hard as nails is typically good as Irene. Constance Worth is fine as Flo. The actress who plays Marion Mason is only so-so. I didn't make a note of her name and I can't go back to see the cast without losing this review.
Production levels are quite poor. It's just a grade C programmer, nothing special. The score did not deserve its Oscar nomination. The song nomination is a matter of taste - I would have nommed if anything, one of the other numbers, CALL ME.