Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Special Investigator (1936)

Having admired Richard Dix's performance in HELL'S HIGHWAY (1932) last weekend, I wanted to see another Dix film and chose SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR (1936).

SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR, which aired on Turner Classic Movies a few days ago, is a satisfying 61-minute programmer with Dix carrying a majority of the scenes. It was based on a story by Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason.

Dix plays attorney Bill Fenwick, who as the movie begins has just gotten mobster Benny Gray (Erik Rhodes) acquitted from a felony conviction.

Benny is grateful and pays Bill well, but Bill takes to heart the judge's statement that his work getting Benny off was an affront to society. (So much for every defendant deserving a legal defense!) When Bill's G-man brother (Owen Davis Jr.) is gunned down by mobster Eddie Selton (J. Carrol Naish), Bill sets aside his practice to help the feds nail Eddie.

Bill goes undercover in a small town outside Reno, where the injured Eddie is holed up with his gang. Bill also meets and falls for Virginia (Margaret Callahan), not knowing that she's Eddie's sister.

It's a fast-paced and entertaining movie which uses an interesting device to compress time in a couple of places, mixing traditional newspaper headline montages with random "talking head" shots with verbal reactions to events.

Dix carries the movie well, bringing emotional nuances and depth to a character who is fairly sparely written. He can do things, such as the look on his face when he gets a phone call, that less talented actors might not be able to bring to a part. He interests me more with each film I watch.

It was interesting seeing Rhodes, whom I associate with his funny, heavily accented characters in early Fred & Ginger movies, with a very different movie persona. He has a good scene late in the film where he runs into Bill in a Reno nightclub and immediately plays along when Bill pretends not to know him, while Bill's ex-girlfriend (Sheila Terry) is more dense.

I was unfamiliar with Margaret Callahan, the leading lady in half a dozen films in 1935 and 1936, who then left the screen. Callahan, who reminded me a bit of Fay Wray, was born in 1910. IMDb doesn't list a date of death, but other resources on line say she passed away in 1981, age 71.

Joe Sawyer leads the supporting cast as Eddie's nasty henchman, with other roles played by J.M. Kerrigan, Russell Hicks, and Jed Prouty.

SPECIAL INVESIGATOR was directed by Louis King and filmed in black and white by Edward Cronjager.

SPECIAL INVESTIGATOR also got a thumbs up a few years ago from Steve at Mystery File.


Blogger Kristina said...

Really looking forward to watching this along with some other Dix movies, I like him a lot too and can see why you're getting more interested in him. You have to check him out in the Whistler series!

4:46 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Another Dix film I have never seen. Sounds good too.
I am really glad you are admiring Dix more and more, Laura, and, yes, I look forward to hearing what you think of the 'WHISTLER' series. BTW, have you ever seen him in the fine western "THE KANSAN" (1943)?

11:36 PM  
Blogger Mary-Catherine said...

I'll second Jerry's recommendation of THE KANSAN!

And I'll third(?) the Whistler series too;-) Just be forewarned, some of the stories are a bit on the grim side. My dad calls the series "the many deaths of Richard Dix," but he's exaggerating a little. I would recommend NOT starting with THE POWER OF THE WHISTLER (even though it also has Jeff Donnell), there's a (mercifully brief) scene which recalls the little dog's death in REAR WINDOW.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for your feedback! I'm looking forward to checking out the WHISTLER films (and thanks for the warning, Maricatrin!). I LOL re "the many deaths of Richard Dix."

I have not seen THE KANSAN but recently recorded it -- I'll make sure it's in my "watch soonest" stack (which is admittedly huge, but that's a good thing, right?!). I also have a Lew Landers film I haven't seen yet, BLIND ALIBI, near the top of the stack.

Best wishes,

12:54 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I watched 'BLIND ALIBI' just recently, thanks to you, Laura, and I think you will enjoy it. I certainly did.

I like all the westerns Richard Dix starred in for Harry Sherman (1940-43) and would recommend them. 'THE KANSAN' was one of the first westerns I ever saw (around 60 years ago YIPES!) and still vividly remember it. Of course, I've seen it several times since but maybe that tells you something......

2:46 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for the recommendations, Jerry! Going to try to get to both of the Dix films you mention in the near future -- hopefully one in the coming week. (And RED SUNDOWN too!)

I enjoyed Dix's THE ROUND-UP and TOMBSTONE so expect to enjoy THE KANSAN as well.

Best wishes,

10:34 AM  

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