Monday, June 26, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Private Detective 62 (1933)

One year prior to starting his best-known role as detective Nick Charles in MGM's THIN MAN series, William Powell starred in the title role as PRIVATE DETECTIVE 62 (1933).

In this Warner Bros. film Powell plays Donald Free, a government spy in Europe who's warned he'll be disavowed if he's caught.

He's indeed caught, convicted, and then shipped back to the U.S., having to jump overboard off the New York coast when he's unexpectedly told he's going to be taken back to France.

Free has trouble finding a job in Depression-era NYC, but he eventually teams up with another detective, Hogan (Arthur Hohl). They muddle along, assisted by secretary Amy (Ruth Donnelly), but business really takes a turn for the better thanks to referrals from a gangster named Bandor (Gordon Westcott).

Trouble rears its head when Bandor wants Free to dig up dirt on socialite Janet Reynolds (Margaret Lindsay), who's racked up big winnings at Bandor's nightclub which he doesn't want to pay off. One look at lovely Janet and Free's a goner.

PRIVATE DETECTIVE 62 has a slow beginning, with extraneous scenes related to Free's spy career which don't really add anything to the overall film, other than to illustrate that he's brave and quick thinking.

For the viewer who can stick it out past the early sequences, it develops into quite an enjoyable film once Free gets started in the detective business and Lindsay enters the picture. At this point the story takes on much more interest, energetically directed by Michael Curtiz. (A couple years later Curtiz also did a nice job with the 1935 Perry Mason mystery THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE.) Scenes in this 66-minute film are generally short and sweet, with brisk editing.

Powell is his usual charming, engaging self; the New York Times of the day said he had "a talent for furtive heroics, and it is the best of fun to watch him slipping through the shadows of criminal melodrama." That seems prescient given his THIN MAN fame!

Incidentally, while "62" appears to refer to Free's detective license number, it has no significance in the film whatsoever.

Lindsay is especially beautiful in this film. She and Powell are backed by a solid cast of actors including Natalie Moorhead, James Bell, Hobart Cavanaugh, Irving Bacon, and, very briefly, sisters Toby and Pat Wing.

It's the kind of fun movie where "Wild Bill" Elliott can be spotted watching Lindsay gamble -- one of 18 films in which he had bit parts that year -- with Charles Lane popping in as a process server just as the film is wrapping up. It's rather fun that three decades later Lane also appeared as a judge at the very end of THE WHEELER DEALERS (1963), reviewed here last night.

A big plus factor is the instrumental use of Rodgers and Hart's "Isn't It Romantic?" over the opening credits and at later points. The song, which had been introduced the previous year in Paramount's LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932), gives the film an extra aura of class and a romantic glow that it might not have otherwise had.

PRIVATE DETECTIVE 62 was filmed by Tony Gaudio.

PRIVATE DETECTIVE 62 has also been shown on TV under the title MAN KILLER. It's not available on DVD or VHS, but it can be seen periodically on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is on the TCM website. (Update: Many thanks to reader Barrylane for letting me know that this film is on DVD as part of the Warner Archive's four-film William Powell at Warner Bros. Collection. Not sure how I missed that in my search; I appreciate being able to post the info for interested readers!)


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