Strange Bargain (1949)
Noir in a Leave it to Beaver setting is how this RKO release comes across with Jeffrey Lynn getting in over his head in this nifty plotted thriller from producer Sid Rogell and director Will Price.
So it’s a Leave it to Beaver opening with Lynn, wife Martha Scott and their young son and daughter at the breakfast table. The family budget is tight and with a little push from Scott, Lynn intends to ask his boss, Richard Gaines for a raise. Lynn is employed as a bookkeeper at a local firm and is in for a surprise. Not only is the raise unavailable but his job is to be terminated at month end. The company is going broke and Gaines is at odds with his partner in the firm, Henry O’Neill.
Now it’s time to turn this plot upside down and hope that police inspector and former O.S.S. agent Harry Morgan will be able to untangle the suicide/murder that is about to take place sending Lynn’s life spiraling out of control. Before the day is thru, Lynn is approached by his boss, Gaines with a proposition. Gaines fully intends to commit suicide but he needs someone to cooperate with him once he’s pulled the trigger. Should he commit suicide, his life insurance policy would not be paid out but if he’s murdered, his wife and son will receive a 250K payment. Thus he will have gone out leaving his wife and son well cared for now that his business venture has proven him a failure. So the catch is, he’s willing to leave an envelope with 10K for Lynn if he’ll come to his office and dispose of the gun. He’ll be expected to fire a couple more shots into a wall and leave the room in shambles signaling a robbery gone wrong resulting in murder.
“Make my suicide look like murder.”
Against his will, circumstances work against Lynn and he’ll do just what Gaines has asked of him when he finds the body laying dead on the office floor. What he doesn’t count on is the fact that now the police are looking for a killer and bulldog Harry Morgan figures it’s an acquaintance of the dead man. Lynn knowing there is no killer begins to worry that an innocent man or woman will be sentenced to the gallows if he doesn’t talk. When Lynn’s wife finds the 10K hidden away at home, she now suspects her hubby knows more than he’s been telling Morgan.
In true Noir fashion, Lynn is getting hot under the collar and worried that Gaines’ business partner O’Neill is being lined up as the fall guy. What he doesn’t know is that Morgan’s investigation has revealed to us the viewers, that the shots fired into the wall by Lynn with the gun he found at the scene do not match the bullet removed form the body of the victim making this a true murder scene after all.
That’s all you’ll get out of me on the finer points of the plot scripted by Lillie Hayward.
This is one of those fun “B” flicks that RKO was producing on the factory line. It’s plot could have doubled for most any Charlie Chan or Sherlock Holmes flick had those two series still been in production. I couldn’t help but chuckle at a couple of exchanges here, one of which is when Scott tells her hubby that the children are “over at Freddy’s LOOKING at television.” Just that singular word looking had me smiling as I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it said quite that way. I believe the word we use today is watching.
I also got a kick out of Lynn’s young son who is excited by the whole murder case at his doorstep and is aware of Morgan’s reputation on the force and begs Lynn to get him an autograph. And though this is strictly a coincidence, isn’t it ironic that the future Col. Potter of MASH is playing Lt. Webb. Harry would go on to star opposite Jack Webb on the popular cop show Dragnet in the coming years.
Finally I found this interesting bit of trivia on the IMDB which I have copied here and have to add I’ve never seen Murder She Wrote so I would have had no idea of the following………..The episode Murder, She Wrote: The Days Dwindle Down (1987) was done as a direct sequel to this movie, with Jessica Fletcher trying to figure out if Malcolm Jarvis’ death was suicide or murder. In the episode, Jeffrey Lynn, Martha Scott, and Harry Morgan reprised their roles from the earlier film, and original footage from the film was used as flashbacks to tell the story.
For those looking to catch this entertaining slice of Noir and mystery, I came across it on TCM so keep your eyes peeled to the guide.