There isn’t a year go by I don’t sit in on some sixty odd minute black and white “B” flick meant for the bottom half of a double bill that I don’t come away thoroughly entertained and this RKO effort starring Lee Tracy and Gloria Stuart did just that.
Tracy plays a fraud investigator for the U.S. Mail and Stuart is his competitor/assistant/secretary/romantic interest. All rolled into one. The film begins with a montage of criminal activity that sees Paul Guilfoyle as the master criminal that Tracy has been assigned to capture. Tracy and Stuart will first clash in comical screwball fashion where he sees the good looking figure and hair color in a hotel lobby not yet realizing it’s her. That’s all to change when they get called into the chief’s office and accept their assignment as a team with Tracy taking lead.
“A fool for luck with nothing upstairs.”
One of the many barbs that Stuart will toss at Tracy as the two begrudgingly embark on hunting down the head criminal. They’re staking out a hotel in New York and have a room bugged that is the apparent hideaway of Guilfoyle. With a strong lead they bust in and take down the hoods in question minus the ringleader. Film buffs will easily recognize character actor Paul Fix as one of the hoods taken into custody.
The trail is going to lead them to L.A. where money is to be wired to Guilfoyle at his new hideaway. It’s here that there is some great location footage of city streets from the era for those who enjoy these windows to the days of time past. The title character Jane Turner is to be wired the money that Tracy and Stuart are following. This is where the film is going to go in multiple yet enjoyable directions. Tracy is staking out a mail clerk’s office where he’ll become involved with an old man looking for an envelope containing money from his son and a pair of lady con artists working a mail order bride scam that proves to be the comic relief of the film when another prolific character player, Dick Elliott, turns up in L.A. to see what’s keeping his supposed bride, Irene Franklin from making the journey to his Arizona sheep farm.
As for the crime caper, things are going to become complicated when the wrong Jane Turner first arrives at the postal service and claims the envelope containing the money. Miss Stuart is off and running trailing her and subsequently stakes out her apartment by renting the one next door. Turns out the young woman is married and her hubby may be in dire financial straits down at the office. This cash could pull them out of the fire.
“Nine out of ten guys were sold out by women.”
Guilfoyle is relying on his henchman and a dame he’s never met to show up with the cash. Of course the problem is that his Jane Turner is late picking up the envelope and walks away empty handed. Guilfoyle firmly believes he’s being cheated out of his cash and wants his pound of flesh … and the cash. A falling out among thieves is bound to take place followed by an exciting finale set in motion by Tracy as he closes in on his man.
This fast paced effort was directed by Edward Killy who had a short directing career that ran from 1935 to 1945 ending with a pair of early Robert Mitchum westerns, Nevada and West of the Pecos. One of the reasons I think I found the film as agreeable as I did was the lack of comedy relief overall. Far too often I find some of these early films of the 1930’s injecting characters into the story that don’t sit well with today’s modern audiences. And while Tracy can at times be close to going over the line with his cocky and brash characterization he is in the end a likable character attempting to fight crime, help those less fortunate and win the hand of his leading lady.
For those who are unaware, Gloria Stuart, who was just 26 at the time of this production played the elderly Rose in James Cameron’s epic length 1997 version of Titanic. Here she’s sassy, a go getter and it doesn’t go unnoticed that she’s a strong minded woman for cinema of the 30’s who is willing to face down the head gangster on her own, gun in hand.
While I can’t find any further adventures of Tracy and Stuart as postal inspectors, this film could easily have been turned into another of the many series that were running on movie screens at the time. It has the flavor of a Bulldog Drummond or a Boston Blackie. New to me, I took a flyer on this title after coming across a copy distributed under the Warner Archive banner. I suppose one might therefore catch it on TCM if you keep your eyes on the monthly listings.
My advice would be to do just that.