Monday, February 04, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Moonlight Murder (1936)

MOONLIGHT MURDER first came to my attention when it was released by the Warner Archive last fall. I was immediately intrigued by the concept, a murder at the Hollywood Bowl, especially as it stars two favorites, Chester Morris and Madge Evans.

I ordered the movie during an Archive sale last Friday and was amazed when it turned up on my doorstep today; I've never received an Archive order so quickly! I was glad I had time to enjoy watching it tonight.

The movie is initially set against the backdrop of an opera in dress rehearsal at the Hollywood Bowl. The life of tenor Gino D'Acosta (Leo Carrillo) is threatened, as he receives multiple warnings that he will die if he sings on opening night the following evening.

Gino sings, and sure enough, the title murder occurs. (The victim is even disclosed on the DVD case so it's clear who will die from the start.) The suspects include a mad composer (J. Carrol Naish), a fortune teller (Pedro de Cordoba), the conductor (H.B. Warner), Gino's lovers (Benita Hume and Katharine Alexander, billed as Katherine Alexander), and a few more people besides. The movie gradually builds to a somewhat surprising conclusion.

The film is somewhat slow out of the starting gate, as it takes its time setting up the many characters and their situations. The title murder doesn't actually take place until over halfway into the 66-minute film! This means that police detective Steve Farrell (Morris) and scientific sleuth Toni Adams (Evans, seen here) don't really move front and center until that point, when the movie's pace picks up. All in all, it's a fairly solid film with a large cast of pros and a bit of a twist -- nothing special, but it held my interest and was a pleasant way to pass the time.

I particularly enjoyed the Hollywood Bowl setting, which was effectively conveyed using stock footage of the Bowl, while the scenes set on the Bowl's stage or the hills around the Bowl were clearly filmed in a soundstage. Although most of the film was shot at the studio, I nonetheless found it fun to watch a movie set at a venue I've visited on numerous occasions. My first Bowl concert, as a child, was probably 38 years or so after this movie was made, give or take a year.

Morris has a fairly stock role as the cop, but it's nice to see Evans have a chance to help solve the mystery thanks to her lab work. The two actors make a nice couple, and I just wish they'd had more screen time.

I particularly like Katharine Alexander so I was glad to see her turn up in this. There's a nice biography of Alexander posted online by the Fort Smith Historical Society; Alexander was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1897 or 1898, depending on the source. There's no singing credit at IMDb but I assume Alexander was dubbed; it's interesting to note that Alexander had musical ability, as early in her performing career she was a violinist.

Alexander's romantic rival in the film, Benita Hume, would become Mrs. Ronald Colman a couple of years later, and when he died two decades later, she then became Mrs. George Sanders, a marriage which lasted until her passing in 1967.

The cast also includes Grant Mitchell as a doctor, and Pat O'Malley as (what else?) a cop. Frank McHugh (apparently on loan from Warner Bros.), Duncan Renaldo, Robert McWade, Leonard Ceeley, and Charles Trowbridge are also in the large cast. According to IMDb, the uncredited singing voice dubbing Leo Carrillo was Alfonso Pedroza.

The director was Edwin L. Marin, with cinematography by Charles Clarke.

The Warner Archive DVD is a very nice print. The disc includes a trailer, which can also be seen at the Turner Classic Movies site. It's an MGM film so the movie might turn up on TCM at some point in the future.

Related post: Turner Classic Movies at the Hollywood Bowl (September 6, 2010).


Blogger Vienna said...

This looks fun. I like Chester Morris but don't know much of Madge Evans's films

9:16 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I got to know Evans thanks to several movies she made with her good friend Robert Montgomery. I recommend FUGITIVE LOVERS, MADE ON BROADWAY, LOVERS COURAGEOUS. Hope you enjoy when you catch them!

Interesting trivia: Evans was married to playwright Sidney Kingsley (DEAD END).

Best wishes,

9:32 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Well, Laura, I'm now looking forward to it too, as I ordered it also last Friday!!


6:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's really fun that you ordered it the same day, Brad! Maybe, like me, you'd been waiting for it to have been out long enough to be eligible for one of the Archive's sales? :)

Would enjoy knowing your take on it when you see it.

Best wishes,

6:38 PM  

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