Monday, June 13, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Dressed to Kill (1941)

DRESSED TO KILL is the third of Lloyd Nolan's seven appearances as private investigator Michael Shayne.

This time around Shayne is set to marry a singer, Joanne La Marr (Mary Beth Hughes), but on the way to see the justice of the peace he's distracted by a screaming maid in Joanne's apartment building. Upon investigating, Shayne discovers a macabre double murder scene, and he's off and running with little thought for the wedding.

I didn't find this entry nearly as enjoyable as MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE (1940) or SLEEPERS WEST (1941). Shayne's character is usually lighthearted, not to mention broke, but in this film he's more annoying and less serious than in the previous films. For example, Shayne blithely tampers with the murder scene and then tells the police inspector (William Demarest) that he didn't touch it. The character, in general, seems a bit "dumbed down" this time around. I was ready for the movie to end by the time it completed its 74-minute running time.

The supporting character of Otto (Edwin Kalser) is particularly tedious, and on the whole the suspects aren't very interesting. Character actor Henry Daniell probably comes off best. Sheila Ryan, who's a little more lively than most of the cast, unfortunately only has a couple of scenes and disappears from the story early on.

Hughes, playing Shayne's much-put-upon fiancee, just pops in every so often to whine about Shayne putting off the wedding. It's hard to imagine Shayne going from romancing the sophisticated Lynn Bari in SLEEPERS WEST to wanting to marry Hughes' character. Hughes played a much more interesting role in SLEEPERS WEST; she would return in the next film, BLUE, WHITE AND PERFECT (1941), as yet another character!

I seem to be having a mini-Hughes festival in recent days, as along with her first two Shayne appearances I saw her last week in EL PASO (1949). I would venture to guess that it's the rare filmgoer today who knows Hughes' name, yet she had over 90 film and TV credits in a period of a little over two decades. She started out at MGM in films such as THESE GLAMOUR GIRLS (1939) and DANCING CO-ED (1939). Her films at Fox included ORCHESTRA WIVES (1942) and THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943). Hughes was most typically the leading lady in "B" movies.

As with SLEEPERS WEST, DRESSED TO KILL takes a character created by Brett Halliday and drops him into a story by another author. In this case the movie is based on a novel by Richard Burke, THE DEAD TAKE NO BOWS.

Eugene Forde directed DRESSED TO KILL, as well as the first two films with Nolan. Nolan's next four Shayne films would be directed by Herbert I. Leeds.

For reasons unknown to me, this film is not in the Michael Shayne Mysteries Vol. 1 DVD collection. Instead, it was released as a single title; the print is excellent, and the film's beautiful look is perhaps its most enjoyable aspect. Nolan's fourth and fifth Shayne films complete Vol. 1, and his last two performances as Shayne have yet to be released to DVD.


Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Is this the one where they discover the corpses sitting around a dining room table, or something like that, in an eerie tableau?

If so, I thought that was the best scene in the movie. Alas, the rest of the movie didn't live up to that scene.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's the one, Kevin! That scene was pretty darn creepy. :)

Hoping the next one is a little more interesting --

Best wishes,

12:31 PM  

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