Thursday, May 23, 2013

Comedy at Midnight

I picked A Tragedy at Midnight (1942) pretty much at random. It was a streaming suggestion, one of the many Poverty Row pictures that Netflix is convinced that I love. And, well, they are right, I guess.

A Republic picture, it stars John Howard as a radio star who embarrasses the police by solving their unsolved murders on the air. He wakes up one morning with a hangover and a corpse in his wife's bed.

His wife, by the way, is Margaret Lindsay, no one in particular, but a very good looker. She had a sweet and fresh but clued-in kind of look, sort of like Diana Lynn. Looking her up in IMDB, I discover that she was a lesbian, but more importantly, perpetually a lead in second-rate movies or the second lead in first-rate ones. Howard had a similar career, although as far as I can tell, he was not gay.

Anyway, this is a comedy mystery, very much in the Thin Man mold. If the similarity eludes you, note that Howard calls wife Lindsay "Mommy", just like William Powell called Myrna Loy. Of course, it is nowhere near as well-made or sophisticated. I don't suppose it's trying to be.

In supporting roles, we have Roscoe Karns as the police detective on the trail, and Tim Ryan (of Tim and Irene Ryan) as Police Commissioner. Key Luke plays the houseboy, and is as embarrassing a "rittle china boy" as you can imagine. However -- SPOILER -- his jiu-jitsu is what saves the day.

In short, it was pretty good. Also, pretty short - the streaming Netflix version is about 53 minutes. I was wondering at some of the snappy storytelling. For instance, we only find out half way through that the couple was staying in the neighbors apartment while theirs was being painted, so the bed the murdered girl was found in wasn't even theirs. I was kind of impressed by the way they just slid that in.

Until I discovered that this was the TV version, with ~15 minutes hacked out. You know, I think I like it better this way.

In conclusion, John Howard and Margaret Lindsay are no Powell and Loy, but this is a fun little mystery comedy. It made a nice counterpoint to Manhattan Melodrama.

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