Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Don't look for the Titanic

The comic mystery, especially with a husband and wife more or less solving the case together, was a thing back in the 1930s and 1940s, starting with The Thin Man and not really losing steam until World War II changed public tastes. A movie from later in the cycle was A Night to Remember.

This time out, the married couple is played by Brian Aherne and Loretta Young. Aherne plays Jeff Troy, a mystery writer, while Loretta Young is wife Nancy. As the movie opens, Nancy has just rented out a basement apartment in Greenwich Village which looks like it could have been rented by Ruth and Eileen from My Sister Eileen, both movies having been made at Columbia. Nancy has picked this apartment because she thinks it might give Jeff some ideas. This being Greenwich Village, there are bound to be a bunch of quirky people living in the building.

The couple gets to the apartment early, before the electric has even been turned on or anything has been delivered. That serves as a plot device for the apartment to be empty and dark for the first several scenes, with some humor about bumps in the night and somewhat. It also gives an excuse for the couple to leave the apartment long enough to get dinner, and for someone else to come into the apartment while they're at dinner.

While they're out, they find a couple of things. One is Polly Franklin (Lee Patrick), who owns the restaurant next door; she also lives in the building they do. But they also overhear a guy on the telephone making a call to meet somebody. The thing is that the meeting location is in the basement apartment they've rented. They get home and find some strange things have gone on while they've been out. But that's not the strangest thing of all.

The next morning, the police come knocking on the door saying there was a complaint of somebody sunbathing out in the courtyard. That's a euphemism, as it's actually a murder victim, and the reveal is done in such a way that Jeff and Nancy each believe that it was their spouse who died. In fact, it's the guy they overheard in the restaurant saying to meet in the basement apartment.

So now there's a murder case. And pretty much anybody who lives in the building could be a suspect. Jeff, being a mystery writer, starts investigating, and we fairly quickly hear the various residents conspiring together. Obviously they all know something about the dead guy, and they all perceive that Jeff might be a danger. But who did it, and why?

I have to admit that this A Night to Remember isn't my favorite of the films in this husband-and-wife murder-mystery genre. I think it's because the plot doesn't really work in the sense that the clues don't fit together in a satisfying way, while Jeff solves the case much too quickly. I can see why a movie like this got made, however. With World War II going on and with the genre having been popular for several years, why not another comic mystery to try to keep the homefront entertained opposite all that tough news going on in real life? It's just a shame that the movie doesn't quite gel.

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