Saturday, March 24, 2018

Suspicion above wives

One of my recent batch of DVD purchases was the Alpha Video release of Wives Under Suspicion, a 1938 programmer from Universal that Alpha Video is clearly marketing for its direction by James Whale, the director who did the first two Frankenstein movies.

Warren William plays Stowell, a district attorney who is focused on his job, and on always getting his man. He's a staunch believer in the death penalty for murderers, to the point that he's got an abacus with human skulls for beads on which he keeps count of how many men he's condemned. This much to the consternation of his executive assistant Sharpy (Cecil Cunningham; Cecil here being a woman).

I make it a point to call Sharpy more than just a secretary because she's been managaing Stowell's life. It's his wife Lucy's (Gail Patrick) birthday, and he's forgotten all about it, to the point that Sharpy had to arrance everything. It's also the first sign in that the marriage isn't as perfect as you might think. As you might guess from a man who keeps track of how many people he's sent to the electric chair, his wife isn't exactly thrilled that he seems to be more focused on his job than on her. Meanwhile, the couple have two young friends in Phil (a very young William Lundigan), and Elizabeth (Constance Moore).

To placate his wife, our district attorney decides he's going to take a leave of absence (you'd assume any DA's office has assistant DAs) to take his wife on an extended vacation. He even tells Sharpy about it and that he's not to be disturbed if anybody calls and that she doesn't know where he is. In another obvious bit of foreshadowing, what happens next is that there's a particularly juicy murder. Professor MacAllen (Ralph Morgan) shoots his wife, thinking she's been cheating on him. The defense is going to claim temporary insanity. It's too much for Stowell to resist.

Lucy, understandably, is pissed at all this. Her husband was supposed to take her on vacation, not try another case! Things get srained to the point that as the case goes on, Stowell gets the increasingly strong suspicion that Lucy might be carrying on an affair with Phil, just like MacAllen thought his wife was carrying on an affair.

Wifes Under Suspicion is a competently made programmer, although beyond that there's nothing earth-shattering about it. Warren William is the star here and gets most of the juicy bits, with Cunningham getting to deliver a few barbs Eve Arden-style. James Whale shows that he was a good director even given lesser material like this, as he makes it a point to use mirrors to good effect. It's a shame that TCM isn't really able to get B movies and programmers from outside the old "Turner Library" that Ted Turner bought in the 1980s consisting of the MGM, WB, and RKO movies. Wives Under Suspicion would be a perfect fit on the TCM daytime lineup.

As for the DVD, Alpha Video has a small logo on the opening credits; there weren't any closing credits. That logo was, however, far less intrusive than the one on Timetable, another Alpha DVD that I reviewed here a few months ago. The print isn't the greatest, but that's not a surprise for a programmer that's fallen into the public domain. And as you can expect from a low-end distributor like Alpha, the price was cheap.

If you like programmers and want something you might not have seen before, I can certainly recommend Wives Under Suspicion.

No comments: