Barbara Peyton and Paul Langton star in this late noir. She’s singer Eden Lane, accused of killing her boyfriend, Frank Dean (Roy Gordon). Langton is Detective Ray Patrick, who, after Eden’s conviction, escorts her on the train that’s headed to the welcome wagon at the women’s prison. With a device that’s seen action in other crime mysteries, she claims to have seen the supposed dead man. The corpse itself had been burned beyond recognition–could the deadman be someone else?
Well, we’re going to find out. Ray buys Eden’s story, and the two of them go in search of the supposed victim. That incurs the wrath of police Capt. Pete Rawley (Robert Shayne). Also in the wings are Patsy (Tracey Roberts), Abbott (also Roy Gordon) and his wife Beatrice (Selena Royle), and Miss Sparrow (Kate McKenna).
Rawley drives into a motor court and sneaks up on one of the cottages. It’s Ray that he jumps; obviously this is foreshadowing, after the fact of Ray’s going rogue with Eden. “We’re going back [to L.A. police headquarters] together, or I’m not going back either!” Exclaims Rawley.
So to pick up the story from the beginning, we pick up the action right after the Dean ‘killing.’ We see a figurine that was used as a weapon; the victim, when struck, fell into the fireplace, and was burnt beyond recognition.
Mrs. Sparrow fills them in about Eden. So Ray heads to the club where she works, The Spotlight. “I’ll bat the questions, you just field ’em” he tells the bartender. That conversation sends Ray to Patsy, who’s a bit evasive. He wants to take her ‘for a ride.’ Not to headquarters, but to her place. He looks through everything…the trash can yields a note for a bus ticket. Only now she comes up with Frank Dean’s name.
In fact, Eden must’ve know that she’d be tailed, and got off the bus about halfway to S.F. At Merced, Ray finds a gas station guy who tells him that Eden had come by to hire a car. She’s headed East for a mountain cabin. When he gets in, he takes in the cozy scene, telling her that there’s “no rush.”
Eden certainly beguiles Ray, who’s literally slogged through a blizzard to find her at her mountain retreat. Well, he’s supposed to. Once he settles in with her, they discuss the case. He doesn’t want her to incrimate herself, but keeps the chit-chat business-like at first.
They can’t sleep, neither could I, if, like Ray I slept with my tie on. Oddly, although she admits hitting the guy, but she didn’t know that he was dead. He struggles with the supposedly closed case: “there was a loose end to this Dean case that nagged at me.” Back in L.A., we’re spared the details of the trial. Rawley tells him what he thinks; he could care less about her.
Anyway, Ray’s detailed to accompany her on the train–ultimately to the prison. They discuss the case again. At a stop she sees Frank on the platform. He doesn’t believe her, of course. But “I remember that train ride as long as I live…because I began to doubt [her guilt].” He realizes that, if she’s right, she’s obviously innocent of killing Frank.
Determined to see if they can really find Frank, Ray very quickly decides that they jump off the train when it has to slow for a bridge. He says “for his own sake” he’s going to give their ‘investigation’ a week; after which he’ll treat her as an escaped prisoner if nothing turns up. Driving around in the wayside town, he sees Patsy.
She goes into a hotel; with the naivety common in that era, the clerk gives him Patsy’s room number. She goes up there and rummages through her stuff: whoa! What’s this? A secret compartment in her suitcase loaded with cash. Later, at the motel with Eden, he tells her about the money.
Coincidentally, this joint is Patsy’s home town. I can’t understand why he takes the money. Meanwhile, showing another bit of folksy trust never to be seen again, the motel owner let’s Ray use his car. He stops in at Abbott’s porcelain factory to buy a figurine (the same as the one in the motel lobby, and, not coincidentally, also the same as the murder weapon).
He hides in a closet there, coming out at night to do… what? He’s seen by an employee; they fight briefly, and he scoots away. He expects to find a picture of Frank on the business calendar he swipes, but Eden says no dice. He can’t figure out how Patsy figures into it; Eden has already figured into Ray’s love life, though.
Meaning, that there’s no more ‘limit’ on his suspension of disbelief–he ain’t going to turn her in. He admits to himself that now they could both wind up in prison. But, what’s this? She’s skipped out. Uh–oh, he finds Rawley there instead.
Now what? Well, we’ve segued back to the opening scene, and go from that point. Ray tries to negotiate with Rawley. Incredibly, his boss/captor gives him 24 hours to continue the hunt for Frank. Not only that, he agrees to help Ray! So they go looking for Patsy. If they’re both policemen, why don’t they just march into her hotel and find her? Well, instead, they hide outside and wait for her to leave.
She goes into a church. When the service is over, they go back to her room, only to find her dead. Then they go to the Abbott’s; they’re the folks who run the ceramic plant. Rawley says that Patsy had been blackmailing the Abbott’s, and accuses him of killing Patsy. When Abbott’s wife comes in, the cops leave; yet they overhear the couple arguing about Patsy.
Eden gave herself up. Why? They summon Mrs. Sparrow, as she’s the only one available to identify Frank. Their theory is that Abbot is Dean. He’d framed Eden by staging his own death. The actual corpse was a blackmailer (Patsy’s boyfriend Mike); she was killed for blackmailing Abbott/Dean about Mike.
Abbott deduces that his wife instigated the whole thing. She slips out and kills herself by jumping off the speeding train. That, supposedly ties it all up. Except for the next and last scene at city hall where Eden and Ray, now both in the clear, fix to tie up their own knot. With Rawley as best man. The end.
This is watchable, but as a story, it’s just not very plausible. If Ray is simply a guy who’s attracted to Eden, ok, we can buy his overlooking her legal issues. But he’s not only a cop, he’s charged with conveying her to prison, and turns rebel anyway. To compound this near-impossibility, his boss plays along, pretty much going rogue himself.
If this had all occur at the remote mountain cabin, this all might’ve been at least logistically possible. But, no, the rogue-cop pose plays out in broad daylight, in everyday life; as if it’s the Old West. In the initial scene, Pete does realize that he’s sticking his neck out by basically throwing-in with Ray, but once we’re past that point, he and Ray act like Holmes and Watson.
On the other hand, the foreshadowing device does grab us right off the bat. The viewer is completely in the dark until near the end that Abbott and Dean are the same guy. That’s pretty clever, but it does make the long build-up with the Abbotts into more of a distraction; the payoff comes a bit late.
Up to the time that Ray and Eden ‘escape’ from the train, this is a pretty good mystery. Then the believability suffers just as the pacing slows; the church scene is entirely superfluous, and it’s absurd that Eden turns herself in. The whole blackmail thing is way too complex to unravel; and Ray helps himself to some of it for no apparent reason.
The business with the figurine is worked to death, somewhat like the tiresome postcard prop from the same year’s British crime mystery, Postmarked For Danger. That movie also features an initially unidentifiable, burnt body.
Langton and Payton have pretty good chemistry–we can see that they would fall for each other. The supporting cast, Shayne excepted, is fairly bland. A little better than Postmarked For Danger, but monster truck racing beats both by quite a bit. 6.5/10