Wednesday 24 January 2007

Meet Boston Blackie (1941) Robert Florey

I've seen a lot of movies directed by Robert Florey lately, including The Face Behind the Mask and The Beast with Five Fingers, but I've not come across Boston Blackie until now. He's a sort of neutral type like the Saint who walks the line between legal and illegal, and those were rare but interesting characters. Blackie is part time detective and part time safecracker, and was created by author Jack Boyle. I'll have to locate some of the stories as given that they started in 1914 they may well be in the public domain by now. The character became a long running star on radio and in the movies, and this was the first of fourteen B-movies released in the forties starring Chester Morris in the lead. Luckily I have four on the DVR right now and there are bunch more coming in March on Turner Classic Movies, so I'll be well up on Boston Blackie before too long.

In this one he's returned to the States on an ocean liner and Inspector Farraday is about to arrest him. He gives his word as a gentleman to go along with him, but instead disappears because a body has turned up dead in his state room. He follows the trail to a nearby carnival, complete with all the attractions you might expect, only to run into more bodies and the people who make them that way. In the process he picks up Cecilia Bradley, played by the delightful Rochelle Hudson who by this time had already become renowned for her voice work as Honey on the Bosko cartoons, and they quickly discover that this is all international spy stuff. Blackie must find a way to extricate himself from the situation, given that he proud of having never committed a crime of violence, and the plucky Cecilia helps out.

The regulars here start with Chester Morris, who I've seen in a few early thirties films, as the title character. He was one of those square headed leading men who were fashionable in the early sound era, like Richard Dix, only more fun to watch. I've long admired him in The Bat Whispers and was especially impressed with him in The Gay Bride, where he played opposite Carole Lombard, but he was always promising and I'd long looked forward to these films. He's as solid in the role as I was hoping for: fast moving, fast talking and with plenty of odd tricks up his sleeve. Now I'm eager for more.

His assistant is the Runt, played here by Charles Wagenheim, who really doesn't do much more than turn up and fumble around a bit. Hopefully his character will improve in the next film when the real regular takes the part: George E Stone. Blackie's nemesis is Inspector Farraday, played by Richard Lane who would remain his nemesis throughout the series. It'll be interesting to see if he ever gets more of an upper hand on his man than he does here. Incidentally, hiding in the background in one carnival scene is Schlitze, one of the pinheads from Freaks but he didn't look happy. I hope he had a better run of it than some of the other cast members once they were beyond Tod Browning's care.

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