Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Sky Murder (1940)

Last night's movie was SKY LINER (1949), and tonight's movie was the similarly titled -- and similarly themed -- SKY MURDER (1940).

SKY MURDER is the final film in the Nick Carter mystery series starring Walter Pidgeon. SKY MURDER follows NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE (1939) and PHANTOM RAIDERS (1940), which were both directed by up-and-coming director Jacques Tourneur.

SKY MURDER, on the other hand, was directed by MGM "B" film specialist George B. Seitz, best known for directing many entries in the long-running Andy Hardy series.

This time around Senator Monroe (George Lessey) and wealthy Cortland Grand (Edward Ashley) try to recruit Nick to investigate a Fifth Column group. Nick declines, but then when Nick is flying home on Grand's private plane, Andrew Hendon (Tom Conway) is murdered on the plane in mid-flight.

Is beautiful young Pat Evans (Kaaren Verne, billed Karen here) a murderess? And what's the connection to the Fifth Column group?

The plot is a bit silly at times, chiefly due to Joyce Compton as a giddy detective with memory problems, but it's amusing enough and the 72 minutes zips past.

For a classic film fan, much of the fun in watching SKY MURDER is simply spotting the various faces as they come and go. For instance, this was one of Tom Conway's first films, playing one of the bad guys. Then there's a group of six young ladies who have considerable screen time in the first half of the film, and one of them is Virginia O'Brien in an early role. And he's not billed, but isn't that George Reeves as the would-be murderer at the end of the movie?

Donald Meek is on hand once more as Carter's improbable assistant, the "Bee Man." Chill Wills, Grady Sutton, Byron Foulger, Cy Kendall, and Tom Neal are among the other familiar faces along for the ride. Joan Crawford's brother, Hal Le Sueur, plays Al, the ill-fated copilot.

It's too bad that the busy Pidgeon only made three Nick Carter films, but right about this time his stardom was moving into higher gear and a series of prestigious pictures was immediately ahead, including MAN HUNT (1941), HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941), and BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST (1941), which launched his highly popular teaming with actress Greer Garson.

In fact, in the next two years after SKY MURDER, Pidgeon was in back to back Best Pictures, John Ford's HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY followed by William Wyler's MRS. MINIVER (1942), Pidgeon's second film with Greer Garson.

The three Nick Carter films are available from the Warner Archive in the Nick Carter Mysteries Triple Feature set. The DVD can be rented from ClassicFlix.

This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is on the TCM website.

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