The Case Of The Black Parrot, 1941. 7.5/10

Mystery time. A young woman and her uncle, Sandy (Maris Wrixen) and Paul Vantine (Charles Waldron) go furniture shopping in Paris. So? Well, this particular wooden treasure is one deadly piece of work. What? Sounds like Sherlock Holmes material. On the liner returning to the States, Jim (William Lundigan) befriends Sandy, and is puzzled by the strange cabinet.

Apparently, The Black Parrot is a guy, a criminal forger. On the lighter side, Jim and Sandy seemingly have an entire relationship just by hanging out at the ship’s rail. Colonel Piggot (Ernie Stanton) figures into this cabinet business somehow. But “mum’s the word.” Soon we see the cabinet itself, said to be worth $10k. Jim wants to write a story about it.

The surprise is, it’s not a forgery: it’s a genuine antique–worth $250k. Suddenly, there’s an (false) alarm triggered, like general quarters. In the panic when everyone’s up on deck, someone had access to the cabinet. A shadowy figure is looking in on Jim and Tripod’s (Eddie Fay, Jr.’s) berth, but nothing happens.

Ashore in New York, Jim comes calling on Sandy, and asks about ye olde cabinet. They go into the uncle’s office…to announce their engagement. That’s a quick romance. The Paris art dealer’s son, Armand (Paul Cavanagh), comes to check out the cabinet; the dealer wants to exchange the authentic cabinet for the Black Parrot version.

Uh, oh, there’s a dead guy in the cabinet room. None of them knows who he is. Meanwhile, Tripod talks to Jim. It seems that the dead guy, Daurelle (Louis Natheaux), was murdered; he has two incisions on his hand. Those are the marks of the Parrot’s victims. The inspector Grady (Ioseph Crehan) knows Jim, anyway, at first, the cops think it’s a suicide.

There’d been a woman caller too, but she went away in a huff before the murder occurred. Unsurprisingly, it seems that Daurelle was on the boat with them. “You are still convinced that the Black Parrot is involved in this?” Yes, Jim thinks so. Here’s that mysterious women, Julia (Phyllis Barry). The butler, Rogers (Cyril Thornton), knows her; she wants to see Paul. So she does. This Rogers is the shiftiest dude imaginable.

When the cops talk to Armand, Julia goes skulking about…Hey, look! Paul falls down dead after seeing Julia, two bite marks and all. Tripod calls Jim: there’s some new clues in the offing. Jim, Tripod, and the Lieutenant go to the steamship company to ask about a certain French duchess (Luli Deste).

Tripod has pictures of Julie–the same woman who’s in a picture found on the first victim. Jim asks Rogers about Julia, he stammers and mumbles, and claims illness. Now the duchess herself comes calling–she claims the cabinet is hers, and was sold without her permission.

She’d been on the boat (with millions of others it seems), one of her hankies was in the cabin after the false alarm. Colonel Piggot had been in contact with her, apparently to help her retrieve the cabinet. She says there’s some incriminating letters in a secret drawer. Amazingly, she’s right, and retrieves the letters.

Julia was the duchess’s maid; because she’s been in the wrong place at the wrong time, the cops focus on her. Jim asks her about Daurelle. Her explanation is that she was trying to retrieve the letters for the duchess to prevent Daurelle from blackmailing her boss. The servant Rogers admits that Julia is his wife. Why does Jim act like he’s a detective?

Tripod finds a cufflink (with a fleur-de-lis engraving, obviously belonging to a Frenchman). At night, a mysterious figure lurks about the house; Jim waits behind a sofa–in the cabinet room. Everyone’s surprised, and relieved, to see that it’s Piggot. How do they all know him?

He wants to talk to Sandy; The Black Parrot is the culprit, he says. “What could be his motive in coming here?” She says, puzzled. Well, he thinks that there’s a diamond in yet another secret drawer in the cabinet; some sort of poison device has killed those whom were getting too warm looking for it.

Shazam! Piggot finds the compartment. Sure enough, a sort of prong that emits poison springs out when the compartment’s opened. He uses an armored glove to safely open it, and removes the vial of poison. Of course, the diamond was ensconced there too. So how did this Sherlock Holmes know all this? Because Piggot IS the Black Parrot!

The cufflink is his, you see (Tripod had some beginner’s luck finding that tidbit). He threatens Sandy with the poison; Jim pops back in, unawares. The offer of a cigarette between the couple is an established sign. Alerted, Jim corrals the Parrot. It’s Armand in disguise–actually someone pretending to be Armand. The end: Tripod has “a date with a straight jacket.”

Not at all bad. In fact, the only real issue is Piggot. We don’t meet him until the very end, yet he’s on everyone’s thoughts for the entire movie. So when he finally shows up (still in disguise physically) he not only explains everything, but is the bad guy into the bargain.

It’s just too contrived; he would’ve been much better used as a red herring, particularly since he’s been too obviously dangled in front of us. Almost everything else works fine, though. The premise is interesting, in that it’s an object creating mayhem, not a person. It’s actually plausible that this sort of device could’ve been booby-trapped as portrayed.

I’m still not very clear on the point of the authentic v. forged versions of the cabinet; the fact that the authentic one is worth a fortune (astronomical in today’s money) seems to be overshadowed by the presence of the diamond. Who cares about a diamond when even the forged cabinet could make one fairly wealthy?

Still, with The Parrot’s role excepted, this is entertaining stuff. 7.5/10

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