HOME SWEET HOMICIDE is a melding of mystery and family comedy, starring Randolph Scott as a police detective and Lynn Bari as a widowed crime novelist raising a trio of precocious children.
The movie begins with an amusing opening credits sequence, with the tune "Home Sweet Home" punctuated with screams and sirens. In short order we're introduced to writer Marian Carstairs (Bari) and her three very self-sufficient children, who run the household while their mother is locked away with her typewriter. The children, played by very fine child actors, are Dinah (Peggy Ann Garner), April (Connie Marshall), and Archie (Dean Stockwell).
Detective Bill Smith (Scott) is on the case, along with his partner, Sgt. O'Hare (James Gleason). Marian and the children are all tickled that handsome Bill's name matches that of the hero of Marian's 28 novels. That seems like a good omen!
The children unfortunately decide they will make better detectives than the police, and if they can solve the crime their mother's career will benefit from the publicity. This means they don't tell the police the correct time of the murder or a couple other important details, ultimately endangering their lives.
Their childish decision in a matter of life and death, despite being such otherwise intelligent children, was the only part of the plot which went off kilter for me, although some of the repercussions are amusing. I loved Sgt. O'Hare's constant refrain that "I have six kids of my own, four of them girls!" which has a nice payoff in the final scene.
Other than not caring for the children's "coverup," this movie is a great deal of fun, played by a bright, able cast. Scott and Bari are charmers -- it's hard to believe someone as cute as Scott wasn't already snapped up, and Bari in particular strikes all the right notes as the children's savvy mother. This was one of Scott's last couple of non-Westerns, along with CHRISTMAS EVE (1947).
The children are played by three of the best child actors of the '40s, plus Dinah's best friend is played by Barbara Whiting, her costar in the previous year's excellent JUNIOR MISS (1945). It's a lot of fun watching the children manage the household, particularly young April's expertise at roasting a turkey, calculating "15 minutes per pound." At the same time, they seem like "real" children in their interactions with one another. All three of them are quite good, but Stockwell is particularly adorable as Archie, who detests his oldest sister calling him "Baby."
Some aspects of the film are interesting as a peek into daily life in the '40s. For instance, when Archie wheels out the trash can, it's quite small for a family of four (not to mention two pets). Was the trash picked up much more frequently then? (I remember trash was picked up twice a week when I was young, and now it's just weekly.) Was there less disposable waste in the '40s? Or was the can simply an unrealistic size?
Similarly, I was curious when Bill told Marian he went to a "rental library" and picked up a couple of her books to read. (She chides him, saying authors want books to be purchased rather than borrowed, to increase the royalties!) I thought "rental library" was odd terminology. Were there libraries other than free public libraries in the '40s? Had he actually rented the book, like one would a video? (Talk about an antiquated term, but you know what I mean...) Or perhaps it was just an unusual way to refer to a regular library.
HOME SWEET HOMICIDE was directed by Lloyd Bacon and filmed in black and white by John F. Seitz. I'd love to know where the Carstairs house was located; it seems like a real neighborhood rather than a backlot.
F. Hugh Herbert's screenplay was based on a novel by the prolific Craig Rice (a pseudonym for Georgiana Craig). The film runs 90 minutes.
This film from 20th Century-Fox is currently very hard to come by; I'm unaware of it ever having been shown on Fox Movie Channel in the last few years, nor has it had a VHS or DVD release. Peggy Ann Garner's JUNIOR MISS (1945) has come out on DVD from the Fox Cinema Archives; perhaps one day this film will follow. My children would have loved this one when they were younger! Audiences in general deserve having access to this very enjoyable film.