Midnight Manhunt, 1945. 7/10

You would think that the concepts comedy and crime thriller are complete opposites; they should be, which is probably why this sub-genre can work well. The trick is finding the right mix of these elements. Sometimes the characters are too goofy, and not funny; in some of the British old dark house stuff from this era the humor adds to the plot.

Let’s see. George Zucco is a creepy gangster Jelke, who starts things off by plugging Joe Wells (George E. Stone). Weirdly, reporter Sue (Anne Savage) props him up in a wax museum (most of the scenes take place in this museum/hotel/police outpost building) run by Miggs (Charles Halton) and ‘Clutch’ Tracy (Leo Gorcy). Sue’s fellow reporter/love interest Pete (William Gargan) is alerted about the killing by Clutch, but doesn’t know where the body is. Miggs discovers the corpse, but Clutch convinces him not to call the police.

Already I don’t get the reason for secrecy. There’s a dead-or-alive reward for Well’s corpse. Why wouldn’t either Sue or Miggs alert the police and collect the reward? Jelke is the only one who has a motive for hiding or doing away with the corpse. Anyway, Jelke forces Sue to reveal the its whereabouts. But Miggs/Clutch have stashed it elsewhere already. The police (Don Beddoe as Lt. Hurley) shows up at Well’s room, finding Pete there, but nothing else of interest.

Jelke checks out the museum, with the police and Pete right behind him. Pete tells Jelke that he knows where the body is (Hurley doesn’t show until Jelke leaves). Fortunately, at Sue’s, Clutch shows up and tells Pete he’s got the body on a freight car. Sue is taken to jail (as is Miggs) for her involvement, but Jelke bails her and forces her to accompany him to the corpse.

With everyone converging on the freight car, Clutch and Pete manage to dodge them all, and drag the corpse away. Jelke sort of gratuitously lets on that he’s recovered diamonds from the corpse. They go to retrieve the body from a taxi. Jelke attempts to ambush Pete and Sue, but they turn the tables. Cunningly, it was really Clutch huddled in the taxi, pretending to be Wells. That way even if things backfired, Sue came Pete would still have the body…somewhere.

This was better than I thought it would be. Gorcy snags most of the humor–and such misbegotten witticisms he comes up with! Describing Wells reputation, he says “He (Wells) had so many notches in his tommygun it looked like a buzzsaw”: to the officer who maybe doesn’t see so well “I’d advise you to see an optimist”; to Sue and Pete: “did the milk of romance finally…curdle?” Then there’s subtler stuff for the other characters. Miggs constantly complains about how tired he is; the lieutenant gets so wound up when the body keeps disappearing that he finally just screams–since we anticipate this scene it’s all the more effective. There’s plenty of other little touches like this.

On the other hand, Jelke is deadly serious the whole time. All of his scenes have a looming noirish quality that disturb the more nonchalant, idiosyncratic attitude of everyone else. Zucco and Gorcy definitely bring this up a few notches. the only significant problem I have with the plot is the aforementioned reward; it would’v been better if no one knew about that until near the end. If Well’s diamonds are known to others besides Jelke, then they become a decent reason to to take the body. Once the diamonds were found though, the body would still only be of interest to Jelke.

Midnight Manhunt does a lot with a simple, if gimmicky device, mostly with pretty good suspense and surprisingly apt use of humor. Farmermouse was pretty scared of those guys in the wax museum, but he won a few rounds of dice, so he gives this one seven snake eyes. 7/10.

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