Sunday 25 March 2007

The Crime Doctor's Strangest Case (1943) Eugene Forde

It's the second time in film for Dr Robert Ordway, psychiatrist of renown. The first film, simply titled The Crime Doctor, was full of background and set the stage for the rest of the series, but this time out Ordway gets a fresh case to look at, the strangest one of all, if the title is to be believed, but the strangest one of two, or even one given that the first was entirely about him. The case has to do with the murder of Mr Burns, which is a little disconcerting to anyone who's seen The Simpsons and knows that Maggie did it with the gun in the pram.

Anyway this Mr Burns is a Walter not a Montgomery and he gets killed with poison, less than an hour before Ordway arrives on the doorstep to talk to him. He was going to ask about Jimmy, newly employed by Burns but who he knows from his days running the parole board. Given that Jimmy was on his radar because he had been previously convicted of a murder by poison, it's pretty obvious who suspect number one is here but of course he didn't do it and Ordway tries to find out who does.

He doesn't have to go far to find suspects, making this a rather complex case. It's rather woodenly acted but very cleverly scripted which makes for a decent though not stunning movie. What seems most surprising is how far down the credits Lloyd Bridges is, not because of the star he would become in later years but because he has what seems like the most screen time of any character in the first half of the film, even over regular Warner Baxter as the Crime Doctor of the title. However he almost entirely vanishes thereafter as the focus shifts to all the other characters and the reasons why they should each be the real suspect.

There's the mysterious cook who's been in disguise for six months, the young trophy wife with a secret, even the old housekeeper who worked for Mr Burns as a dancer before keeping house for him for thirty years, dating back to two years before his previous wife died. She even has nightmares that she's somewhat keen to tell Dr Ordway. There are more characters to keep the thing complex throughout and more deaths and more mystery and more everything, really. The Crime Doctor series does seem to stand out from the rest of the forties B movie mysteries on that front and that bodes very well for the future.

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