RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: October 2012

Trapped by Boston Blackie (May 13, 1948)

I listen to radio shows. A lot of radio shows.

I’ve amassed a large collection over the years, and each radio show is identified by date broadcast so I can listen to them on the same day of the week they were originally broadcast, and on roughly the same date. (For 64 years ago, you add 3 to the day’s date.) I have enough old-time radio shows on MP3 that I’m rarely able to listen to all of each day’s programming, which is fine — in the ’40s no one listened to everything, and I’m sure plenty of people missed their favorite shows if they were out for the evening.

Currently, the shows from 64 years ago that I hate to miss include The Adventures of Sam Spade with Howard Duff and Lurene Tuttle, Suspense, The Whistler, The Great Gildersleeve with Harold Peary, and The Adventures of Philip Marlowe with Gerald Mohr.

I have plenty of episodes of Boston Blackie downloaded, but most weeks it’s not a show I go out of my way to listen to. On the other hand, whenever I do listen to it, I have a good time.

I feel the same way about both Boston Blackie movies I’ve seen — Boston Blackie and the Law (1946) and this one, Trapped by Boston Blackie (1948), which was directed by Seymour Friedman and released by Columbia Pictures — it wasn’t on my “must watch” list, but I taped it when it was on TCM a few months ago, and I had a good time watching it.

Horatio Black, a.k.a. “Boston Blackie” was created by writer Jack Boyle in 1914. Blackie started out as a professional thief but eventually became a crime-fighter and detective-for-hire. The character appeared in a variety of magazine stories and a number of silent films starring different actors. It wasn’t until the first sound film about the character, however, that one actor would play the character more than twice. Meet Boston Blackie (1941) starred Chester Morris as the gentleman safecracker and high-society thief, and Morris would go on to play Boston Blackie in a total of 14 films. (Except for a brief run during the summer of 1944 that starred Morris, the radio version of Boston Blackie that most people remember starred Richard Kollmar. The series that starred Kollmar was syndicated to Mutual and other stations and ran from 1945 to 1950.)

The film version of Boston Blackie doesn’t make quite as make puns and wisecracks as his radio counterpart, but they’re both smooth-talking, distinguished gentlemen who still have a streak of criminality, despite being mostly reformed.

Trapped by Boston Blackie was the penultimate film in the series. (The last was Boston Blackie’s Chinese Venture, released in 1949.)

In Trapped by Boston Blackie, Blackie and his weaselly sidekick, “The Runt” (George E. Stone), are hired to protect a valuable pearl necklace at a high-society party, but it goes missing from under Blackie’s nose, and he and The Runt are the prime suspects.

After the theft, The Runt says to Blackie, “At least we’re innocent.” Pause. “Or are we?”

Blackie spends most of the film’s running time wearing some kind of ridiculous disguise. First he dresses up as an Eastern mystic in order to circulate freely around the party and keep an eye on the necklace (and kids, when Blackie examines his costume before putting it on and holds up the turban and exclaims “Gay!” it doesn’t mean what you think it means).

Later, in order to track down the necklace, Blackie disguises himself as a fussy old man with The Runt in drag as his wife. (The Runt uses his old-lady disguise as an excuse to give a pretty young woman played by Patricia Barry a creepy and overly familiar hug.) Later, Blackie affixes a fake mustache to his upper lip and passes himself off as an insurance investigator.

And of course he’s dogged all along the way by his arch-nemesis and sorta-pal, Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane), who’s assisted by the extremely dim-witted Detective Sergeant Matthews (Frank Sully).

Trapped by Boston Blackie is not the first mystery programmer from Columbia Pictures I’d recommend if you’ve never seen one before, but if you’re a fan of the Boston Blackie series, it’s solid good fun.

The Iron Curtain (May 12, 1948)

The Iron Curtain
The Iron Curtain (1948)
Directed by William A. Wellman
20th Century-Fox

William A. Wellman’s The Iron Curtain was the first appearance of Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney together in a film since Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944). This really has no bearing on The Iron Curtain, but I love the movie Laura and Andrews and Tierney are one of my favorite screen couples, so it was fun to see them play completely different roles.

The Iron Curtain is the fictionalized tale of Igor Gouzenko, a Soviet code clerk who was stationed at the U.S.S.R. Embassy in Ottawa and discovered that American military secrets and other products of Soviet espionage were being transmitted through his office.

There is the obligatory text preceding the film that tells the viewer that all the documents presented appear exactly as they did in actual court records, as authenticated by the R.C.M.P.

This is a standard opening for a docudrama, which in the late ’40s was sort of a subgenre of film noir, with dramatic lighting, expressionistic camera angles, and subjective storytelling applied to true stories of espionage or miscarried justice, like The House on 92nd Street (1945), 13 Rue Madeleine (1947), Boomerang (1947), and Call Northside 777 (1948). These films used actual locations, documents, and occasionally even the actual participants in historical events to add sizzle to their “ripped from the headlines” plots.

When Gouzenko first arrives in Canada he’s the perfect apparatchik, devoted to Marxism and to the Communist Party. When one of his fellow Soviet embassy workers, Nina Karanova (June Havoc), shows him her spacious, well-decorated apartment, he berates her for her laxity and for being seduced by the trappings of Western decadence. But a chain of events conspires to force Gouzenko to experience some character development. His wife, Anna Gouzenko (Gene Tierney), joins him in Ottawa, and together they experience the friendliness and good hearts of their North American neighbors, and realize that they might have more in common with their “enemies” than they thought. At work, Gouzenko is haunted by the drunken recollections of Maj. Semyon Kulin (Eduard Franz), who murdered some of his own men to force others to “volunteer” for a mission during the war.

When Gouzenko discovers that he is passing classified information from the embassy back to Moscow — American nuclear secrets, the details of a supposedly secret meeting in Canada between FDR and Churchill, details of sleeper agents — he experiences a crisis of conscience, and has to decide if he should turn documents over to the Canadian Minister of Justice and put his life and the lives of his wife and child in danger.

The Iron Curtain is a slick, well-made thriller that doesn’t generate suspense through over-the-top elements like chases or shootouts, but rather through grounded, real-life elements like the threat of the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police.

When the story of Igor Gouzenko was originally covered by the media in February 1946, it was the beginning of public awareness of the Cold War. The revelation that our former allies were running a spy ring in North America had a profound impact that would last for decades. The Iron Curtain is the earliest film I’ve seen to tackle the looming Soviet menace, and it’s more tasteful and factually accurate than some of the outré Red Scare flicks the ’50s would give us.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 327 other followers