When Dennis O’Keefe arrives by train over the Christmas season in Junction City, little does he know that a mystery is going to run deep in the community. While in town he’ll squire a beautiful woman and verbally spar throughout with the slow moving town sheriff played by William Bendix.
O’Keefe is an insurance investigator on assignment investigating the supposed suicide of one the community’s town folk. He’ll arrive at the same time as Barbara Britton who is returning home for the holidays and not surprisingly romance is in the air. Making progress with Miss Britton’s family and securing an invite for dinner while he’s in town, O’Keefe pays a visit to Bendix’s office only to find him playing cagey and not very forthcoming with any evidence or facts that would signal a suicide. As a matter of fact it sounds more like a murder based on what he can pry from Bendix.
“I think you’re gonna be no end of trouble.”
Not getting anywhere with Bendix, O’Keefe begins to conduct his own investigation and visits the life insurance policy holder, Virginia Christine. Universal Monsters fans should know her for appearing as the Princess Ananka in The Mummy’s Curse and kids of my vintage might also recall her as “The Folger’s Lady” on numerous commercials in the 1970’s. Christine is the dead man’s niece and she isn’t exactly giving away any details of the death either and seems the least bit interested in the double indemnity clause for a suicide.
What little O’Keefe has learned is that the victim was killed with a German Luger and it’s missing. Small town, WW2 not too far in the distant past leaves finding a man in this town who possesses one the next logical step. Surely someone took one home from the war as a trophy. All of a sudden Miss Britton’s father, Art Baker, is looking mighty guilty and for good reason. He has one and won’t own up to it when O’Keefe brings it up. Doubt is suddenly cast in the eyes of his daughter who knows he does indeed have one. Things are getting mighty suspicious on the homefront and what’s more, this could severely damage any romantic notions O’Keefe has where the lovely Barbara is concerned.
Yes love sure does move fast in many of these classic films from the past. Back in the days when the world was still in black and white. At least that’s what I used to tell my kids or any youngster I come across when watching a movie in B/W. I launch into this explanation that many movies were made in black and white because the earth had not yet turned to color. Trust me, if they’re the right age it gets them thinking.
There’s still a murder to solve and perhaps a return to the scene of the crime might unveil some key evidence. While O’Keefe might think so, he’s going to have to contend once again with Bendix who is always lurking. That’s it, that’s all you’re getting out of me. Thankfully this one is easy to locate in bargain bins though in a print that leaves a lot to be desired or if you’re like me you can pick it up on blu ray looking as good as you’re likely to see it from Kino Lorber.
Directed by Alfred E. Green and photographed by the great Ernest Laszlo, you’ll be sure to spot plenty of familiar character players in here even if you don’t recall their names. For me the most prevalent is Hank Worden who any fan of westerns and specifically John Wayne efforts will know instantly. Laszlo was to embark on a Noir roll at this time acting as cinematographer on Cover Up, Impact, Manhandled, The Big Wheel and D.O.A. consecutively. He’d return to the genre on the well known Kiss Me Deadly among others.
A quick bit of research unveiled a new piece of trivia for me personally after watching this enjoyable mystery. I had no idea that long time actor Dennis O’Keefe actually scored a few writing credits under the alias, Jonathan Rix. It’s Rix who is credited for the original screenplay this time around. What’s rather interesting where O’Keefe is concerned is the amount of time he spent in the background before getting better roles as a leading man. According to the IMDB, O’Keefe who appeared in films from 1930 forward has an astounding 197 unbilled credits to his name up to 1938 if my count was correct!
Cigarettes are so identifiable with “the look” of a Noir actor that one shouldn’t be surprised to see O’Keefe constantly lighting up while being joined by Bendix on the pipe. On the tragic side you have to wonder if films like this have any part in O’Keefe’s death due to lung cancer at the age of 60 in 1968. Not familiar with O’Keefe, give his films a look. Some fine Noir efforts surrounded by a Val Lewton thriller and the original version of Brewster’s Millions.
Billy Bendix? Classic film fans should need no introduction to the bear sized second lead who made most any film he appeared in better for having him.