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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 Return of the Whistler (March 18, 1948)

The Return of the Whistler
The Return of the Whistler (1948)
Directed by D. Ross Lederman
Columbia Pictures

The Return of the Whistler was the final entry in the Columbia Pictures series based on the CBS radio show. It’s the only Whistler film that doesn’t star Richard Dix, who was in poor health when it was made (he died on September 20, 1949, at the age of 56).

Not only were the Whistler films excellent B-movie programmers, they were remarkably faithful to their source material. Just like the radio show, The Return of the Whistler begins with the eerie whistled theme music. The camera tracks the shadow of a walking man as he narrates in voiceover: I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes, I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak.

Michael Duane and Lenore Aubert star as Ted Nichols and his fiancée Alice, who — when the film begins — are driving through a dark and story night to be married by a justice of the peace. Alice is a Frenchwoman, and Ted has only known her for two weeks. He found her under mysterious circumstances, limping through the woods near his summer cabin, running away from someone or something. There’s a lot about her past that he doesn’t know, but he does know one thing — he loves her more than anything in the world.

Naturally, things don’t go according to plan. First their car breaks down, then they discover that the justice of the peace is out of town, trapped by bad weather. Ted and Alice can’t stay in a hotel room together for the night because they aren’t legally married yet, so Ted leaves Alice at the hotel alone and walks to a nearby garage to have his car fixed. The shadow of the Whistler follows him.

This isn’t just the way you’d planned your honeymoon is it, Ted? But don’t be too unhappy, it’s only a few more hours before you and Alice will be united forever.

Like most things the Whistler says, those words drip with sardonic irony, because when Ted returns to the hotel the next morning Alice is gone, and the cranky night clerk (played by Olin Howland) claims not to know anything.

The Return of the Whistler is a fine capper to the series. The pacing is excellent and the actors all turn in solid performances. The mystery of what happened to Alice isn’t attenuated unnecessarily, and the movie is more suspenseful because of it, getting us involved in her predicament and Ted’s desperate fight to find out what’s going on before it’s too late.

The Return of the Whistler was directed by D. Ross Lederman, produced by Rudolph C. Flothow, and written by Edward Bock and Maurice Tombragel, based on a story by Cornell Woolrich. There are currently a few uploads of The Return of the Whistler on YouTube. You can watch one of them below:

Boston Blackie and the Law (Dec. 12, 1946)

D. Ross Lederman’s Boston Blackie and the Law, produced by Ted Richmond, is the twelfth of 14 Boston Blackie features released by Columbia Pictures from 1941 to 1949.

Horatio “Boston Blackie” Black was a gentleman thief and safecracker created by author Jack Boyle in 1914. Stories featuring Boston Blackie appeared in The American Magazine, Cosmopolitan, and Redbook, and the character showed up in a number of silent films starring a variety of different actors. When Chester Morris stepped into the role in Meet Boston Blackie (1941), however, he was on the road to becoming inseparable from the character. Meet Boston Blackie was the first “talkie” featuring Boston Blackie, and Morris would go on to play Blackie in all 14 programmers released by Columbia Pictures. Morris also played the character on the radio, in a 1944 summer replacement series for Amos & Andy. When Blackie returned to the airwaves in 1945, Richard Kollmar took over the part, and starred in more than 200 episodes.

The radio version of Boston Blackie is the one I’m most familiar with, and while I’m a regular listener, it’s never been one of my favorite shows. Occasionally there’s a really crackerjack episode, but mostly they’re middle-of-the-road mysteries with more corn than the state of Iowa. Judging solely by Boston Blackie and the Law, which is the first Boston Blackie movie I’ve ever seen, the film series is pretty similar. Blackie is a likable rogue, but his puns are pretty lame, and he’s got plenty to go around.

Boston Blackie and the Law begins in a festive fashion, with Blackie performing a magic show at the annual Thanksgiving party at Women’s State Penitentiary. An old lady in the audience says, “I didn’t know Boston Blackie was a magician.” A young blonde responds knowingly, “There isn’t a trick he doesn’t know.”

That young blonde is Dinah Moran, a.k.a. prisoner #31329 (played by Constance Dowling), and when Blackie offers to make someone disappear in his “Phantom Cabinet,” she volunteers. Blackie promises Warden Lund (Selmer Jackson) the disappearance will be only temporary, which gets a laugh from the audience, but no one’s laughing when he pulls back the curtain of the cabinet a second time and Moran is still nowhere to be seen.

Enter the long-suffering Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane) and his bumbling sidekick, Sgt. Matthews (Frank Sully). Farraday is Blackie’s foil; an eternal chump who always suspects Blackie of wrongdoing, and who always trips over his own feet while Blackie effortlessly solves the crime his own way.

After Blackie gives the imbecilic Sgt. Matthews the slip, he and his sidekick, “The Runt” (George E. Stone), follow clues to a stage magician named “Jani” (Warren Ashe) and his pretty, dark-haired assistant Irene (Trudy Marshall).

Jani, whose real name is John Lampau, bears a strong resemblance to Boston Blackie, which comes in handy when Blackie needs to impersonate him. (To enjoy a movie like this, you have to buy that Inspector Farraday and Sgt. Matthews can’t recognize Blackie up close just because he’s wearing a turban and a false Van Dyke beard.)

As usual with these types of B mysteries, I was left with more stupid questions than the film had trite answers when the words “The End” appeared onscreen. But I enjoyed it. Columbia’s mystery series of the ’40s — like The Whistler series and The Crime Doctor series — were top-notch B-movie entertainment, and Boston Blackie and the Law isn’t bad, either.

Sioux City Sue (Nov. 21, 1946)

Frank McDonald’s Sioux City Sue repurposes the script from the 1939 comedy She Married a Cop and takes its title from one of the most popular songs of 1946. It was Gene Autry’s first film after he completed his service in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

More comedy than western, Sioux City Sue is lightweight fluff, but if you like Autry’s music, there’s plenty of it. (Although, if you’re like me, you’ll be a little sick of the title song by the end of the picture.)

In a plot that makes no sense if you stop to think about it for longer than half a second, a pretty blond Hollywood talent scout named Sue Warner (Lynne Roberts) casts Autry in an upcoming movie without telling him that he’ll never actually appear onscreen and is in fact voicing a singing donkey in an animated feature.

Things have changed a lot. Now, Hollywood stars regularly lend their voices to animated features. It’s nice work if you can get it; no time in the makeup chair, no difficult location shooting, and you can take your toddlers to the premiere. But in 1946, no star would ever dream of being in a cartoon. It’s hard, though, not to be delighted and amused by the premiere of the cartoon feature in Sioux City Sue. The little donkey with Autry’s voice, singing to his sweetheart on horseback, both of them wearing western duds, is pretty gosh-darned cute.

But Autry’s been lied to, and that rightly doesn’t sit well with the man. Of course, during the making of the film, Sue fell in love with him, so the big question for the second half of the picture is whether or not she’ll be able to convince him she’s sorry. She does her darnedest, quitting her job and coming to work on his ranch as a cook and general menial laborer.

This being a Republic western programmer, there’s an action-packed climax, and it’s up to Autry and his wonder horse Champion to save the day. The last few minutes of the picture, which involve a dynamited dam, a flood, and a cattle stampede, are exciting. But for the most part, Sioux City Sue is a laid-back and easygoing good time.

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