Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Two in the Dark (1936)

TWO IN THE DARK is an enjoyable mystery about an amnesiac and murder.

As the movie begins, a man (Walter Abel) with a head injury staggers through a park late at night. He attracts the concern of Marie Smith (Margot Grahame), and when he explains that he has no memory, Marie offers to escort him to the nearest police station. Before they arrive, they see a newspaper headline which causes them to believe he could have been involved in a murder, but neither Marie nor the man himself believe he's truly the murdering kind.

Marie and the man have a few clues from the newspaper story and his pockets, and they set out to learn his true identity and solve the murder. I couldn't help thinking that Marie was very trusting; if I'd seen a man acting strangely in a park in the middle of the night I'd surely have hurried in the opposite direction!

This is a pleasant film with a good story, which was remade by Anthony Mann nearly a decade later as TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE (1945), starring Tom Conway as the amnesiac and Ann Rutherford as the kindhearted woman who helps him. One key difference is in the original, Marie is in the park because she's been turned out of her room for failure to pay the rent; that might have worked during the Depression, but in 1945 it was changed so that Rutherford is out late at night because she's a taxicab driver!

I first saw Margot Grahame a couple of weeks ago in Lew Landers' NIGHT WAITRESS (1936), released the same year as TWO IN THE DARK. Grahame and Abel, who have a nice chemistry together, had costarred the previous year in a version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1935); while I can envision Grahame as Lady De Winter, it's hard to imagine Abel as D'Artagnan! He usually appears in good supporting roles in films such as ARISE, MY LOVE (1940), SKYLARK (1941), and HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941), so it's quite interesting seeing Abel cast as a leading man.

While Abel stayed busy in films until the 1950s, when he moved to doing mostly television work, after 1938 Grahame was off the screen for nearly a decade, a time frame which coincides with the duration of her second marriage.  Grahame returned to films in 1947 when she and Walter Abel reunited to play the leads in a comedy about a talking dog, THE FABULOUS JOE (1947).

TWO IN THE DARK encapsulates something I love about '30s films. At the start of the movie, Abel and Grahame are sitting in the park and the tall, skeptical policeman who tells them they need to move along is Ward Bond, in one of two dozen films he made that year. Ward Bond makes any movie better, but that's just the start.

The police inspector proves to be Alan Hale, and a nosy reporter on the case is Wallace Ford. When Abel and Grahame arrive at a mansion, the butler is Eric Blore, and an overwrought musician at the mansion is another veteran of Fred and Ginger films, Erik Rhodes. Later, when Abel and Grahame go to a hotel, there's gorgeous Gail Patrick in the lobby; my daughter heard Patrick speaking from the next room and called out "I'd know that voice anywhere!"

It sometimes strikes me as a little miracle that all of these actors, and many more great ones just like them, all came together to work in the same place, at the same time. TWO IN THE DARK may be a relatively unknown little movie, but thanks to its cast, it has bits of magic.  It's a wonderful thing to be able to spend 74 minutes in their world, a place frozen in time and sprinkled with fairy dust.

TWO IN THE DARK was directed by Benjamin Stoloff. Cinematography was by Nicholas Musuraca, billed as Nick Musuraca in the credits. The Seton I. Miller screenplay was based on the novel TWO O'CLOCK COURAGE by Gelett Burgess.

This RKO film is not available on DVD or video, but it can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. I'd love to see the Warner Archive release the original and the remake packaged together, that would be a definite "buy" for me.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

I love this: "It sometimes strikes me as a little miracle that all of these actors, and many more great ones just like them, all came together to work in the same place, at the same time."

It's like running into family, isn't it?

4:31 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yes, it is, Jacqueline! It just feels so nice to drop in and visit with those familiar faces. :)


Best wishes,

11:02 AM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Sounds a good movie. I'd like to see more of Margot Grahame.
It is interesting when character actors get lead roles. Others I've seen lately are Jerome Cowan and Douglas Fowley.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Did you see Cowan in CRIME BY NIGHT, Vienna? I wished they'd made a series with him and Jane Wyman. I really enjoy him. If you have a tip on another film in which he played the lead, I'd love to know the title.

Douglas Fowley would be interesting as a lead too!

Best wishes,

11:09 AM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Yes, it was CRIME BY NIGHT,Laura. Haven't seen any others starring Jerome.
Another supporting actor who got a chance of a leading role was Steve Brodie in DESPERATE.
Douglas Fowley gets the lead in THE GLASS ALIBI.
And of course the one and only Charles McGraw in THE NARROW MARGIN and THE THREAT.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

A great list, thanks! Will look for THE GLASS ALIBI. I have THE THREAT in my "to be watched" stack.

Really enjoyed DESPERATE and especially THE NARROW MARGIN.

Best wishes,

12:34 PM  

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