Saturday, February 02, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Blue, White and Perfect (1942)

BLUE, WHITE AND PERFECT is an especially strong entry in the Michael Shayne mystery series starring Lloyd Nolan.

BLUE, WHITE AND PERFECT is the middle film in a series of seven 20th Century-Fox films starring Nolan. (The character would later live on at a Poverty Row studio, played by Hugh Beaumont.) I've enjoyed the first three films -- links follow at the end of this post -- but was surprised to realize I hadn't caught a Shayne film since 2011. I guess I was distracted by the Falcon! I was happy to resume my acquaintance with Michael Shayne tonight.

This time around Shayne proposes to his girlfriend, a hairdresser named Merle (Mary Beth Hughes). Shayne promises Merle he'll get out of the dangerous detective business and settle down to a steady job as a riveter in a defense factory. Unknown to Merle, being a riveter is just a cover for Shayne's new security job at the plant.

Naturally, a huge load of hard-to-get industrial diamonds are stolen from the factory on Shayne's first day on the job. He's soon hot on the trail of the diamonds, which have been swiped by German agents -- although, for no apparent reason, the diamonds are shipped to Honolulu. Apparently they're taking the long route to Germany! Helene Reynolds plays a shady old friend of Shayne's who's also on the boat, and George Reeves (SUPERMAN) has a good part as another passenger, the curiously named Juan Arturo O'Hara.

Samuel Engel's screenplay for this well-plotted, engaging film was based on a story by Borden Chase, which doubtless is a significant part of the explanation for the film working as well as it does. Chase wrote the screenplays for RED RIVER (1948), WINCHESTER '73 (1950), BEND OF THE RIVER (1952), THE WORLD IN HIS ARMS (1953), and NIGHT PASSAGE (1957). BLUE, WHITE AND PERFECT was one of his earliest credits. Engel, it must be noted, wrote some pretty good screenplays himself, including MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946).

I'm an admirer of Lloyd Nolan; I tried to describe his seemingly effortless ability to make a character interesting in my post on SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT (1946). Nolan is quite a mesmerizing actor; during a shipboard scene with two other characters speaking, I watched as he helped himself to candy, then perched awkwardly on the side of a chair, and thought "He's stealing this scene!" I don't know that he meant to do that, and in fact his penchant for candy proves to be a critical plot point, but the fact is he's just a lot of fun to watch. His reactions and line deliveries seem both authentic and unique, just "different" enough to keep the viewer watching him closely.

There are some terrific bits of business in the film, including Shayne's behavior continually surprising an older couple running a drugstore, building to a funny climax. The scene where the baffled couple watch as Shayne simulates background factory noise during a phone conversation is quite amusing. The couple are played by Frank Orth and Mae Marsh; Marsh was a former silent film actress who was also a longtime member of the John Ford "stock company."

Mary Beth Hughes also played Shayne's fiancee in the previous film, DRESSED TO KILL (1941), but that fiancee was a completely different character! Hughes played yet another character in the second Shayne film, SLEEPERS WEST (1941).

Ann Doran, a big favorite, has a nice part as an employee at a dress shop. The cast also includes Curt Bois, Steven Geray, Henry Victor, and Charles Williams.

Mary Gordon and Pat O'Malley appear as an Irish landlady and a police sergeant; it's almost a form of "movie shorthand" to cast certain actors in familiar types of roles. I wonder how many times Gordon -- who I discovered was born in Scotland! -- played an Irishwoman and O'Malley played a policeman in the movies?

BLUE, WHITE AND PERFECT runs 74 minutes. It was directed by Herbert I. Leeds, who began working on the series with this film and continued to direct the Shayne films through the last in the series with Nolan.

This movie is part of the four film Michael Shayne Mysteries Vol. 1 DVD set. (Alas, there was no Volume 2!) It can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.

BLUE, WHITE AND PERFECT will be shown on Fox Movie Channel on February 12th and 19th, 2013. For those who might not have seen the earlier films in the series, I don't think it matters too much, as there's little continuity, as witnessed by my comments above on the variety of characters played by Mary Beth Hughes.

Previous reviews of films in the Michael Shayne series: MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE (1940), SLEEPERS WEST (1941), and DRESSED TO KILL (1941).

The titles still ahead of me to watch for the first time are THE MAN WHO WOULDN'T DIE (1942), JUST OFF BROADWAY (1942), and TIME TO KILL (1942). THE MAN WHO WOULDN'T DIE is on DVD and JUST OFF BROADWAY has been recorded from Fox Movie Channel, but I've yet to find a copy of TIME TO KILL. Hopefully I'll track one down by the time I'm ready to see it!


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