Friday, May 01, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Cover Up (1949)

COVER UP (1949) is a tremendously enjoyable Christmastime mystery, with a sharp script cowritten by the film's star, Dennis O'Keefe.

O'Keefe, using his pen name Jonathan Rix, wrote the film with Jerome Odlum. O'Keefe worked as a writer on a few other films, including his starring film THE DIAMOND WIZARD (1954).

The movie is filled with cozy small-town ambiance, a sweet romance, good dialogue, and some wonderful wry bits of humor, especially involving a sourpuss housekeeper (Doro Merande) and a wordless deputy sheriff (Dan White).

O'Keefe plays insurance investigator Sam Donovan, who meets lovely Anita (Barbara Britton) while traveling to her hometown to check out the suicide of the most unpopular man in town.

Sam finds everyone in town exceedingly close-mouthed about the death, which he begins to suspect is murder. Even the sheriff (William Bendix) refuses to offer much help. And is it a coincidence that Anita's father (Art Baker) once owned a Luger, the same kind of gun which killed the deceased?

Sam may not make much headway with the case, but as he lingers in town he and the sparkling Anita, whom he dotingly calls "Sugar," find themselves trading increasingly passionate goodnight kisses.

And then on Christmas Eve Sam has an idea to solve the case once and for all...

I loved this film from beginning to end; it's a real charmer. I'm surprised that I don't recall Turner Classic Movies running this one at Christmas, as the movie is set against the backdrop of a small-town Christmas, complete with shopping, decorating, and a tree lighting in the town square. (One odd thing: the tree which Anita and the housekeeper Hilda decorate on Christmas Eve was already decorated earlier in the movie! Maybe they were just adding more to it?) TCM's article on the film calls it "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) brushed with noir dust."

The more I see of Dennis O'Keefe, the more I like; in this he's got a great combination of determination and charm. Knowing O'Keefe was also a talented writer only adds to the admiration I feel for him. He and Britton have very believable chemistry and make a most appealing couple.

My only complaint about the film was that at 82 minutes, it was too short! I would have really liked an epilogue with the family celebrating Christmas and a bit more resolution to a very satisfactory romance.

Ann E. Todd plays Anita's cute younger sister; you can read more about her life and career in my review of STRONGER THAN DESIRE (1939). The cast also includes Virginia Christine, Russell Arms, Helen Spring, Paul E. Burns, and Ruth Lee. Hank Worden pops up briefly as the town undertaker.

COVER UP was directed by Alfred E. Green and filmed by Ernest Laszlo. I've been trying without success to learn where the movie was filmed; if it was done on a backlot, it makes a convincingly realistic small town, which seems genuinely cold and windy.

COVER UP is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. The DVD print is for the most part excellent; some of the shots of Barbara Britton are stupendously beautiful, although there are a few scenes, especially near the end, which are more faded or have a faint line on the screen.

For more on this film, please see Caftan Woman's post from last December.

I'm always glad to find a new Christmas movie, and I'll be pulling this one out again in future Decembers!


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

We can start a "Cover Up" cult! At any rate, a Dennis O'Keefe fan club.

6:47 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Very cool. Like you, my admiration of him (already substantial) only grows.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

O'Keefe definitely needs a fan club! Now I want to find all his other movies -- well, maybe I should specify the ones after his years in bit part purgatory ended or it would be a long list! LOL. I plan to watch the new Warner Archive Blu-ray of 42ND STREET (1933) this weekend and I understand he's in the chorus!

Something neat is that years before I knew who Dennis O'Keefe was, I met his widow, Steffi Duna, at a Los Angeles County Museum of Art screening of her Technicolor short LA CUCARACHA (1934) and got her autograph! Little did I know then (I was a kid, late '70s) how much I would come to admire her husband. I've scanned her autograph and will share it here, hopefully soon-ish.

Best wishes,

3:39 PM  
Blogger Mary-Catherine said...

I'll join that O'Keefe fan club too! As I've mentioned on another thread, he's an actor who (fairly recently) I've really started to appreciate. He can switch from comedic to tough guy roles with ease, and seems so natural in them all.

And thanks for the great review, this one sounds like a must see. Don't know if I can wait until Christmas, but we'll see;-)

6:49 PM  
Blogger mel said...

I have this movie in my collection but it's one of the many that I haven't watched yet. Had I known that Doro Merande was in it I would have watched it long ago... Thanks for mentioning it in your review of The Whistle At Eaton Falls.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Mary-Catherine, always glad to know there's another O'Keefe fan out there! He really did switch with ease among different types of roles.

Mel, I'm so glad I happened to mention it! I think you will get a kick out of Merande's character. The movie also has a really nice small town setting. I wish I knew more about the setting, whether it was studio created or filmed on location.

By coincidence COVER UP has just been shown on opening night of the 2022 UCLA Festival of Preservation. I wonder if an upgraded print will make it to Blu-ray at some point.

Best wishes,

11:44 PM  

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