Apparently I’m never going to run out of bad movies. This is another from Amazon Prime Video, a treasure vault of bad movies. It’s Bank Alarm , from 1937 out of Grand National Pictures. And it’s in decent shape for being 80 years old. A notice up front informs that this has been remastered, but that may be only the sound. The notice talks of unavoidable dips in sound level. Details are from Wikipedia.
This features Conrad Nagel as FBI Special Agent Alan O’Connor and Eleanor Hunt as Bobbie Reynolds, Alan’s sharp looking assistant. They are trying to track down a gang of bank robbers. The FBI investigates bank robberies. They’re not having a load of luck. They captured gang member O’Hern, but then a hit man disguised as a lawyer rubbed him out inside the jail and then got clean away.
Despite their desperate need to corral the robbers, the FBI duo takes time out to greet Alan’s pretty sister, Kay O’Connor, played by Marlo Dwyer, as she arrives on a flight. Apparently on the flight, Kay has met the infatuating Jerry Turner (Frank Milan). This scene also introduces bumbling photographer Clarence ‘Bulb’ Callahan (Vince Barnett), who’s going to provide comic relief for the next 53 minutes of run time.
So urgent is their need to catch the bank robbers, that everybody takes the night off to dine, drink, and dance at Club Karlotti. Spoiler alert: Karlotti is the ring leader of the bank robbers. You can tell he’s Italian by his name, except the Italian alphabet doesn’t have the letter K. You figure it.
Jerry excuses himself for a few minutes as he leaves the festivities to go into the club’s back room to confab with ring leader Karlotti.
Another heist is coming up. Jerry gets in on this one. It’s in the core of the Great Depression, and sheriffs around the country make an effort to keep their districts clear of hobos, who roam the land looking for work or handouts. Jerry and his pal pretend to be hobos to get themselves thrown in the pokey overnight. The pokey is where they want to be, because in this small town, where a Nevada tunnel project is in work, the workers’ payroll is being stored in the same building as the jail. While the sheriff (Henry Roquemore) sleeps the pair pick the lock on their cell, grab the cash, and stash it under their mattresses. Come next morning the sheriff sends them on their way, with the cash stuffed in their shirts. Pretty slick.
In the meantime, Police Inspector J. C. Macy (William L. Thorne) vows mightily to catch the bank robbers.
But when Jerry and his pal departed the jail with their loot, they bummed a ride in a Cadillac, conveniently close by to pick them up. And somebody got the plate number. So when agent Alan goes to check on the Cadillac, it turns up at a farm. The farmer tells them some people drove up in the car, left it, stole his Ford, and drove away. He gives a description of the perps. The driver was a notably short person, he says.
The cops take the Caddy back to the police garage to check it for fingerprints. It’s clean, but when agent Bobbie gets in the driver’s seat, the first thing she notices is her feet don’t reach the pedals. Bobbie is a a short woman. No amount of adjustment will do. The farmer was lying. The driver was not by any means short. Further checking turns up the farmer does not own a Ford. The fuzz conclude the farm is a base for the robbers.
Meanwhile, the Second National Bank is held up, and this time the robbers get away clear after bank workers attempt multiple time to activate the bank alarm. Hence the title of the movie.
Agent Alan questions bank employees. The man sitting with his back to the wall is the alarm company service man. He was in just prior to the robbery to test the alarm. It worked fine. They call in the head cashier, Leon Curtis (Phil Dunham). He’s the one who schedules alarm testing. He said he called for the test, because it was time, according to the testing schedule. But Alan has additional information that there were two men in to test the alarm. One came after the scheduled test. Things are looking suspicious. The robbery was an inside job.
Meanwhile, Inspector Macy is shown holding two bills in his hand. He is saying he is going to bust this case wide open. Later, those outside his office hear multiple gunshots. They rush in. Macy has been murdered.
Alan studies the two bills. One has been altered. It has the same serial number as another. Suspicion focuses on bank teller Curtis. He’s an immigrant from Serbia, and a master engraver. An attempt at counterfeiting? The robbers figure they must get those bills back. Jerry gets on the phone, and with a pencil gripped between his clenched teeth to disguise his voice, he phones Alan. He warns that if Alan doesn’t deliver the two bills by mail, the robbers are going to rub out Alan’s sister.
The fuzz respond by moving Kay to a safe apartment and substituting Bobbie at Kay’s hotel room. Bumbling photographer Clarence Callahan is sent over to keep Kay company, provide protection, and also to provide additional comic relief.
But Kay phones Jerry, not suspecting he is in with the robbers. She reveals where she is. Next we see, Clarence is recovering from a knock on the head, and Kay is gone, taken by the robbers.
Then there follows a bunch of round and round, which I will not detail, and the robbers are taken in a shootout, Kay is rescued, and Alan and Bobbie have plans to make the partnership permanent. They pose as Clarence takes a photo.
There is little not wrong with this movie. Start with the lukewarm acting and the dialog, which is beyond redemption. Get to the plot’s banality and some noticeable lack of continuity.
I only watched this through one time before skipping around to pick up details, but one thing was immediately obvious. The two robbers, posing as hobos, are in jail, on purpose, to grab the payroll cash while the sheriff is sleeping. They take the bills and stuff them under the mattresses in their cell. Later we are told the payroll is new bills, fresh from the Federal Reserve. But the bills the robbers are manhandling in their cell are obviously much used and not clean, crisp, and in tight bundles.
Alan and Bobbie pick up Kay and Jerry at their airport. Where do they go that night to celebrate (apparently in Los Angeles)? Why Karlotti’s club, of course. How much greater a coincidence can their be? And the friend that Kay meets on her flight? Why, one of the bank robbers. Amazing!
The robbers need to get the incriminating bills back. Why? Think about that for a few seconds. How are they going to get the bills back? They are going to threaten Kay. But they don’t have their hands on Kay at the time, giving the feds ample opportunity to stash her away in a safe place, which turns out to be of no help, since Kay spills to Jerry.
The robbers promise to release Kay after the bills are recovered. But Kay has by now already laid eyes on Jerry and the others as members of the gang. The gang has previously murdered Macy in his office after word gets out he’s going to crack the case. But when Karlotti gets his hand on Bobbie during the hunt and roundup, he does not use the opportunity to put a few rounds into her. Good news for Bobbie, but a prize for lame plots.
Conrad Nagel had a long and successful motion picture career, even if this production give no clue as to why. He started with Little Women (silent) in 1918 and finished with The Man Who Understood Women in 1959. IMDb shows Eleanor Hunt’s last movie was in 1940. Grand National Films is one of those companies I have mentioned previously. The period 1936 to 1939 saw multiple startup studios come and go during this period. Grand National was purchased by RKO in 1940.
And you figured it out already. You don’t need to subscribe to Amazon Prime to watch this movie. It’s available to watch on YouTube. Here’s the link.