Saturday, June 30, 2018
Find the Blackmailer (1943)
Noir is a genre I like, but I also like the entries in the canon that knew not too take themselves too seriously. Not that I'm hugely opposed to serious Noirs, but it is a rather conventional and cliched bunch of pictures, so any humorous take on them is welcome by me (as long as they're not jeering and mean spirited). Find the Blackmailer (or Follow the Blackmailer as I keep mistakenly referring to it as) is one such movie. A contemporary mystery-comedy...
Low-rent private detective D.L. Trees is suddenly given a new case from the local politician John Rhodes, a candidate for mayor with a platform based around complete honesty. He's being blackmailed by his soon-to-be brother-in-law Freddie Molner, and once threatened to kill him-An unfortunate act when Molner has a crow trained to say "Don't kill me, Rhodes!" in the event of his death. Worried that the up-to-his-neck in trouble blackmailer will end up arrested or dead sooner or later, Rhodes hires Trees to find that crow!...
Find the Blackmailer is a very pleasant surprise! Running at only 55 minutes long, it's a very brisk story, packing in a somewhat interesting mystery with enough twists and turns to keep you satisfied, even if there aren't that many clues or suspects. The ending is a bit cramped though. It doesn't feel rushed, but there could've been an extra scene or two, or just an extra minute or two to allow the scenes room to breathe. I was also briefly afraid Pam wouldn't be present for the ending, but she is there in the final minutes.
With its minimum amount of longer scenes, Find the Blackmailer at times resembles a stage play adaption, but is handled well enough to not suffer from the common drawbacks of this medium switch (long talky scenes where the camera never moves and the actors emote to the camera or a nonexistent audience)
Trees is a bit of a lousy detective, in how he promptly disturbs crime scenes, freely admits/blurts out confidential case facts to potential suspects, and is perpetually unable to pay his loyal but snarky secretary, but when the chips are down, he gets results! He's a fun lead, surprisingly clever at times. Might grate on some, but he's a fun dope. Exemplifying his likeability is when he's talking to the police. He's declining to answer because of his client confidentiality (and wanting to solve the case for himself), But he freely admits that if his client did end up being involved in the murder then he'd freely cooperating with the police. Quite a nice surprise, given the lousy track record PI's in fiction have with the fuzz.
The rest of the cast are pretty good. The beleaguered Hickey is a fun addition, coming into his own as a character to an extent. The crime boss Farrell is fine, though kinda just vanishes halfway through. Meanwhile, the other villains are ok, but a tad boring. The client John Rhodes plays a good role in the story, with his hopeful but nervous outlook on trees' ability as a detective. It is a bit annoying though that he never has to tell the truth about Freddie to his fiancee. She is the murder victim's brother after all! She never even appears, let alone finds out about the murder, or her brother's shady past.
Lastly and most importantly is Pam, Trees' snappy secretary. I really enjoyed Pam, and her relationship with her boss. A good example is at the start when he allows for her to covertly listen in on Rhodes going over the facts of the case. I also dug how she's with the police, transcribing at the crime scene. She's a dutiful and efficient underpaid secretary, for sure!
A couple of random notes. You've gotta love how lazy and secretary reliant PI's were when they can't even write down the important details the client told them after the fact, but needs the secretary to jot it down in real time. Ah well, at least they get to work, and we get to see more of 'em.
Find The Blackmailer has plenty of witty and/or bizarre dialogue on display.
Trees: "Don't bother me, I'm thinking"-Pam: "Uh-uh, you just think you're thinking."-Trees: "You really wanna know I'm thinking how I'm gonna pay your salary?"-Pam: "I have it! I'll lend you the money."
Trees: "Looks like we've got a case. Now if only I could find that bird."-Pam: "Don't worry about the bird. You just got it, but good...What was that little crack about love not being worth the trouble?"-Trees: "Aww, that's strictly for the carrots tray, sweetheart"-Pam: "Yeah, well I'm just a 'bicycle built for two' gal, so don't try any up on me."
Trees: "Hey, how late do you think a kid like Mona Vance would stay up?"-Pam: "Why? Think she'd like to know about Molner too?"-Trees: "If she doesn't already"-Pam: "You're not gonna go up and see that dame at this time of night!"-Trees: "Why don't you stop that. I'm only gonna ask her a couple of questions."-Pam: "Yeah, well I don't like her kind of answers"-Trees: "Well remind me to pour you a saucer of milk when I get back, will ya?"-Pam: "Oh, so I'm a cat, huh?"-Trees: "On you it's becoming, now are you gonna call Mona or am I gonna have to do it myself?"-Pam: "Woof."
Other assorted isolated lines of amusement are "Beat it before I throw a moth in your muffler", "60 Grand? Well that would feather everyone's nest nicely. including the crow's!", and courtesy of Pam "Y'know, you wouldn't make a bad scarecrow at that. Sometimes I think you're pretty cute".
The acting is pretty decent. Some deliveries aren't as good in places, but the leads all do well, especially Marjorie Hoshelle as Pam! She moves and emotes really well, and is she didn't have a full and rewarding career I'm going to be very disappointed.
Follow That Blackmailer is definitely worth a watch if you're into mysteries, especially those with a sense of humour...