Friday, February 26, 2016

Tonight's Movie: I Love a Mystery (1945) at UCLA

I had a wonderful evening in Westwood tonight, enjoying dinner and a pair of fun movies with friends at UCLA.

The movies were a double bill of titles from the Columbia Pictures "I Love a Mystery" series, I LOVE A MYSTERY (1945) and THE UNKNOWN (1946). They were shown as part of UCLA's ongoing series Out of the Ether: Radio Mysteries and Thrillers on Screen.

I LOVE A MYSTERY was shown in 16mm, with THE UNKNOWN screened in a lovely 35mm print. My review of THE UNKNOWN may be found here.

Columbia Pictures made three films based on the I LOVE A MYSTERY radio show created by Carleton Morse; the other title, not shown this evening, was THE DEVIL'S MASK (1946). All three films feature detectives Jack Packard (Jim Bannon) and Doc Long (Barton Yarborough) caught up in mysterious (and more than a little creepy) goings-on. The trio of films were all directed by Henry Levin.

I LOVE A MYSTERY begins with the news that a man named Jefferson Monk (George Macready) was decapitated in a car crash. (Told you the movies were a little creepy!) Jack and Doc reminisce in flashback about the last few days, when Monk had told them he only had three days to live -- and that a cult literally wanted his head.

This fast-paced 69-minute film also involves Monk's wheelchair-bound wife (Nina Foch), who might not be crippled at all, and a masked peg-legged man (Frank O'Connor) who follows Monk around, carrying a satchel which is just the right size for a head... There's also a beautiful young woman named Jean (Carole Mathews), who seems to show up wherever Monk does, and she pointedly refuses to give anyone her last name.

I had started watching this film on Turner Classic Movies several years ago, but I found it pretty spooky and, since I was watching it alone late at night, I thought better of it and turned it off. This time around there was safety in numbers, seeing it with a crowd, and I found the movie good fun, enjoying reacting to it along with the rest of the audience.

There are some effectively staged moments, such as Mrs. Monk's first entrance in her wheelchair, and the masked man is pretty scary. It's a nice atmospheric film with some thrills and chills which makes for a fun Friday night at the movies.

Bannon and Yarborough aren't standout actors, but Bannon has a sort of calm "Just the facts, ma'am" style which contrasts well with the zany incidents he's dealing with. Macready and Foch are perfectly cast as the troubled Monks, and Mathews is striking as Jean.

Nina Foch had a good run in several Columbia thrillers in the mid-'40s, including ESCAPE IN THE FOG (1945) and MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945).

I LOVE A MYSTERY was filmed by Burnett Guffey.

A fun bit of trivia is that I LOVE A MYSTERY star Jim Bannon was married to Bea Benaderet; they were the parents of Jack Bannon, who played Art Donovan on LOU GRANT. Jack is married to Ellen Travolta.

For another look at the I LOVE A MYSTERY films, please visit Jeff's 2013 post at The Stalking Moon.


Blogger barrylane said...

Barton Yarborough was significant in the business. I haven't seen any of the three I Love A Mystery films, but Yarborough wasn't out of work a single moment in his career. He was Jack Webb's original sidekick, Ben Romero, on Dragnet. The only time I found him wanting was as Hawk Larabee, but when transferred to Brazos John after Elliot Lewis took over the part of Hawk, he was, as usual, wonderful.

5:30 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

The Yarborough reference includes his extensive career on radio. Dragnet was radio and tv, but he died while filming opening the door to Barney Phillips and Ben Alexander. Hawk Larabee was strictly radio.

9:39 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Barrylane, thanks for sharing your thoughts on Barton Yarborough. I believe I'd only seen him in one film previously, Kay Francis's WIFE WANTED. I was sad to learn he died fairly young, in 1951.

Best wishes,

10:13 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

I thought this was a good little series; a nice blend of mystery with the macabre. I recommend THE DEVIL'S MASK when you have the chance to see it, it's an entertaining film too.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Maricatrin! I'll keep that title in mind. Glad to know you have enjoyed it also.

Best wishes,

9:03 PM  

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