Friday, January 7, 2011

A Shriek in the Night (1933)

The title and the original poster might give the impression that A Shriek in the Night is a horror movie. It isn’t. It’s a routine murder mystery, and a very pedestrian one at that.

Ginger Rogers is ace girl reporter Pat Morgan, and she’s got herself a job as secretary to a millionaire businessman and philanthropist named Harker. Her editor has heard a whisper of a link between Harker and mob boss Joe Martini, and her assignment is to investigate this link and gain a major scoop for the Daily News.

This being a newspaper reporter movie it goes without saying that a reporter from a rival paper is trying to get the same story first, and of course he just happens to be a guy who’s been trying to persuade Pat to marry him. The movie opens with Harker plunging to his death from the penthouse of his hotel, making the story an even bigger one.

This movie has so many problems it’s hard to know where to begin. The identity of the murderer is revealed far too early. The explanation of the murder is contrived and unconvincing. The comic relief, a feature that blighted so many American B-movies of the 30 and 40s, is even more annoying than usual. Albert Ray’s direction is static and dull. This is a Poverty Row production and the production values are strictly bargain basement. The script is confused and boring.

It does have some redeeming features however. The opening scenes are, surprisingly, quite bold visually and quite effective. But the one real plus in this movie is Ginger Rogers. She’s miscast, but to her credit she not only does her best she actually manages not only to make Pat Morgan likeable she also makes her something different from the usual cliché of the wise-cracking hardboiled girl reporter. She plays Pat as a rather hesitant character, feisty but not entirely sure of herself. She’s found herself unexpectedly right in the middle of a series of gangland-related murders so quite reasonably she’s both keen to get the big story and also conscious of the fact that this is all rather dangerous.

Lyle Talbot plays her rival and would-be suitor. Talbot had an exceptionally varied career that included countless B-movies, scores of guest roles in TV series and a role in Ed Wood’s legendary Plan 6 from Outer Space. He’s not too bad in this one. Like Rogers he doesn’t play the role in the standard stereotyped manner - he’s not quite as obnoxious and arrogant as you might anticipate and he’s also less concerned with putting Pat down than you might expect.

A Shriek in the Night is in the public domain and if you find a copy in the dollar bin it’s probably worth picking up for Ginger Rogers’ performance. I certainly wouldn’t pay any more than a buck for it.

The public domain DVD copy I saw was pretty bad - lots of print damage and rather poor sound quality. Which makes this movie pretty difficult to recommend.

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