A Night for Crime (February 18, 1943)

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Lyle Talbot in A Night for Crime

Released February 18, 1943: A movie studio publicity man searches for a missing actress and turns up murder and intrigue.

Directed by Alexis Thurn-Taxis

The Actors: Glenda Farrell (Susan), Lyle Talbot (Joe Powell), Lina Basquette (Mona), Donald Kirke (Hart), Ralph Sanford (Detective Hoffman), Forrest Taylor (Williams), Lynn Starr (Carol), Rick Vallin (Arthur), Edna Mae Harris (telephone operator), Marjorie Manners (Ellen Smith), Erskine Johnson (columnist), Jimmy Starr (columnist), Edwin Schallert (columnist), Florence O'Brien (columnist), Harry Crocker (columnist), Robert Frazer (studio man), Ruby Dandridge (maid)

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Sometimes Hollywood makes a movie about themselves, and this is one of them. We have a murder mystery with actresses, producers, and a publicity man with his fast-talking girl friend that solve a couple of murders and uncover a tangled web of deceit at the movie studio. With this one, we also get a bit of the flavor of wartime America, and the way it changed life at home, accented by a story I remember my papa telling about the war years and sugar in particular.

Lyle Talbot, veteran movie actor and later television second-banana on several popular shows, is driving out of the studio lot, and the guard warns him to be careful this evening as there is a planned electric black-out scheduled, and he shouldn't be caught in the wrong place when the lights go out. This is our first reference to war time America. During the Second World War, as our young boys were off to Europe and the Pacific to fight the bad guys, the folks at home were doing without, to support the war effort. Our production capacity, from electricity to dry goods and rubber and other common elements were being gobbled up by the military, creating huge shortages at home. My dad was working at a machine shop and considered too difficult to replace, and was not a soldier like his two brothers were during WWII, so he had many stories about home life in that period. More about that later. Grab your popcorn and lets get back to the movie.

It seems that an actress in the middle of production for a new movie has disappeared, and Joe (Lyle Talbot) is ordered to search the city for her and bring her back to the studio. He heads to his girlfriend's apartment, and we meet Susan, a smart alek fast-talker that is Joe's equal and maybe a bit more. Mona, the missing actress, is always a bit hard to handle, but this time she might have gone too far. She doesn't seem to be in her usual haunts, and the mystery deepens further when they discover the dead body of a bit-part actress next door. It is here that we meet the bumbling police inspector. Lots of cops in detective murder mysteries are just a bit dumber than the star/detectives, but this guy is dumber than a blonde on decaf. At one point in the dialogue Susan asks the quick off-handed question about how he is set for sugar. The dumb cop, without thinking replies that he is in great shape, he has two pounds hidden in the attic. Then he says, "Hey, are you trying to get me in trouble with the F.B.I. or something?"

Okay, here's my story from papa during WWII. Sugar in particular, like gasoline, rubber, and other materials, was in short supply, and rationing stamps were issued so that everyone could get a little bit, and no one got a lot more than the rest of the people. But in the beginning, the person issuing the stamps would ask you how much sugar you had on hand at the time, and give you extra stamps if you didn't have much. Dad often told the story of a neighbor who sat in the office and tearfully clamed that every bit of sugar he had was on the kitchen table. Well, this would be understood to mean that the only sugar he had was in his small sugar bowl sitting on the table with the salt shaker and pepper shaker. But then dad would explain that the fellow actually had about 10 pounds of sugar stacked on his table, and was laughing at the extra sugar rations he was given because of his 'dire' straights. All right, now back to the show.

Soon we discover that the missing actress is dead, and just about everyone that knows her shows up at the coroner's to identify the body. But then the producer mysteriously disappears for a few days and returns with a reel of film containing the scenes of dead actress Mona that were needed to finish her film. The mystery continues between dead Mona and new film scenes with Mona as the cast makes its way from Hollywood to Reno, Nevada, where Mona, the missing/dead actress is discovered.  Keep munching your popcorn and don't turn it off now, because just when you think you have this one solved, it twists again. Susan will get it all figured out, and let us all know what the real scoop is, and the dumb cop gets even dumber, and Joe still doesn't get Susan to accept any of his proposals, until . . .