Wednesday, February 7, 2024

The Preview Murder Mystery

TCM ran a month-long spotlight on B movies back in July, and as I've mentioned, I recorded a bunch of the movies they showed as part of the spotlight. So now it's time for another of those movies. This time out, it's The Preview Murder Mystery, which really is a mystery.

The movie starts off as a movie-within-a-movie, The Song of Toreador is wrapping production. Starring Neil Dubeck (Rod La Rocque) and Claire Woodward (Gail Patrick). It's a remake of a film from the studio's silent days, but unfortunately, the silent movie's star, Edwin Strange, is not around to see the remake. He disappeared just as movies were transitioning from silents to sound, and he's presumed dead. Meanwhile, there's been some debate over whether or not the studio should even be remaking the old silents.

So it's a stressful shoot, and it's only about to become more stressful as Neil receives a letter with a death thread. We soon learn that this isn't the first death threat he's received, and they all inform him that he's never going to live to see the success of Song of the Toreador. He's understandably jittery about it all. There's also the question of what to do about these death threats. Neil's been telling everyone at the studio about them, but the press have kept the story under wraps at the request of the studio bosses. This even though PR people like Johnny Morgan (Reginald Denny) think that if the story went public, it would be tremendous publicity for the new film.

Needless to say, Neil isn't thrilled about going to the preview, as he'd rather stay in hiding. But he does go into the theatre, sitting next to his co-star and the director, E. Gordon Smith (Ian Keith), who is also married to Claire. The preview is a smashing success. But, at the very end of the preview, it's discovered that Neil has dropped dead during the showing! It's an overdose of some narcotic, which brings up the question of whether it's suicide (possible but not likely), accidental overdose (which I think would be the most likely in real life), or murder. Since I'm reviewing The Preview Murder Mystery, as you can guess everybody soon thinks it might be murder.

And it's fairly quickly established that there are lots of possible suspects, starting with the director who could easily be portrayed as being jealous of the relationship between his wife and Dubeck considering the love scenes they had in Song of the Toreador. Things quickly go from bad to worse when somebody gets shot for real on the set of Claire's next movie due to real ammo being put in the prop gun. (Alec Baldwin is not in the movie.) The police investigating the murder order the lockdown of the entire studio, with nobody getting out since the murderer must still be on the lot.

It's at this point that the movie really becomes fun, as we get to see the Paramount back lot and a lot of Hollywood inside jokes if you will at the way studios were making films in the 1930s. The mystery itself isn't the greatest thing in the world; it's the atmosphere behind the mystery that makes this movie so much fun to watch. That and the movie running at breakneck speed.

But the fact that The Preview Murder Mystery was a B movie, and made in the mid-1930s at Paramount so that the rights were sold to Universal, that combine to make it a movie that's largely been forgotten. Indeed, I had never heard of the movie before seeing it show up in TCM's B-movie spotlight. That's a shame. It's the sort of movie that probably should have gotten a release on some box set of lesser-known content in the days when studios were still putting out box sets. The Preview Murder Mystery is absolutely worth watching. It's a hell of a lot of fun.

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