Thursday 24 April 2008

Murder in the Private Car (1934)

Private cars were train carriages that were owned by individual people who used them when travelling by rail, so that they didn't have to mingle with the masses. They were usually luxurious affairs, sort of like the suites at Las Vegas casinos reserved for visiting VIPs, merely on wheels. Our murder may well take place on one but it takes its time, especially given that the film is a mere three minutes over an hour long.

First we get to meet Ruth Raymond played by Mary Carlisle. She's a switchboard operator who works with her friend Georgia, who's my main reason for watching, given that she's played by the always delightful character actress Una Merkel. Anyway it quickly becomes apparent that Ruth Raymond is also Ruth Carson, lost daughter of a millionaire father who has been seeking for over a decade, surely the dream of every theatregoer in depression era 1934. However being a newly found millionairess brings with it acute danger and she's the victim of an attempted kidnapping before we even get to the private car and the victim of an attempted murder soon after.

Naturally there's a large cast of potential crooks attempting such kidnappings and murders, beyond the escaped circus gorilla. Most of all there's Godfrey D Scott, a bumbling cross between idiot and genius, played by top credited Charlie Ruggles, who gets many of the best lines in the movie though as many miss as hit. Luckily there are plenty to choose from! He tells everyone that rather than being a detective who catches people who commit crimes, he's a deflector who deflects the crimes before they happen. That said, I don't know if this plot makes him good at that or truly awful.

There's Mary's boyfriend John Blake who alternates between playing tough and being an inconsequential waste of space. There's Alden Murray, who may or may not be acting for Ruth's father. There's Ruth's father himself, if he is such a thing. There's the master mind of the whole affair who may or may not be any of the above people. Oh, and there's the staff, most notably Fred Toones, credited again as Snowflake, playing Titus the stereotypically scared black car porter.

This film is complete nonsense, of course, but it's fun and throws a huge amount of the shenanigans you'd expect to hear on old time radio mystery programs: hidden panels, maniacal voices, runaway carriages laden with dynamite, you name it. If you're an old time train fan you'll enjoy the setting especially as there's more track switching going on than any other film I can think of. I enjoyed it for Ruggles and Una Merkel and the old time pulp mystery elements though. On that front and a couple of others it proved to be a successful slice of escapist idiocy, with a lot more fun than quality.

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