Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Forbidden Noir, Volume 9

Hammer and Robert Lippert joined forces on 1952's SCOTLAND YARD INSPECTOR, a British crime drama produced by Anthony Hinds and cast by Michael Carreras (he can also be seen as an extra). It has hardly anything to do with a Scotland Yard inspector, though one does appear (played by stuffy Campbell Singer).

Cesar Romero (best known as BATMAN’s Joker) stars as dashing American journalist Phil O’Dell, whose plane is grounded by fog and is killing time inventing crazy drinks at an empty saloon for the bartender’s entertainment. Ending his boredom is Heather McMara (Bernadette O’Farrell), whose brother was just killed in a nearby hit-and-run. She has no evidence to back it up, but she believes Danny was deliberately murdered and enlists Phil to investigate. A clue is discovered on a wire recording that Phil accidentally erases (“Why don’t they perfect these things?!”).

Director Sam Newfield shoots most of it on small soundstages with two walls and not much furniture, which makes viewing a tad claustrophobic. Writer Orville H. Hampton adapts a BBC radio serial by Lester Powell called LADY IN THE FOG (a much better title), and Romero, who had just wrapped THE JUNGLE in India for director William Berke (THE MUGGER), breezes through it with his usual charm. Most of the comic relief is heavyhanded and unfunny, but everything Cesar does is spot on. You should recognize second-billed Lois Maxwell as 007’s Moneypenny. You won’t recognize a before-he-was-famous Richard Johnson (KHARTOUM) as Danny, because of all the fog and shadows.

Hugh Beaumont, later to become one of America’s favorite dads on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, starred in three films as San Francisco troubleshooter Denny O’Brien. All three were directed in 1951 by William Berke, a veteran of Jungle Jim quickies, and each consisted of two separate half-hour plots cut together to form a one-hour feature—as if they were intended as six episodes of a half-hour Denny O’Brien TV series.

In PIER 23, O'Brien works from his boat shop base on San Francisco’s titular pier, where he also lives with the loquacious Professor Shicker (Edward Brophy). He investigates the murder of a man posing as an escaped cop killer and the death of a pro wrestler killed in the ring. The screenplay with ridiculously simile-stuffed O’Brien narration is based on radio scripts from PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE or, more likely, JOHNNY MODERO, PIER 23. Why the writers changed the main character’s name is a mystery and a more involving one than the two presented here.

Beaumont is solid enough, and PIER 23’s supporting cast is of interest: DETOUR’s Ann Savage, Richard Travis (THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER) as O’Brien’s rival on the force, Margia Dean (THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT), big Mike Mazurki (MURDER, MY SWEET), and voomy Joi Lansing in sexy cocktail waitress duds. DANGER ZONE and ROARING CITY were Beaumont’s other two Dennis O’Brien films for Lippert Films.

Tom Neal (DETOUR) and Allen Jenkins (SH! THE OCTOPUS) starred in two 1947 quickies as private detectives named Russ Ashton and Harvard, respectively. One was THE HAT BOX MYSTERY. This one is THE CASE OF THE BABY SITTER, and it’s played as much for comedy as for thrills. Carl Hittleman and Andy Lamb’s plot is rather busy for a film that runs a mere 39 minutes!

Jewel thieves posing as a Duke and Duchess hire Russ’ detective agency to watch their baby (Joseph de la Cruz, who gets his own special credit, despite the fact that he’s, well, a baby). The fake royals doublecrossed the gang they pulled the La Paz Diamond heist with, and those mugs are hot after the shiny stone too. A fake La Paz gets switched for the real one, and Harvard spills milk on his borrowed suit. The writers and director Lambert Hillyer (the 1943 BATMAN serial) get confused and have characters call Harvard by two different last names: Quinlan and Herkimer.

I imagine Hillyer made this picture in a big hurry, probably back-to-back with THE HAT BOX MYSTERY. For what it is, it’s okay, I guess, but it’s not easy to create a good mystery in less than forty minutes. Neal gets top billing, but really doesn’t do a whole lot, as Jenkins does much of the sleuthing and most of the comedy. Pamela Blake as Russ’ girlfriend and secretary gets second billing and does almost nothing.

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