Having admired Richard Dix's performance in HELL'S HIGHWAY (1932) last weekend, I wanted to see another Dix film and chose SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR (1936).
SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR, which aired on Turner Classic Movies a few days ago, is a satisfying 61-minute programmer with Dix carrying a majority of the scenes. It was based on a story by Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason.
Dix plays attorney Bill Fenwick, who as the movie begins has just gotten mobster Benny Gray (Erik Rhodes) acquitted from a felony conviction.
Benny is grateful and pays Bill well, but Bill takes to heart the judge's statement that his work getting Benny off was an affront to society. (So much for every defendant deserving a legal defense!) When Bill's G-man brother (Owen Davis Jr.) is gunned down by mobster Eddie Selton (J. Carrol Naish), Bill sets aside his practice to help the feds nail Eddie.
It's a fast-paced and entertaining movie which uses an interesting device to compress time in a couple of places, mixing traditional newspaper headline montages with random "talking head" shots with verbal reactions to events.
Dix carries the movie well, bringing emotional nuances and depth to a character who is fairly sparely written. He can do things, such as the look on his face when he gets a phone call, that less talented actors might not be able to bring to a part. He interests me more with each film I watch.
It was interesting seeing Rhodes, whom I associate with his funny, heavily accented characters in early Fred & Ginger movies, with a very different movie persona. He has a good scene late in the film where he runs into Bill in a Reno nightclub and immediately plays along when Bill pretends not to know him, while Bill's ex-girlfriend (Sheila Terry) is more dense.
I was unfamiliar with Margaret Callahan, the leading lady in half a dozen films in 1935 and 1936, who then left the screen. Callahan, who reminded me a bit of Fay Wray, was born in 1910. IMDb doesn't list a date of death, but other resources on line say she passed away in 1981, age 71.
Joe Sawyer leads the supporting cast as Eddie's nasty henchman, with other roles played by J.M. Kerrigan, Russell Hicks, and Jed Prouty.
SPECIAL INVESIGATOR was directed by Louis King and filmed in black and white by Edward Cronjager.
SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR also got a thumbs up a few years ago from Steve at Mystery File.