Thursday 22 March 2007

Footsteps in the Dark (1941) Lloyd Bacon

Errol Flynn is far from the obvious choice to play the lead in a light hearted detective comedy in the vein of the Thin Man series, but he doesn't do a bad job at all. He is far from being the suave natural that William Powell would have been but he's surprisingly good. He plays Francis Monroe Warren II, some sort of investment banker, but like a secret crimefighter he has a hidden identity, complete with different car, different outfits and a batcave of sorts to switch from one to the other in. His alter ego is F X Pettijohn, bestselling mystery novelist who is upsetting all the ladies in his wife's Thursday Club by writing about their social circle and then sending them all review copies, he even has a sidekick, chauffeur Mr Wilfred who doubles as his writer's secretary.

There's a full compliment of supporting actors here. Alan Hale, here the local chief of police, must have been in more Errol Flynn pictures than Flynn himself. There's Allen Jenkins as Mr Wilfred, whose trademark accent Flynn gets to make fun of; Ralph Bellamy in a small role as a dentist of all things; and Brenda Marshall, fresh from appearing opposite Flynn in The Sea Hawk. There's also Lee Patrick as a burlesque queen, William Frawley, Roscoe Karns, Grant Mitchell, even Turhan Bey playing a turban clad Arab as always. Hiding well beyond the credits are other noteworthy actors like Olaf Hytten as a butler, as always: over a 286 film career he buttled for such luminaries as Philo Vance and Sherlock Holmes.

The story is a battle of wits between amateur detective Warren and chief of police Charles Mason. Mason slates Pettijohn's book on the radio to satisfy the Thursday Club even though he knows the man behind the pseudonym. They each joke about the lack of deductive ability of the other, so end up trying to outdo each other investigating a murder that seems to be an accidental death.

The film is certainly fun but it's very obvious throughout that Flynn is no William Powell and Brenda Marshall is no Myrna Loy. I'm still working out if Warren's undercover act as a rich Texan with a gold mine and a string of oil wells is hilariously bad or just embarrassing. Given his inept attempt to mimic the chimes of a clock, I'm leaning towards the former and that's good. It would just be sad if that's what ends up most memorable.

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