Monday, September 13, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Footsteps in the Dark (1941)

FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK is an amusing lighthearted murder mystery with a congenial cast, though it's far from the best of the genre.

Francis Warren (Errol Flynn) is a wealthy investment counselor who moonlights as F.X. Pettijohn, the writer of scandalous mysteries. Warren's social circle and clients wouldn't approve of his writing career, so he keeps his alternate identity a secret from everyone, even his lovely wife Rita (Brenda Marshall). When Warren tries to help the local police solve a homicide, his secretive behavior causes Rita to think he's seeing another woman.

It's all been done before, but Flynn is quite entertaining as the financier turned murder detective. He puts on a Texas accent in a couple of scenes and is generally a lot of fun; Flynn is a charmer, and it makes one wish he'd done more comedies.

Although the film's leads are a married couple, those hoping for a mystery in the style of the THIN MAN series and similar films will be disappointed, as Rita spends her relatively small amount of screen time worrying about what her husband's doing. She's not clued in till the final scenes of the film.

The mystery itself is reasonably interesting, but the undeveloped relationship between the leads is a missed opportunity and is one of the film's shortcomings. It's all about Flynn's character, with the puzzled, then wounded wife constantly fretting at home. Marshall, who was also Flynn's leading lady in THE SEA HAWK (1940), is pretty but doesn't have much substance to her role.

The excellent supporting cast is led by Allen Jenkins as Warren's chauffeur-turned-secretary, Ralph Bellamy as a dentist, Alan Hale as the bowler-hatted homicide detective, William Frawley as Warren's nemesis on the police force, Lucile Watson as Warren's mother-in-law, and Lee Patrick as a burlesque star. Grant Mitchell, Roscoe Karns, Maris Wrixon, and Turhan Bey also put in appearances.

FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK was directed by Lloyd Bacon. It was shot in black and white and runs 96 minutes.

FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK was released on VHS. It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer available here.

Update: This film is now available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive.


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