Meet Boston Blackie (1941)
Since I’m off to Boston.
For my first title in the Chester Morris series I may as well start with the film that introduced him as the character created by Jack Boyle.
This series was put out by Harry Cohn’s Columbia studios during the heyday of crank’em out seventy minute mysteries featuring a devil may care sleuth who generally operates on his own outside the boundaries of the law with a sidekick in tow.
Our introduction to Chester Morris as the title character begins as the ship he is sailing on hits port in the good ole U.S. of A. He’s been overseas for sometime due to a string of pearls that went missing a few years back. It seems that Blackie is a professional jewel thief and well known to the public as a safe cracker.
He makes contact with Constance Worth on board when he rescues her from what appears to be a thug strong arming her. Before any romance can develop he finds the same thug dead in his cabin just as his nemesis Inspector Faraday boards the ship wanting to take Blackie into custody. Starring as our quick to convict Inspector we have actor Richard Lane.
Blackie jumps ship and follows the lovely Miss Worth to a carnival where things are not what they seem. It turns out that a spy ring operates within the carnival using it as a backdrop for their purpose of locating vital U.S. military information. The plot only thickens when Worth is murdered putting Blackie on the run from both Lane and local police.
Enter beautiful Rochelle Hudson as our love interest who joins Blackie in his underworld adventure. Luckily for our hero she takes a liking to him and the smell of romance is in the air between fist fights and run ins with Inspector Lane.
She’s quick to point out to the Inspector she isn’t in love with Blackie. In classic “B” film style his comeback is “Why not? He’s a pretty swell guy. For a heel.”
Like any decent hero of the era , Blackie will prove to be the better man and leave the Inspector happy with the outcome but somewhat disappointed that his original assumptions proved false. Along the way Blackie proves quick with not only his wit but his hands as well. He’s adept at magic tricks and getting out of handcuffs with ease.
Where Chan had his No. 1 son and Holmes had Watson, Boston Blackie has “The Runt.” In this outing the role is played by Charles Wagenheim. It was his only appearance in the role during the run of the series.
For the trivia buffs this kick off to the series was directed by Robert Florey. For me the name always represents the man who never got the chance to direct Frankenstein. He was originally slated to do just that but wound up getting the Lugosi assignment Murders In the Rue Morgue for the 1932 season as a consolation prize.
If you have ever seen Tod Browning’s Freaks from 1932 or plenty of it’s images that turn up in books and on line then you’ll be sure to spot the actor known as Schlitze who played the part of a carny to gawk at for the tourists making their way through the boardwalk.
This title marked the return of Boston Blackie to the screen for the first time since the silent era. Morris would go on to play the role a total of fourteen times turning in his trench coat after the 1949 Boston Blackie’s Chinese Venture.