"Somebody's always screaming around this flophouse."
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 11/23/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Just to show you (and myself) how little I know, the character of Michael Shayne, created by author Brett Halliday, has been around quite a while, appearing in over 50 novels, numerous films in the 40s, had his own mystery magazine, appeared in three radio programs, had a television series, and even his own comic book...and I never heard of him until last night, when I watched this film, titled Dressed to Kill (1941). Directed by Eugene Forde (Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise, Michael Shayne: Private Detective), the film stars Lloyd Nolan (Bataan, The Lemon Drop Kid, Peyton Place) as private detective Mike Shayne, one of seven times Nolan would appear on the silver screen as the character in the early 40s (Hugh Beaumont would later reprise the role for PRC in the mid to late 40s in five films). Also appearing is William `Uncle Charley' Demarest (It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, "My Three Sons"), Mary Beth Hughes (The Ox-Bow Incident, I Accuse My Parents), Henry Daniell (The Great Dictator, Jane Eyre), Erwin Kalser (Stalag 17), Virginia Brissac (Rebel Without a Cause), Milton Parsons (Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome), Ben Carter (Born to Sing), Mantan Moreland (King of the Zombies), and William 'Whitey' Benedict (Ghosts on the Loose, Bowery Buckaroos).
As the film begins we see Mike Shayne (Nolan) buying a suit (on credit) as he's planning to marry his long time girlfriend and showgirl Joanne La Marr (Hughes) that very day. As Mike walks through the streets to meet up with his fiancée, we get the sense he's pretty well known about town, as everyone he sees has a hello along with wisecrack regarding to his impending nuptials. Mike arrives at the hotel, hooks up with Joan (check out her expression as he presents the ring), and just as they're preparing to leave, there's a scream from one of the rooms upstairs. Upon investigating, Mike finds two dead bodies, one being producer Louis Lathrop, the other his girlfriend/actress Desiree Vance, both murdered in an apparent double homicide (the maid, who found them, was the one who screamed). The pair evidently met their fate during a dinner party the previous night, and Mike now sees an opportunity to make a little dough as he first contacts a newspaper (they offer him some moolah if he can identify the murderer and give them the scoop), prior to calling the police (private investigators have to seize their opportunities where they can). While waiting for the authorities to arrive, Mike begins collecting clues giving the joint the once over, and finally Inspector Pierson (Demarest) makes the scene. After a little give and take, Mike takes the show on the road as the suspects begin coming out of the woodwork (along with a body or two), and he even manages to squeeze out another paying gig out of the homicide, as he's hired by Lathrop's wife (the couple separated some time ago) to solve the case, which would clear her boyfriend Julian Davis (Daniell), as his past dealings with the deceased seem to point to him as the prime suspect. Things get a little crazy, as Mike has to stay one step ahead of the police, while also avoiding getting whacked himself as the killer knows Mike is onto him (or her).
I'll tell you what, it's been awhile since I've seen a film where the wisecracks and smart remarks come as fast and furious as they do here, the ongoing gag being Mike constant distractions from what he had originally intended to do that day, which was get married. It's like watching one of those Thin Man movies, with William Powell and Myrna Loy, only sans the suave and sophisticated sensibilities. Honestly, I was expecting a more straightforward detective drama, but I certainly wasn't disappointed with what I got. My favorite zinger comes from when Mike's fiancée Joanne nearly destroys one of the clues, on accident, and Mike replies in frustration to her, "The stork that brought you should have been arrested for peddling dope!". The movie is filled with choice bits of dialog, all flowing with a natural ease from the situations and characters. The actual mystery portion of the story is fairly interesting, but what I really enjoyed was the characters. Nolan plays his role like he was born for it, a streetwise, crafty, sometimes devious fellow who manages to keep one or two clues ahead of the police to ensue his much needed payday once he solves the case. He's smart, a little rough around the edges, and perceptive enough to get what he needs to keep the trail warm, following up leads. The funniest aspect for me was how Shayne would jerk the police around, enough to throw them off the trail just long enough for him to get what he needs prior to their finally getting back on track. Demarest is a riot as the gruff, seemingly capable, tenacious and gravely voiced Inspector Pierson, suffering the constant aggravation of always having to play catch up to Shayne (Shayne often plays dirty), along with being beleaguered with incompetents. And then there's Henry Daniell, who played the slightly foppish Julian Davis, a cultured performer/dolt who chaffs against Shayne's unpretentious methods and straightforward demeanor, but soon begins to realize Shayne maybe the only one interested in clearing his name. The direction by Forde is strong and focused, as the story zips along, never outstaying its welcome. This are a couple sequences features a few stereotypical caricatures that some may find offensive (an Asian butler and two, African American stage hands), but when viewed in the proper perspective, they shouldn't spoil the movie. There's one scene in particular where Mike gets two African American stage hands (played by Ben Carter and Mantan Moreland) to help him re-enact the double murder (offering them five bucks apiece), and the men display exaggerated wide-eyed, nervous, and jittery characterizations, once they learn they're going to where the murders actually took place. Some might feel uncomfortable, or even offended, but keep in mind things were as they were back when, and we've since come a long way in terms of education, understanding, and acceptance. I'm not trying to justify what was done in the past, but only to say we shouldn't judge things without trying to understand the perceptions of the time. The scene did end with a particularly odd line, as once Mike got the information he needed and released the men of their obligation, the two were about to bolt without getting paid, to which Mike stated "Hey, wait a minute! You'll never get rich that way.", and one of the men replied "Boss, right now I could make myself a fortune hiring myself out as a vibrator!" I can only think the meaning of the word had a different connotation back then as it does now...
The fullscreen picture (1.33:1) looks very clean and sharp, and the Dolby Digital audio, offered in both mono and stereo, comes through clearly. There aren't any special features, other than a couple of unrelated Fox Home Entertainment DVDs previews for the films The Doctor and the Devils (1985) and The Cabinet of Caligari (1962).
For fans of 40's detectives
wisdomstar | Michigan | 09/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a movie for those of us who loved curling up with a good old murder mystery on a rainy Saturday afternoon long ago. Unfortunately this is the only Michael Shayne that I can find in print. I don't know why because it is much better than most of the later Charlie Chans that you can buy in an expensive set (a waste of money). Lloyd Nolan stars as the wise-cracking detective who would rather solve a double murder than get married on his wedding day. The mystery has enough suspects to keep you guessing and the ending is satisfying. Another plus is William Demarest as the police chief. Demarest adds to any movie, here playing the cop who has seen it all while adding to the comedy at the same time. The DVD transfer is very good, especially considering the price, but there are no special features except plugs for other movies. Still I know what I'll be watching the next rainy Saturday afternoon."
Classic B Movie Comedy/Murder Mystery
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 09/24/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Everyone knows Mike Shayne, everyone likes Mike Shayne...cops, chorus girls, tailors, lushes, janitors, hotel clerks. Mike is a good natured, smart private eye, maybe not too well educated but shrewd as they come. He doesn't break too many rules, but he's ready to bend them till they creak. If you get yourself murdered, try not to leave any good cigars in the humidor. A few might go missing once Shayne walks through the room. One afternoon, while trying to convince his girlfriend he's ready for marriage, he hears a scream, rushes up the stairs of the hotel to see an open door to a suite. When he enters he lands in one of the strangest murder mysteries of his career. Seated at a dining table set for six are two bodies, dressed in their costumes from "Sweethearts of Paris," a smash musical-comedy hit of 25 years ago. The woman is Desiree Vance, the show's star who played Countess De Froliere. The man wearing an Airedale mask is Louis Lathrop, her producer and costar. He played Pierre Peaubeau. It looks like Lathrop was shot with a rifle and Vance with a revolver by one person -- simultaneously. Shayne discovers the cast members of that long-ago hit are still very much around. One now works as a maid in the hotel. Another, the lush, was the composer. One of the stars appears to have chiseled Lathrop out of $26,000. Even more intriguing, the theater where Lathrop produced "Sweethearts of Paris" is next door to the hotel...and years ago Lathrop had no less than three private passages constructed from his suite to the theater and to the hotel rooms above and below his own. Events 25 years old have come back to roost.
This comedy/murder mystery is a B movie in the great tradition of B movies. They were programmers, turned out quickly by movie craftsmen who knew their business. Dressed to Kill is fast paced -- the movie is only 74 minutes long -- with nothing wasted. The mystery is intriguing and the plot just puzzling enough to keep you interested. Dialogue is funny and sometimes just this side of slapstick. Most importantly, the players all do fine jobs, starting with that great character actor Lloyd Nolan as Michael Shayne. He brings a lot of energy, crisp authority and wise guy humor to the part. William Demarest plays a blustering police inspector who if he isn't running into doors is falling off a stage. Other notable performances include those by Henry Daniel as a self-involved former actor and Irvin Kalser as a nearly deaf stage doorman.
A classic movie, it isn't. A classic B movie, it is. I recommend it. The black and white DVD picture looks just fine, clear and crisp. There are no extras."
Magnifying Glass | 11/21/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Situated next door to a burlesque theater, where Michael Shayne's girlfriend Joan is currently the star act, is the Hotel du Nord. It is not a bad looking place and it seems well kept up, but at least one tenant disparagingly refers to it as a flophouse. It is not its looks or upkeep that gives it that name, but its going-ons. Why only last month, the police raided the hotel for gambling. And then there was another time, when there were a couple of murders; Mr. Brennen, the hotel manager, was quiet upset when the police carried the bodies through the lobby. And then there are the occasional screams ...
Michael Shayne is a private detective. He is in a slump just now and his wallet is looking a little thin. But Joan knows this is a great time to hitch her man, because when he is on a case, marriage is the last thing on his mind. Today is to be their wedding day.
Mike can't get married in the suit he has, so he trade it in and makes a down payment of two dollars for a new suit. Later, when he arrives at Joan's apartment, she asks to see the ring. He has it! She tries it on. It is really going to happen, just think, in a little while it will be Mr. and Mrs. Michael Shayne!
Fortunately for Mike, if she hadn't been living in the Hotel du Nord, he would never have heard the scream ...
If you liked the Michael Shayne Mysteries Vol. 1 (Michael Shayne: Private Detective / The Man Who Wouldn't Die / Sleepers West / Blue, White, and Perfect), then you will like this well-constructed mystery with its great dialogue and sense of fun.
Picture: excellent. No cropping. Sound: excellent. Volume: low."
A Dark and Comedic Mix of Michael Shayne
Robert E. Rodden II | Peoria, IL. United States | 02/01/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Like the other Shayne films I've seen - those released in the boxset enigmatically called, Michael Shayne Mysteries Volume 1 (Hey 20th Century Fox! Where's volume 2?!), Dressed to Kill is a fast paced murder mystery full of humor and action. Micheal Shayne is about to finally get married to long time girlfriend and showgirl, Joanne La Marr (Mary Beth Hughes), only to be interrupted by a blood-curdling scream which sucks Mike willingly back into the detective business (only to make some dough for his new bride-to-be, of course). There's plenty of humor, twists and turns, and mysterious passages to follow, as Mike tries to solve a bizarre double murder that may have it's roots burried deep in the dark past of a theater production troop, most of whom are dead and burried. A+ for Micheal Shayne fans.
The quality of the print used is very nice; the blacks are deep and vivid; there appears to be almost no print damage or age-related grain; the audio is perfect. Recommended big time."