19 October 2003 | django-1
forty-minute crime drama with Tom Neal--entertaining but shallow
Fans of 1940s B-movies would want to see ANY film starring Tom Neal as a detective, so here's one that won't take you long to watch, although you may have a vaguely unsatisfied feeling when it's over. This is the second of two "streamlined" features (films longer than shorts but shorter than even a 55 minute b-programmer) made in 1947 with the same cast and crew, starring Tom Neal as detective Russ Ashton, and running 40 minutes. They were intended to share a double-bill. The good news is that this film has a great b-movie supporting cast (Allen Jenkins as the comedic assistant detective, Pamela Blake as Neal's girlfriend/secretary, Tom Kennedy as a bumbling police officer, etc.), a hard-boiled feel yet a number of funny sequences, and the great Tom Neal as the private detective, cigarette dangling from his lip. The bad news is that the premise on which the plot is based is not that interesting and, in order to fit the whole thing into 40 minutes AND leave time for comedy sequences, the "crime"(which really happens BEFORE the film starts!)and sleuthing and resolution don't have much tension or drama attached. Also, I didn't have a stopwatch handy, but I'd bet that Allen Jenkins is in the film more than "star" Neal. When the phony duke and duchess hire Neal's detective agency to guard their baby and their valuables, Neal sends Jenkins and Neal stays at the office to do some paperwork! Only later when circumstances force him to be involved does he appear on the scene. Perhaps the earlier film THE HAT BOX MYSTERY spends some time establishing the character of Russ Ashton, but here he really isn't developed at all and isn't given any quirks or distinctive detection techniques that make him stand out. While many b-detective fans complain about Hugh Beaumont's depiction of Michael Shayne, where HB is throwing peanuts on the floor, at least those scripts gave Shayne some unique features. The film is not bad and the experience of watching it is a positive one. Also, it DOES have the authentic flavor of a poverty-row 1940s detective movie, so if you like the genre and have some time to kill, it's probably worth watching, but based on this feature, I'd have to judge the forty-minute "streamline" detective feature film experiment to be a mild failure. There's not really enough time to develop much tension.