Thursday, October 22, 2020
Nancy Drew...Reporter (1939)
Nancy Drew…Reporter starts with hardbitten city editor named Bostwick who discovers, to his horror, that he has been enveigled into giving temporary work experience jobs to half a dozen teenaged would-be reporters. He fobs them off with assignments to cover the most trivial stories he can think of. Unfortunately for Bostwick his ace reporter Tracy, who is supposed to be covering a sensational coroner’s inquest, is nowhere to be found. Bostwick leaves the assignment on Tracy’s desk. Even more unfortunately for Bostwick one of the teenaged aspiring reporters, Nancy Drew, spots the assignment and pockets it and sets off to cover the inquest.
Eula Denning is facing a murder charge over the death of an elderly lady. The evidence against her is pretty strong but Nancy knows she’s innocent because, well just because ul seems really nice. And Nancy thinks she might be able to find the vital piece of evidence the police couldn’t find. Of course it’s crazy for Nancy to try to find the evidence on her own since the real killer is going to be searching for it as well but Nancy doesn’t stop to think about the danger.
There are some genuinely clever moments. Poor Ted finds himself having to go three rounds with a prize-fighter and fully expects to get beaten to a pulp. This is of course the result of another of Nancy’s bright ideas. There’s also an odd but amusing scene in a Chinese restaurant. Ted and Nancy can’t pay the bill but instead of being forced to wash dishes they have to provide some musical entertainment for the patrons. This one isn’t Nancy’s fault, it’s the fault of Ted’s bratty kid sister and her pal. Ted and Nancy’s escape from the hotel later on is also fairly ingenious. These scenes are a bit more inspired than you expect from a run-of-the-mill B-feature.
Bonita Granville was just fifteen when this movie was shot although she was already a film veteran with an Oscar nomination to her credit. Her hyper-energetic performance works and she manages to be pushy without being obnoxious. With the wrong performance Nancy could have been extremely irritating but Granville gets it just right. Frankie Thomas is pretty good as Ted Nickerson. Nancy leads him around by the nose but somehow Thomas is able to make Ted not seem like a complete fool.
When judging a movie like this you really have to take account of what it’s trying to, and what it’s trying to do is to appeal to an adolescent audience (and probably primarily adolescent girls). The ingredients were chosen accordingly - there’s a not-too-complicated mystery, a feisty but likeable young heroine, a fair amount of comedy and just a hint of (suitably chaste) romance. It’s a formula that the target audience would have been expected to lap up (and they did). Even adolescent boys would have tolerated it and maybe even enjoyed it because it has a juicy murder, a car chase, plenty of comedy and all that hardboiled newspaper reporter stuff.
As with most major studio B-movies of that era it doesn’t look like a big-budget movie but it doesn’t look cheap either. It’s polished and slick. That was perhaps the single biggest virtue of the studio system - they could make B-movies on limited budgets but with all the resources of a major studio behind them the results had real quality.
Nancy Drew…Reporter is very lightweight but that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. It’s light-hearted entertainment but it has charm and a certain panache and it has boundless energy. I’ve never read any of the books so I don’t know how much the character was changed but as played by Bonita Granville Nancy Drew is impossible to dislike. Highly recommended.