Dressed to Kill (1941) stars Lloyd Nolan as Mike Shayne. That was all Ms. Spenser needed to hear to select this for streaming. I knew of Shayne from reading Brett Halliday's pulp novels. I was expecting a tough beefy bruiser, but got Lloyd Nolan.
We meet him buying a used suit for $2 down to get married in. He's your basic sharpie - sharp-faced, sharp-tongued, fast talking and cynical. He must have been a bit of a romantic, because he gives his burlesque queen bride his second-to-last dollar for flowers. But before they can get to the altar, he runs into a double murder.
This is where I really got Michael Shayne. His girl is annoyed that he is getting distracted, but he's overjoyed to find two dead people. He sells the story to the newspaper for $100, with the promise of another $400 if he finds the murderer. He tells the hotel manager that he's got a bonanza going. He hides evidence and suspects from the police if there's a buck in it for him.
And the police inspector he deals with, by the way, is Uncle Charlie himself, William Demarest. He plays the role for laughs, always a step behind and subject to the occasional pratfall. Of course, Shayne isn't too smart in this version, although you might wonder if he is as dumb as he seems.
For all the comedy, the mystery is pretty well put together - I've been reading a lot of Nero Wolfe, and this kind of felt like that: A classic puzzle. You might think that any mystery movie has that, but for B movies, the puzzle is often obvious, random or a cheat. This isn't Conan Doyle level, but at least Ellery Queen worthy.
But what we really enjoyed was the breezy script and Nolan's wise guy delivery.
In conclusion: Nolan made a bunch of these. Netflix has them two to a disk. We'll be watching them soon.