Nancy Drew : Detective/Reporter (1938/39)
“I guess it’s just my woman’s intuition. Every woman has one, you know.” & “I think every intelligent woman should have a career.”
These two lines jumped out at me while watching the first 2 of 4 films made in 1938/39 featuring Bonita Granville as the young heroine who loves to stick her nose into local crime cases that should best be left to her lawyer Father played by John Litel. They stand out because I think they best serve to demonstrate her spunky personality.
In the first of our two mysteries, Granville as Nancy believes that she has witnessed a kidnapping. The victim just happens to be Helena Evans who has pledged 250k to Granville’s school for girls. Much to the dismay of her lawyer/accountant James Stephenson. Could he be our red herring?
Against her Fathers wishes our Nancy enlists the boy next door played by Frankie Thomas to help her route out the men behind the kidnapping. This will involve her getting on the wrong side of the local law enforcement led by Frank Orth. Orth serves more or less as a comedy relief.
With her “boyfriend” in tow and the comical disguise she forces on him to wear it’s just a matter of staying one step ahead of the bad guys and impress her Father at the fadeout by saving Evans from a greedy setup.
The second film of the series sees Granville entered into a contest where the winner will have an article published in the local newspaper. Upon receiving her assignment she quickly switches it to something a little more thrilling. A case involving a woman on trial for her life. Off to an inquest she goes and before we know it she’s convinced that the accused played by Betty Amann is innocent. Now she just has to convince her dad Litel of defending her.
Litel thinks there is little evidence to support her innocence so once again Granville chases down her boy toy Frank Thomas Jr. (note the billing change) and off they go to find the missing evidence that will clear the attractive Amann.
The actual evidence turns into a football of sorts and gets passed around amongst the films characters which allows Granville to lure Thomas into the adventure and even sets him up as a boxer down at the local gym. He doesn’t fare to well in the square jungle.
This adventure ultimately leads our heroine to “stop the presses” as was her greatest wish at the films outset and catapults her into a madcap chase to round up the real criminals.
All four of the Granville/Drew films were directed by William Clemens and released by Warner Brothers. Clemens had previously worked on the Torchy Blane series and would also chip in on the Falcon flicks. The only film he squeezed in between the Drew assignments was the Karloff feature Devil’s Island.
Screenwriter Kenneth Gamet was the credited writer on both of these films from the famed series of novels. I actually recall my older sister had a large collection of these in hardcover growing up. I am quite sure she wasn’t alone.
There would only be two more titles in the series and they would be released in 1939 as well. The thirties and forties were the heyday of the mystery series and while I much prefer Chan, Holmes and company these are fun although I think it’s easy to say geared towards the younger audience of the times. I have no idea if Granville fit the bill compared to the novels so she works for me. She seems the female counterpart to Mickey Rooney’s Andy Hardy
Plenty of attitude and spirit carries her a long way. She’s full of facts and percentages and does a good job at dragging Thomas along on her adventures. Even if it’s against his better judgement. Thomas along with character actor John Litel would appear in all four films with Granville as well.
Worth a look if you love those old mystery shows from the golden era.