In the late 1930's Universal had a series of mostly unconnected films all based on novels in the Crime Club Mystery series. I've reviewed most of the films previously, but there are a few I hadn't managed to track down until recently
THE WESTLAND CASE (1937)
First of the Crime Club series has William Crane and his pal Doc Williams hired by an attorney to try and dig up the real killer in the Westland case where a rich man was convicted of killing his wife in a locked room. When the detectives are brought in there are only days left to the execution and too many helpful suspects. A good little mystery that over comes it's flaws by the count down nature of the plot. Not only are there days left, but as the film winds down it becomes a matter of seconds. What I really like is that you really wonder if they are going to make it before time runs out. Its not giving anything away to say they do (this was before Noir took hold) but it still puts you on edge. The film was successful enough that two more films were based on novels that featured Crane and Williams Lady in the Morgue and the Last Warning (See below)
is a follow up to The Westland Case and Lady in the Morgue and it has Crane and Doc hired by a rich playboy to protect him from the clutches of a casino owner who has his marker. Things get complicated when notes threatening doom if the money isn't paid start appearing. As bodies begin appearing and the clients sister gets kidnapped Crane and Doc find themselves off the case...
Good but rather by the numbers murder mystery was the swan song of the Crane and Doc pairing. I think the pairing kind of died here not because there was anything really wrong with the characters, rather it was simply that they weren't given a whole hell of a lot to do. Much of the the action happens away from them, except when it doesn't/ It also doesn't help that one of the more interesting characters is killed off about half way through
WITNESS VANISHES (1939)
Final Crime Club film is set in England and stars Edmund Lowe as a publisher who got where he did by cheating the true owner of the newspaper out of control and sending him to the nut house. When years later the wronged man escapes and promises to kill those who wronged him bodies begin to pile up.
Swan song of the series is an enjoyable mystery that makes up for it's unremarkable plotting, you'll be several steps ahead of everyone, with a great cast of characters. Lowe is as charming as ever, and makes a great suspect. Especially fun is special investigator McNab. I kind of understand why the series ended here, on the other hand it is kind of sad since the series could have had new life had they gone with the British angle in additional films. As a mystery it's one of the least films, but at the same time the characters make it one of the more enjoyable films.
In putting this piece together I realized that I never reviewed The Lady in the Morgue here at Unseen. For some reason a review ended up at IMDB but I never posted a piece here. Since I did the films that bookend this little charmer I'm going to run a slightly modified version of the IMDB review here.
LADY IN THE MORGUE (1938)
Best of the Crane and Doc mysteries has a young woman found hanging in a hotel room, but no one knows who she really is. As several shady people go to investigate whether she is the wife of a certain crime boss, a detective (Crane) is hired by a rich family to see if the body is that of their missing daughter. However some one doesn't want the body identified and they steal the corpse, killing a morgue attendant in the process.
Fast moving mystery manages to be both jokey and hard edged with there being a real sense of danger. A solid mystery there is a point where you stop trying to work it all out and just watch it because it's just so much fun. Definitely worth a look.
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