Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Unforgettable Crime, aka The Affairs of Jimmy Valentine (1942)

The idyllic small town of Fernville has been rocked by a radio publicity stunt, trying to locate the whereabouts of notorious safecracker Jimmy Valentine. The search has been narrowed down to this town, and everyone and their mothers are trying to find the old crook for the $10,000 dollar reward. City reporter Mike Jason has been sent to uncover the man's current identity, but is met with a frosty reception by local newspaper editor Tom Forbes. His daughter Bonnie however is fascinated by the whole case, and feels this is just the thing Fernville needs to put it on the map...

Unforgettable Crime, also known as The Affairs of Jimmy Valentine, is a really enjoyable classic mystery. It's got a nice small town atmosphere that sets the movie up well, and a distinct cast of characters, each with important roles to serve. The story is a pretty interesting one too, tackling [interesting] themes, such as the treatment of reformed criminals.

One question I did have though was why people are even looking for Jimmy Valentine. The guy wasn't a jailbreaker. He was released normally, then went on to just live his life, and hasn't done a thing for 30 years, so I'm not sure why the media frenzy suddenly sprung up.

This isn't your traditional whodunnit, because we know who the killer is from the get-go! While at first I thought this would be a fake-out, since we don't actually see the murder committed, but as we go on it proves to be the case. As I got further it began to feel like an episode of Columbo, which were always effective. And it grew to be quite tense watching these plucky young sleuths get further along in the investigation, not realising that the real killer is in their midst the whole time, watching every new clue they get. It's also unique in such a film to be seeing the killer planning as he goes. And it's pretty subversive having the comic relief be the real baddie.

The film has a good mix of serious and amusing. The dialogue can be a bit of a hoot at times too, with [cheesy] gems like "There's your early bird, you worm!".

Onto the characters. Bonnie is just the right mix of naive, and clever/resourceful, while Jason is =. You buy him as a somewhat unscrupulous reporter, but also believe that he does genuinely care when he puts his mind to it. Their romance is kinda sweet. There's a bit of an age difference, but it's not that bad. She's not a little girl and he's not an old man. It still leaves you wondering if they will get together, especially since Jason's ability to tolerate Bonnie changes from scene to scene, but they have good chemistry, and you buy them as a couple. It's perhaps better than both instantly being smitten.

Bonnie's father is an effective character. He's stern, but reasonably so. There are never any moments where he chains her up and forbids her to see her new beau, even if he does hate his guts, and he respects her career choices even when she goes against him. Jason's exasperated boss and semi-girlfriend Cleo meanwhile is pretty fun. She's an amusing presence who always has a witty one-liner to say, or a point to make, never feeling irrelevant.

Jason's assistant, the photographer Mousey, is a fun comic relief, which makes the reveal very effective. You like the dude, then he goes and shocks you like that! He's a smart villain too, although I did question his intelligence in one scene. On the night of the murder, he gave himself the alibi of seeing a local girl Letitia from afar, so Jason wants to question her. He freely assumes Mousey might've only thought it was her, so it'd be the easiest thing for him to call Letitia up and ask her if she was out walking by the Gazette offices that night. She would say 'I was reading a book, or 'I was banging my boyfriend', and Jason would go "Ahh, so it must have been someone ELSE who you saw, Mousey!". Problem solved! No murder required.

Overall, no-one here feels wasted, no two characters feel the same, and everyone has a purpose.

I really liked the ending!/. Rather than just being over and done with in 5 seconds, we get a 5 minute denouement, which wraps everything up very well. The broadcast announcing the 'true' identity of Jimmy Valentine was a bit spotty at first with how Jason seemed to be throwing murder victim Pinky under the bus, but it becomes a pretty good gesture and nice moment with the sentiment given, and what Jason does with the reward money. Then comes the ending proper, which went an atypical way in that Bonnie doesn't get the guy! I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise, since she's 18 and he's 30, and they barely know each-other, but I was pleased the movie had the courage to know when to not go through with a romance!

...Or at least, that's how it seemed! Until the last 30 seconds. *sigh* At least the way it's handled is super sweet, and well written, so I won't complain too much.

The direction in Unforgettable Crime is very neat! Real care is put into the shots and transitions too. There are some really effectively creepy scenes too, such as one that seemed to be comedic and innocuous, before suddenly turning sinister.

And lastly/finally, the acting in this film is very good. Dennis O'Keefe and Ruth Terry are fine leads, while Roman Bohnen and George E Stone do very good jobs as = and Mousey, and Gloria Dickson is a ball of fun as Cleo.

Overall, Unforgettable Crime is a very enjoyable little picture, and a t53 minutes it's a snug little package just waiting to entertain...

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