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Wednesday 7 November 2007

I Love a Mystery (1945) Henry Levin

Another radio series turned film series, I Love a Mystery featured detectives Jack Packard and Doc Long, who ran the Triple A-1 Detective Agency with a colleague called Reggie York. Reading up on the series, I discover that it's highly regarded and it mixed the expected mystery theme with a frequent supernatural element. The writer was Carlton E Morse, one of the most respected radio writers of the era, and the series ran from 1939 to 1952.

For this film transition, the first of three and the only one to reuse a story from the radio series, we start at the San Francisco morgue where Jefferson Monk has arrived DOA, without a head. Over at the Silver Samovar they're mourning him an hour after closing, and we see our story in their flashback. Three days earlier he was there in the club, explaining why he's been condemned to death by persons unknown and why he'll be dead in three days. A mysterious peg legged man has been following him with a valise, specially prepared for his head.

Monk is a socialite played by solid old George Macready, who is married to beautiful young Nina Foch, playing Ellen Monk, though she's paralysed from the waist down. In a flashback in a flashback we discover that Monk was offered $10,000 for his head, by an ancient Oriental secret society. Apparently he is the mirror image of the founder of the society, whose embalmed head is deteriorating after a thousand years and they need a replacement. They also let him know that he only has a year left to live, a year which is now almost up.

The first time we meet Packard and Long, they don't seem particularly interesting, astute or memorable, but as time moves on they prove to be fascinating. Packard is the real detective of the bunch, knowledgeable and insightful even though he doesn't look like he ought to be. Doc Long is nothing compared to Packard, as evidenced stereotypically by his southern accent, but he's no bumbling idiot sidekick. The pair of them get to work their way through many twists and turns of plot, but Packard seems to be a step ahead of the game. Definitely a B movie but fascinating.

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