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Thursday, 27 September 2007

Private Detective 62 (1933) Michael Curtiz

Michael Curtiz, best known for later work in the thirties and forties like The Adventures of Robin Hood, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca, turned out great material in the precodes. Doctor X is one of my favourite early horrors and The Kennel Murder Case still impresses the heck out of me as an early precursor to shows like CSI. This one looks really cheesy from the title, but it's a William Powell movie, with such quality backup as Margaret Lindsay and Ruth Donnelly to boot.

We kick off in the Rue Coligny in Paris, and Donald Free is getting himself arrested for some deliberate reason or other. At least it certainly appears like there's a plot afoot, but it really just gets him deported as an undesirable alien. Back in the states, he can't get work in the service, the police force or even as a store detective, but he does manage to con his way into the Peerless Detective Agency as a partner. The proprietor, Dan Hogan, is rather inept but obviously well connected because a high powered gangster called Tony Bandor helps him move up from 23rd St to Fifth Avenue.

The catch is that while Hogan is happy to do plenty of dirty work for his gangster buddy, that all has to be kept from Free because he has ethics. He can be as underhanded as the best (worst) of them when it's called for, but he doesn't like it and he always does the right thing to get out of it. Here he takes the job of watching a young lady who is winning remarkably often at roulette, but naturally just as he falls head over heels for her, she finds out what he is. There are a bunch of plot twists after that, more than you'd expect for a film only 67 minutes long and none of it feels rushed or forced.

Beyond Curtiz, who did quite a lot of awesome work in the early thirties, William Powell is spot on here. He'd played a detective before, most notably as Philo Vance in a number of murder cases from 1929 on, and of course a year later he would become Nick Charles for the first time in the first Thin Man movie. He's better as the society sleuth than the hard boiled noir type, but he's still excellent here as half and half.

Margaret Lindsay is especially memorable as the tough and powerfully sure young lady who wins big against Tony Bandor, who naturally doesn't want to pay her winnings. She always played second fiddle, unfortunately, but it's good to see her in a larger role than usual. I last saw her in Merry Wives of Reno, which was a peach, and it also featured Ruth Donnelly, who was never less than memorable herself. This isn't The Kennel Murder Case, by all means, but it's a solid quickie that doesn't disappoint in the slightest.

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