Monday, November 12, 2007

Tonight's Movie: Kid Glove Killer (1942)

KID GLOVE KILLER is a zippy crime drama which packs a great deal of entertainment value into its 74 minutes. The film marked the feature-length directorial debut of Fred Zinnemann, who started out in short subjects and would go on to direct classics such as HIGH NOON and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. Although ostensibly an MGM "B" picture, other than its short length and run-of-the-mill sets the movie feels more like an "A" film in terms of quality. In fact, THE NEW YORK TIMES noted in its review that "an unpretentious honesty is sometimes worth a million on the budget."

An early version of the CSI genre, KID GLOVE KILLER stars Van Heflin as a police criminologist working to solve the murder of the local mayor. Marsha Hunt is his assistant, a chemist.

There is never any doubt about "whodunit," as the murderer is seen in action; the fun is watching Heflin and Hunt solve the crime. Some of the technology they use looks a little silly from the modern perspective, but there's an interesting demonstration of a spectrograph and other equipment. Watching them comb through slides and notebooks for "matches" to their samples gives one a real appreciation for what it was like to work before computerized records made such searches simple.

One thing I couldn't help wondering: wasn't it dangerous to be smoking in a lab filled with potentially combustible chemicals?!

I also have my questions about whether the key sample Heflin obtained would have actually still been available when he found it, but it made good entertainment so why bother asking questions?

The film -- which THE NEW YORK TIMES called "a little crackerjack of a picture" -- has snappy dialogue and fast-paced editing by Ralph Winters. I once had the honor of meeting Mr. Winters briefly at an evening celebrating SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS, which he also edited.

The cast includes Lee Bowman, Samuel S. Hinds, John Litel and Eddie Quillan. Don't blink, and you can glimpse Ava Gardner as a car hop who serves Lee Bowman and Marsha Hunt. Robert "Bobby" Blake can also be seen for a few seconds, listening to a car radio with his onscreen parents.

KID GLOVE KILLER isn't available on VHS or DVD, but it deserves to be. In the meantime it can be seen on cable on TCM. The trailer is at TCM's website.

April 2012 Update: I had another great experience watching this movie, with Marsha Hunt in attendance, at the Noir City Film Festival.

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