Monday, November 28, 2011

Fox mystery series

I briefly mentioned the Lone Wolf mystery series a few weeks back; the movies are airing on Saturday mornings on TCM for the next several weeks. Mystery series -- that is, B-movies in which an actor played the same detective over the course of several pictures -- were quite popular in the late 1930s and early 1940s. 20th Century-Fox had their own series, the seven Michael Shayne movies. Two of them are airing tomorrow on FMC: Just off Broadway at 7:30 AM, followed by Dressed to Kill at 9:00 AM.

I haven't seen Just Off Broadway, so I can't really comment on it. But Dressed to Kill showed up a few weeks back, and it's a pretty entertaining little mystery. Fox contract player Lloyd Nolan plays detective Michael Shayne, who at the start of this movie is supposed to get married to his long suffereing girlfriend Joanne (Mary Beth Hughes). Suddenly he hears a scream in the apartment hotel where he's staying, and discovers that another of the tenants, a wealthy Broadway producer, has been shot along with a female companion. Just as interestingly, they're both in costume, and the shootings seem to have been particularly ingenious. Michael, of course, begins to investigate and finds a particularly baffling mystery. The producer had gathered together several of the surviving cast members from a show he had done 25 years earlier, and it seems as if everybody at the dinner had a motive to kill him.

To be honest, this is fairly standard stuff for a mystery series. There are the red herrings, the hidden identities, and perhaps most fun in Dressed to Kill, the bumbling police detective, who is played by William Demarest. Demarest was one of the great comedic character actors and is in fine form here as the policeman who is trying to stay one step ahead of Shayne but always seems to be one step behind. The resolution of the mystery isn't perfect, although to be fair, that's the case in a lot of mystery movies. Still, Dressed to Kill provides good entertainment value for its B-movie level.

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