It’s getting harder to select a Bad Movie of the Week these days. I’m making a point of setting aside my considerable collection of bad movies on DVD and going after those on my Amazon and Hulu subscriptions. These services rotate their stock, and what’s available this month is liable to be gone the next. This one is bad, and it’s from 1946, about the time movies were getting on their feet after the big war. It’s The Inner Circle, and I was surprised to find a Wikipedia entry, where I’m getting details. Screen shots are from Amazon Prime Video. Republic Pictures produced and distributed this.
I don’t recognize any of the players, and I’m guessing none of my readers do, either. Anybody who knows these people, feel free to clue me in.
The opening shot is a Yellow Pages ad for Action Incorporated, a detective agency run by Johnny Strange (Warren Douglas). The phone book closes and slides out of view to reveal a revolver on the floor. The camera pans to disclose a dead body. This is going to be a murder mystery.
Next we see Johnny Strange on the phone to the newspaper classified section. He’s placing an ad for a secretary. These are the old days, before sexual equality. He specifies the secretary must be a woman (of course), 22 to 28, blond, good looking, skin soft to the touch, and a heart that can’t be touched. Is this Johnny Strange or Mike Hammer?
Before Johnny can complete the transaction a female fitting the description saunters in, snatches the phone from his hands, cancels the ad order, and announces herself as the new secretary. It’s apparent she fits the bill. She is Gerry Smith (Adele Mara). She takes charge right away, and this is critical.
- She observes Johnny is paying for periodic cleaning of the office and is not getting it.
- She picks up the phone to call the building manager, getting the number from Johnny.
- Meanwhile Johnny’s other phone rings, and she finishes her call with building manager and takes the other call.
- She speaks to the caller, apparently a client. She tells Johnny the details. Meet the woman in front of the jewelry store at 7:30 p.m. for further instructions. No other details available.
Note the image above. Johnny has two phone numbers. That is critical.
Johnny picks up the mysterious woman, wearing black and a black veil and speaking with a heavy Mexican accent. She takes him to an office where her husband has been killed. It’s the body from the opening scene. Things are tying together. She attempts to bribe Johnny into helping her dispose of the body, bidding the price up to $5000. She does not pay off. While Johnny is attempting to phone the police she conks him on the head with a bookend, places the pistol in his hand, and phones the police. Then she leaves and takes off her disguise, revealing herself to be Gerry Smith.
When Johnny comes to he’s holding the murder weapon, and the police are arriving. They are Detective Lieutenant Webb (William Frawley) and Police Officer Cummings (Robert J. Wilke). It appears that Johnny is going to be left holding the bag. Except that the gardener, Henry Boggs (Will Wright), has seen all the goings on through the window. But he doesn’t save the day for Johnny. Johnny’s secretary, Gerry, does. She arrives and lies to the police, giving a false statement about following Johnny and observing what went on through the window.
Meanwhile the housekeeper, Emma Wilson (Dorothy Adams), has also arrived, to further confuse matters.
Based on Gerry’s statement, Johnny is not indicted for the murder, and he and Gerry go on a quest for the killer. Johnny stops by the Penguin Club to talk to Rhoda Roberts (Virginia Christine), whose singing has been observed on a 78 platter Johnny retrieved from a wastebasket at the murder scene. Before this can conclude, in comes “Duke” York, criminal heavyweight and owner of the Penguin Club. After some conversation, “Duke” and two henchmen take Johnny for a ride in their car out to a place where the water is deep.
Without getting into details, Gerry and Lieutenant Webb come to the rescue.
Again, omitting more detail, we observe that Gerry Smith is Geraldine Travis, sister of Anne Travis Lowe (Martha Montgomery), who was previously riding in the car with a bank robber during a police chase and was more recently being blackmailed by the murdered guy. It’s all been an elaborate scheme by Gerry/Geraldine to protect her sister, who has turned out to be innocent of the killing.
Johnny also reveals how he caught onto Gerry’s subterfuge back at the office. When Gerry announced she was phoning the building manager, she actually phoned Johnny’s other number. Then she pretended to take that call, talking to nobody, while Johnny looked on, confused. Johnny has become wise to the ruse when he phoned the building manager and got a message that the number has been changed, and here is the new number. This did not happen when Gerry placed her “call to the building manager.”
Lieutenant Webb has been secretly recording all of this on a 78 platter, and he hauls everybody in. But Johnny has a better idea.
He convenes all suspects (finger pointing at Geraldine) in the murder room and stages a radio broadcast, at which all parties will recount their parts, and the audience will finally be clear regarding the real killer.
Surprise, the killer turns out not to be Geraldine, and at the conclusion they embrace with closer encounters forecast.
It’s an interesting, but unbelievable, plot, and the performances are summer stock. How likely is it that Geraldine charges into Johnny’s office right at the moment he is phoning in his ad for a secretary, one who exactly fits the description of Gerry Smith? Yeah, I don’t believe it, either.
Would you believe it? The best performance is turned in by Dorothy Adams as Emma Wilson. She absolutely nails her small part. Here is a list of her notable movie roles:
- 1938: Broadway Musketeers as Anna
- 1939: The Women as Miss Atkinson
- 1939: Ninotchka as Jacqueline
- 1940: The Fight for Life as the Young Woman
- 1941: The Devil Commands
- 1941: Affectionately Yours
- 1941: Bedtime Story
- 1941: The Shepherd of the Hills
- 1943: So Proudly We Hail! as Lt. Irma Emerson
- 1944: Laura as Bessie Clary
- 1946: A Boy and His Dog
- 1946: The Best Years of Our Lives as Mrs. Cameron
The latter came out the same year as The Inner Circle, not mentioned in the above list for some reason, that reason being the same as the reason this is appearing in this week’s Bad Movie of the Week.