Thursday, January 27, 2022

Tonight's Movie: The Crime of Helen Stanley (1934)

I watched THE CRIME OF HELEN STANLEY (1934) thanks to the recommendation of film historian Jeremy Arnold.

In a recent Zoom chat Jeremy mentioned that the plot, about an actress shot to death on a movie set, was especially interesting to watch in light of the recent unfortunate Alec Baldwin shooting. It turns out that concerns about on-set guns with live ammunition have been around a long, long time.

I was also intrigued since the film stars Gail Patrick. It's a quick 58-minute watch currently on YouTube.

Patrick plays the title role, a famous movie actress. Helen is unhappy with her sister Betty (Shirley Grey) and former lover, cameraman Lee Davis (Kane Richmond), who have fallen in love.

Helen is also having problems with her business manager (Bradley Page), who can't account for $60,000 of her money. In short, Helen's life is pretty messy, but she's a pro and carries on filming her latest movie.

While filming a nightclub dance sequence Helen is supposed to be shot by an actor (Stephen Chase), but when she drops to the floor, it's for real -- she's dead. (This happens so early in the movie that I don't consider it a spoiler; as seen in the illustrations here, it's featured prominently in the movie's publicity posters and stills.)

Inspector Steve Trent (Ralph Bellamy), who Helen had phoned shortly before being murdered, is quickly on the case. Additional suspects include assistant cameraman Jack Baker (Ward Bond) and Karl, Helen's chauffeur (Vincent Sherman, who went on to be a top director).

I had the nagging feeling I'd seen the story before, and just about the time the movie ended I remembered a similar plot was used in WHO KILLED GAIL PRESTON? (1938), with Rita Hayworth as the murder victim and Don Terry as the detective. The only difference was that instead of the murder taking place on a nightclub movie set, WHO KILLED GAIL PRESTON? took place in an actual nightclub.

The writing credits for the two films are different; THE CRIME OF HELEN STANLEY was written by Harold Shumate from a story by Charles R. Condon, while WHO KILLED GAIL PRESTON? is credited to Robert Kent and Henry Taylor, based on a story by Fred Pederson. However, both movies were made for Columbia Pictures.

IMDb acknowledges GAIL PRESTON is a remake of HELEN STANLEY on a trivia page. I couldn't help wondering if Gail Preston's name was a little tribute to Gail Patrick, the actress who played the murder victim in the original seems rather likely, doesn't it?

While not an especially great "B" film, THE CRIME OF HELEN STANLEY was entertaining enough to be worthwhile, with an interesting movie studio setting, a couple nice L.A. locations, and a fun cast. The only real disappointment was how little was seen of Gail Patrick before her character's demise.

Bellamy's portrayal is interesting in an off-kilter way; Inspector Trent listens to people's alibis and sometimes surprises by immediately dismissing suspects with dubious backgrounds or alibis. He seems to operate quite a bit on instinct. He might not always be the sharpest knife in the drawer, however; why does it take him so long to look at the movie footage of Helen's shooting?

I learned that THE CRIME OF HELEN STANLEY, released in April 1934, was the second of four films in which Ralph Bellamy played Inspector Steve Trent The others were BEFORE MIDNIGHT (November 1933), ONE IS GUILTY (May 1934), and GIRL IN DANGER (September 1934).

The last two films, like THE CRIME OF HELEN STANLEY, costarred Shirley Grey, who played a completely different role in each movie. Two of the films, including this one, were directed by D. Ross Lederman, and the other two were directed by Lambert Hillyer.

It's a fun bit of trivia that a few years later, Bellamy would play detective Ellery Queen in a quartet of movies released in 1940 and 1941.

THE CRIME OF HELEN STANLEY was filmed by Al Seigler. The supporting cast also includes Phillip Trent, Lucien Prival, Helen Eby-Rock, and Frank O'Connor.

This was an enjoyable short watch, and I'll be looking for the other movies in this series.

Update: Here's my review of the first film in the series, BEFORE MIDNIGHT (1933).


Anonymous Bert Greene said...

There always seemed to be a kind of an adult 'seriousness' in Shirley Grey's demeanor, as an actress. I enjoyed her in the Buck Jones western "Treason" (1933), where she played the girl leader of a band of Confederate outlaws. Her biggest spotlight, however, was probably her lead role as the clever protagonist in "The Girl Who Came Back" (1935) for Chesterfield.

Columbia's little b-mysteries/melos from the 1930s have often surprised me at how entertaining they've been, although I seem to recall "The Crime of Helen Stanley" as only being so-so.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Bert, you have brought up a movie that intrigues me. TREASON(1933) is a movie I've never viewed. The story of a band of un-reconstructed Confederates setting up a Republic of South Kansas and led by a woman, isn't exactly the usual Western fare. Where were you able to view this Movie? it isn't on YouTube currently.

4:34 AM  
Anonymous Bert Greene said...

Walter, copies of just about all the Columbia westerns of Buck Jones are floating around, thanks to the old 16mm tv-syndication prints. I first picked up a copy of "Treason" on VHS many years back at a film convention, and later got an upgrade on disc. Got the non-western Jones feature "High Speed" (1932-Col) from the late Dom Marafioti, who used to head up the annual Buck Jones Festivals in the 1990s. That title used to be a rare one.

Of the Columbia batch, one Jones item that has remained elusive to me is the later "Headin' East" (1937). I don't know why. Maybe it was never a part of the old syndication package. Or maybe I've just had poor luck, never running across it.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Bert, thank you for the good information. There is a Buck Jones dvd, BUCK JONES WESTERN DOUBLE FEATURE VOL. 3: THE CALIFORNIA TRAIL and TREASON(1933) out there somewhere. Amazon, eBay, and Sinister Cinema doesn't have any copies currently. I'll be on the lookout.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I really enjoyed all the feedback on Shirley Grey and her other work, especially as I'm a Buck Jones fan. (I'm fortunate to have the VCI double feature DVD with TREASON though I've not yet watched it.) THE GIRL WHO CAME BACK sounds interesting also!

Bert, "so-so" is a fair term for HELEN STANLEY. It's not one of the better "B's" I've seen, but I enjoyed an hour with it for the reasons mentioned in my review.

Thank you both again for the fun discussion!

Best wishes,

7:01 PM  

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