Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Destination Murder (1950)

DESTINATION MURDER was one of my choices when I recently won a drawing for ten Warner Archive DVDs. I love "B" movies, and this one proved to be fun. It's far from a perfect film, but it's fast-paced and interesting, with a tight little plot that has a couple nicely staged moments.

Laura Mansfield (Joyce MacKenzie) is home from college when her father (Franklyn Farnum) is murdered at his front door by a delivery boy, Jackie (Stanley Clements). Dissatisfied with the pace of the investigation by Police Lt. Brewster (James Flavin), Laura cozies up to Jackie, one of the chief suspects, in order to try to gather some evidence on her own.

Before too long Laura follows another lead and gets a job as a cigarette girl at a nightclub, where she keeps a wary eye on owner Armitage (Albert Dekker), his fiancee Alice (Myrna Dell), and Stretch (Hurd Hatfield), the manager, who falls in love with her. Laura has no idea just how complicated -- and deadly -- her investigation is about to become.

The film begins with a cleverly staged murder in which Jackie, the delivery boy, skips out in the middle of a movie date to commit the crime. It's a bit hard to believe he was gone such a short time that his date didn't grow suspicious while waiting for him to return with her popcorn, but I give the filmmakers kudos for the nicely plotted, literally.

Later on, there's a truly creepy sequence when a killer's signature tune, "Moonlight Sonata," starts playing before he's visible; the moment when the music starts playing might be the best scene in the movie.

I wasn't previously familiar with Joyce MacKenzie, who has a nice mix of gumption and petulance as the murder victim's frustrated daughter. She's no goody-two-shoes, but a girl who makes some mistakes in her earnest desire to hurry along justice. She overdoes a couple of the huffy glances here and there, but all in all MacKenzie does a good job.

Stanley Clements had already played any number of elevator boys, office boys, and bellhops in his career, so he's a natural fit here as the rather obnxious delivery boy. Clements, who was married to Gloria Grahame in the late '40s, appeared in both the East Side Kids and Bowery Boys series.

Actress Myrna Dell passed away a little over a year ago. The year before DESTINATION MURDER she played one of the dance hall girls in the unsung and underrated Western ROUGHSHOD (1949). Ironically, her costar was Stanley Clements' ex, Gloria Grahame.

I'm always glad to see John Dehner's name in the credits. He appears early on in the film, and then returns to play a key role at the conclusion. Dehner, a one-time Disney animator, had a longtime career in both films and television. His five appearances on my favorite TV show, MAVERICK, included playing Banker Bates in the show's most famous episode, "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres."

DESTINATION MURDER is a 72-minute movie which was distributed by RKO. It was directed by Edward L. Cahn, from a screenplay by Don Martin.

I enjoy watching for interesting names in the credits of "B" movies and noticed that the art director was Boris Leven, who would go on to win the Oscar as the production designer for WEST SIDE STORY (1961); he was nominated several more times, including for THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965).

DESTINATION MURDER is available in a nice print from the Warner Archive. There is no trailer on the disc.

It can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.

DESTINATION MURDER isn't a top-drawer crime film, but fellow "B" fans will likely find it a pleasant time-passer.


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