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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

STAR OF MIDNIGHT (1935)

Once you subtract Myrna Loy’s Nora Charles from William Powell’s Nick in THE THIN MAN Series, what’ve you got? Something like this little knock-off from RKO, which tries to fill the gap with Ginger Rogers’ worshipful helpmate and twice the alcohol. It’s not really bad, just blah. What made those THIN MAN pics so distinctive didn’t spring from the casual detective work, but from the idea of marriage as permanent date, less wedded bliss than wedded fun. In this story, Powell plays a man-about-town lawyer who’d rather solve crimes than defend criminals. But when he tries to help an old friend find his missing fiancé, bodies start piling up and his pal starts looking awfully guilty, especially when a mysterious musical comedy star pulls a real-life vanishing act mid-performance. J. Farrell MacDonald shows some classy reserve as a chief police dick who’s knows the territory, but there's precious little chemistry elsewhere. (Even Gene Lockhart, usually so reliable, is somehow all wrong as Powell’s valet.) Halfway thru, the swanky look and indecipherable plot run out of steam, but everyone just goes on talking.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: There’s always THE THIN MAN, or get Powell in the best of the Philo Vance detective pics, Michael Curtiz’s THE KENNEL MURDER CASE/’33.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The real mystery in here is its little-known director, Stephen Roberts, dead of a heart attack the following year at 41. Known principally for his daringly raw adaptation of William Faulkner’s SANCTUARY (THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE/’33), played with remarkable sexual abandon by Miriam Hopkins, there’s little he can do on this star vehicle.

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