Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pre-Code Mysteries

TCM is showing The Circus Queen Murder tomorrow morning at 9:45 AM ET. It's entertaining enough, if not a great movie, but perhaps the most interesting thing about it is the man who solves the mystery: Adolphe Menjou.

Mysteries were surprisingly popular during the early years of the sound era. Perhaps the golden standard of the early mystery would be The Thin Man, with William Powell and Myrna Loy as the urbane crime-solving couple Nick and Nora Charles. This was not Powell's first go at a mystery series; he had played detective Philo Vance a few years earlier. As I mentioned then, the Philo Vance series saw several actors playing the part of the detective, but was by no means the only detective showing up in the early 1930s. There's also the Perry Mason movies.

Women and children got involved, too, with character actress Edna May Oliver playing detective Hildegard Withers in six films in the early 1930s, or, after the introduction of the code, Glenda Farrell as crime-solving reporter Torchy Blaine. And who could forget those Bonita Granville as Nancy Drew. (True, the Nancy Drew movies aren't pre-Codes, either.)

Perhaps the most interesting, though, might be The Maltese Falcon. Everybody remembers Humphrey Bogart calling the statue "the stuff that dreams are made of". But, that's not the original version of the movie. Sam Spade had been played by Ricardo Cortez nine years earlier. (That's something to think about whenver anybody complains about classic movies being remade.)

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