Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Forbidden Noir, Volume 9
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.
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.
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.