Murder mystery, old dark house-style, which is the best type of setting for this genre. P.I. Michael Shayne (Lloyd Nolan) turns up to solve a murder puzzle at the Wolff’s (dad, Dudley–Paul Harvey, daughter Catherine/Kay–Marjorie Weaver, and her step-mother Anna–Helene Reynolds). Alfred (Robert Emmett Keane) is Dudley’s Secretary; Dr. Haggard (Henry Wilcoxin) his friend, Phillips (Billy Bevan) is the butler, Roger (Richard Derr) is Catherine’s husband. Also, there’s Police chief Meek (Olin Howland).
Looks like a body stuffed in the back of a woody wagon, with Anna looking on. Three guys (Dudley, Haggard, and Alfred) bury it in the woods, but someone’s watching. Kay shows up at the house. Now, as the trio comes back, the weather whips up. Catherine announces her marriage “What’s this idiot’s name!” demands dad–it’s Roger.
Aha! a dark figure with glowing eyes appears in Kay’s room and shoots at her. Back at the gravesite, it’s dug up, no body “You told me he was dead!” Dudley exclaims. Michael shows up, skeptical about her ‘ghost’ story’. Cleverly, Mike agrees to pose as Roger, as her dad can’t stand cops, investigators, etc. She introduces Mike/Roger to a very truculent Dad. The dialogue is really snappy: Dudley to Mike “Don’t call me dad!” Mike: “Ok, Pops”.
Mike finds the bulletin Kay’s room. She tells Mike about Haggard’s secret lab in the basement. Mike: “No electric trains, huh?” Haggard has been working on a fountain-of-youth deal. But Mike almost gets electrocuted in a chair device. Confronting Haggard, and then Dudley with the bullet, we get the explanation that the intruder must’ve been a blackmailer.
That night, guess who shows up? Glowing eyes guy; skulking around a bit, he kills Haggard, and gets away. So, they summon the police. But Chief Meeks is a bit fuddy-duddy. While the family’s being interviewed, the burlglar alarm goes off. Mike dims the lights, and a figure is seen in the window. He gets away in Meek’s car, but Mike and Meeks give chase in Mike’s coupe.
It’s really an excellent chase scene, as both cars are sliding all over the dirt roads. Eventually, the ‘ghost’ goes off the road, and looks dead. Next scene Mike is chatting up an old magician friend; he’s curious about the so-called ‘buried alive’ act. That is, a magician in a trance-like state can fake death. Which would explain the initial missing body episode. That magician would be Zorah Bey (Le Roy Mason). Mike’s hunch proves correct: the body from the wrecked car goes missing from the morgue.
At this point, Kate’s real husband shows up at the mansion; things twist up even more when Mike gets back there. Everyone but Kay is mad at him, but Dudley and Anna consult with him, as they realize Mike suspects or links them in the murder. Dudley reveals that the buried guy was a blackmailer, and thought he accidentally killed him. Thus the burial; and, since Mike reveals Bey’s identity, it also explains the missing corpse.
The chief goes back to talk to Dudley, but is sort of shooed away. Now it’s an out-and-out dark and stormy night; the gunman, Bey, pops into Anna’s room intending to kill her, but Mike is right behind him, and kills Bey. The denouement shows that Bey was her ex-husband who was presumed dead. Of course, he had been blackmailing her. Faking his death would compromise Dudley, and allow the blackmailing to continue. But, Anna’s complete deal is that she’s been having an affair with Haggard. Bey realizes that she’s double-crossed him, and seeks revenge. Thus the murder of Haggard, and the attempted murder of Anna (the shot at Kay was an error).
That’s a lot to wade through in an hour. But, although the fake death stuff (especially from the car wreck) strains credulity, it does add up. The performances are good all around, especially Nolan’s. Some of his quips are just outstanding. Howland is maybe a touch to goofy for a cop, but his comment on the cook was priceless. Weaver is great too; she has a tough role, as she has to fake being Nolan’s wife for most of the movie. The characters are just so likeable. The only one we don’t get a read on is Bey’s; he has no lines at all. Maybe that’s ok, as he maintains a straight menacing role amongst several less-than-serious characters.
Very entertaining stuff. It’s worth watching for the dialogue alone. Farmermouse thought the car chase was the best, so he gives this eight ’39 Mercurys. 8/10.