“Alias Boston Blackie” (1942) is the third in this series of 14 B-movies starring Chester Morris. This one adds a yuletide flavor to the fast-paced action, though there is no peace on earth until the bad guys are rounded up.
This week we look at A Very Gumshoe Christmas. Thursday we’ll discuss “Lady in the Lake” (1947). Because both films are mysteries, there’ll be no plot spoilers. That’s my Christmas present to you. Instead, we’ll have a look at how both movies use symbols of Christmas.
Boston Blackie originated as a popular pulp novel series, then to silents, and then to this long series of B-movies begun in the 1940s starring Mr. Morris, who got his start on stage, had some success on Broadway, and later on did lots and lots of TV guest roles. His film career started off well in features, but then he slipped into the B-movie morass and never quite got out of it. He is a lively, rugged, and glib Boston Blackie, a former jewel thief and safecracker who is now on the side of good.
George E. Stone plays The Runt, his right-hand man and valet, also a former crook. You may recognize him from his role as Andy, Warner Baxter’s right-hand man in “42nd Street” (1933).
It’s Christmas. We come upon Blackie in a cozy scene, first spied through the windows, trimming his very large tree. You have to have a shot of a tree through the window. Sometimes I go outside at night to look at my lighted tree through the window. In Hollywoodland, all rooms are about 20 feet high, and so of course, Christmas trees are always 20 feet high.
You see him here delicately flopping handfuls of what some of my relatives would call “the really good tinsel, with lead in it, so it hung right.”
First, a few presents. Then the story.
Boston Blackie and The Runt are off to prison tonight, but only as a good deed. They are taking a vaudeville troupe to perform for the convicts on Christmas Eve.
One of chorus girls, played by Adele Mara, has a brother in the Big House, and she’s worried about him. He keeps threatening to break out and go after the two mugs who sold him out. He claims he was framed and is innocent.
Her brother, played by Larry Parks, who you may remember from his much more famous later role in “The Al Jolson Story” (1946) used to be a vaudeville acrobat. This comes in handy when he jumps a clown, puts on his clown suit and makeup, performs some really neat acrobatics for the audience of mugs, and sneaks out of prison on the same bus as the vaudeville troupe. It’s not easy, because the dogged Inspector is along, played by Richard Lane. The inspector is always hounding Blackie, though their relationship is equally friendly as it is adversarial.
Blackie tells him, “Every morning when I shave I expect to find you in my tube of soap. And when I come to something hard in the turkey stuffing tomorrow, I’ll look for your head.”
Keep an eye out for a young Lloyd Bridges, who is the bus driver.
Blackie suspects something’s up. Hmm, there’s something familiar about that clown. He knows for sure when Larry Parks, after a very sloppy fight, steals his clothes. Blackie is left in his unmentionables. You know Christmas is starting out badly when a very angry clown takes your suit.
A fun movie, with clever shell games and with lots of twists and turns. Literally, when the final chase sequence begins in the hunt to find the two mugs Larry Parks wants to kill for framing him. Boston Blackie, the Runt, and Adele Mara steal a motorcycle and sidecar, and eventually a black and funereal-looking ambulance, crash through some obligatory fruit stands and nearly drive over a sidewalk Santa.
Santa is a reminder-on-the-run that it’s Christmas Day. We also have a neat little tree in the lobby of Adele Mara’s hotel, and a cozy little tabletop tree in the police station. Just warms your heart, doesn’t it?
But none can compare to the magnificent evergreen towering over the furniture and the party guests, which include the Inspector (good will toward men, after all), at Boston Blackie’s party.
Even tough guys celebrate Christmas. We’ll see more of that in the innovative manner Christmas images are used in the unusual “Lady in the Lake” on Thursday.