Here’s one older than I am, barely. It came out in 1939, about the time world headlines were cooling after news the British gave the German navy a thrashing off the coast of Uruguay. It’s Slightly Honorable, featuring Pat O’Brien in the lead role. The distribution company was United Artists. Details are from Wikipedia, which entry is a mere shell, listing only the cast of characters. This production has been saved from oblivion and now rests peacefully among the Amazon Prime Video archives.
Films like this are the reason I created the Bad Movie of the Week series. It has a mystery plot which barely registers among all the other drama going on around it. Here is a short breakdown.
O’Brien is prominent attorney John Webb, and there is a major plot diversion involving a state highway corruption scandal. For example, there is a detour in the story line featuring a lab test of two samples of asphalt paving, one being from Oklahoma. Anyhow, ignoring the numerous side shows, I will give the bare bones narrative.
Dispense with some preliminaries, including the funeral of a corrupt politician, and get to the main plot. We see Webb confabbing with some acquaintances before heading into a cabaret club. One of the acquaintances Alma Brehmer (Claire Dodd), a sparkling blonde. Apparently everybody winds up inside the club.
On comes the show, featuring a firecracker singer-dancer. She is never given a name, but the part is played by Ruth Terry. She dogs the remainder of the plot, as will be seen. Webb comes to call her Puss. That’s the name I will use. Anyhow, following her act, Puss attaches herself to Webb, possibly twice her age (she’s 18, “and three months”).
But there’s trouble. As a viewer I am amazed to see the kind of rough stuff going on amongst such a crowd of upscale clientèle. One customer puts the move on Puss, rips her dress, and knocks her to the floor. Webb comes to the rescue, pulling this mere child to the safety outside after a standoff in force with some well-heeled thugs. This later on turns out to have nothing to do with the main plot.
Back at his office, Webb conducts business with his attractive and efficient secretary. She is Miss Ater, played by the bubbly Eve Arden. I show this image so readers can appreciate Ms. Arden’s appreciable qualities. Her film career spanned from 1929 to 1982, but it was her on-air persona that first caught my attention. For a long time she had her own television program, Our Miss Brooks, that cast her as a high school teacher. I can watch an old movie, and I can tell immediately when she enters the scene. It’s that brash and brittle voice. Nobody ever duplicated it. Sadly for viewers, she is a casualty of this movie’s multiple homicides.
But Puss barges in. Since Webb has previously rescued her, she is his forever, purchasing a new wardrobe on his credit. That does not appear to alarm him much (he talks of million dollar business deals). What does alarm him is when she begins to show off her new duds by changing costumes in his office. There has got to be a future in that.
But somebody has murdered the provocative Ms. Brehmer. Webb vows to avenge her untimely death, becoming immediately a suspect, himself.
In fact, most of the cast becomes suspect. Police attempt to sort out who was on first, and the session takes on aspects of a three-ring circus. In fact, that is a termed used in the movie to describe it.
Then there is the disappearing murder weapon. It turns up in Webb’s desk drawer, just as the police are coming to search. Webb can only think of one place to hide it. The cop never looks up to see the knife stuck in the ceiling above his head.
I have to insert this, as well. Art, the elevator operator in Webb’s apartment building, is played by Willie Best. He comes on twice in the film, and each appearance opens showing him doing a small shuck and jive dance. Eighty years ago this was expected behavior of a black character in the plot. Interesting thing is, this was the same year Hattie McDaniel was putting in an Academy Award appearance in Gone With The Wind. It was going to take another fifteen years before Hollywood grew up and cast Sidney Poitier in a major dramatic role in Blackboard Jungle.
Tragedy! Webb returns to his office to find Miss Ater sitting at his desk, skewered by the infamous missing murder weapon.
Cutting out remaining details, Webb figures it was his partner, Russ Sampson (Broderick Crawford), doing the murdering to cover up a crooked past. By now Puss has so grown on the middle-aged Webb that he cannot live without her. He proposes in the back seat of a cab, and they get hitched.
Yes, this has some top tier talent, but they do not deliver much in the way of performance. The plot is a mishmash of unrelated themes. This might have done for a 30-minute TV drama, but it runs for 85 minutes. Wikipedia reports it made $386,116 at the box office under a production cost of $434,874. And this was back when the Great Depression was pushing wages down. You can watch it for free on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKBWyqM_S8o. Let me know if you do watch it, and let me know what you think.