I don’t review old movies only because they are bad. In some cases there is a need to give viewers a peek into this other world. It’s a world before we were born, before there was a Second World War, before there was color. Many modern production companies trace back to these times, but there are some that existed for a while and then vanished. One such was Grand National Pictures. It was established in 1936 and lasted only until 1939. This production may be one reason. It’s Held For Ransom, and it stars Blanche Mehaffey as Betty Mason and Grant Withers as Larry Scott. The Wikipedia entry is empty, so I’m getting casting information from the title sequence and from IMDb. Screen shots are from Amazon Prime Video.
This is how they did things in the 1930s. The big hand on the clock sweeps full circle, revealing the name “Grand National.”
Titles in those days were handsome and straight-forward.
You have guessed the plot involves a kidnapping for ransom, so I’m going to sketch it. Millionaire candy maker Herbert Scott (Richard Lancaster) has been kidnapped, and a ransom of $50,000 has been payed by his playboy nephew, Larry Scott. But the kidnappers don’t get the money, and they refuse to release millionaire Scott. The police are frustrated. We see a series of newspaper headlines proclaiming lack of confidence in the police. Other news headlines are interesting for the times. There is reference to machinations by the Japanese. Prophetic!
Meanwhile Dad Kimball (John C. McCallum) has recovered the ransom. He phones Larry and arranges to meet him at the Aztec Café.
Larry waits for Kimball at the bar, and a woman who has been watching approaches and contrives to strike up a conversation. She is federal special agent Betty Mason, and while the two are making footsie at the bar, Kimball arrives and is intercepted by the kidnappers. In a back room they shoot Kimball without obtaining the location of the loot.
The scene shifts to Clear Lake, where the Scotts apparently have a resort home. It’s also where the kidnapped millionaire is tied up in a mine shaft.
Betty arrives by charter plane and hitches a ride from the air field. The driver turns out to be one of the crooks. Here the crooks discuss strategy and also what to make of the strange woman who just flew in.
At the trading post the storekeeper prepares a grocery order for Larry and his sidekick at the Scott place. He adds to the shipment the package containing the money that Kimball previously prepared. The crooked driver recognizes the package from previous snooping.
While the crooks make their plans, one of them keeps a watch to make sure Betty does not interfere. She evades by shinnying out her upstairs window using bedsheets tied together. Very resourceful.
At the Scott place, Larry and friend receive the groceries, not knowing the money is in the package.
When the crooks attempt to hold up the trading post and lift the grocery shipment, they learn it has already been delivered. Betty arrives to rescue the storekeeper, who ties them up and phones for the constable.
But the crooks overpower the constable and escape. They make for the Scott place, seize the money, tie up Larry and friend, and set fire to the place, taking Betty hostage.
Police intercept the getaway car and rescue Betty. She and another cop head back to the Scott place and rescue Larry, Herbert, and friend.
Larry and Betty, who have known each other for approximately 48 hours and have exchanged barely 100 words make arrangements for a honeymoon in Hawaii. It’s a forced Hollywood ending.
Direction is generally above par, as is the cinematography. Not so much the acting. The print and sound are in good shape. This was not made from the master.
The plot plods. Crooks are captured and then escape and re-enter the plot. It is not explained why Herbert Scott is being held at a mine shaft a few feet from what appears to be a Scott property. Why did the crooks, after scooping the millionaire off the street (Los Angeles) take him out into the country?
The bad guys show no remorse in killing Kimball, and another crook does not hesitate to kill a compatriot who is making plans to scoop up the money and abscond. Then they get the drop on Larry and friend, and they don’t shoot them. They tie them up and leave them to die in a fire, a strategy that does not always work.
Yeah, the story could use a little work.
The Hollywood ending has more corn than an Iowa half acre.