Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Adventures of Kitty O'Day (Monogram, 1948)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film I picked was Adventures of Kitty O’Day, which I recalled having read good things about in Don Miller’s survey of “B” movies — alas, the promise of a Monogram version of a Thin Man movie was not fulfilled. Instead it was a “youth movie” with Jean Parker as Kitty O’Day, a switchboard operator at a big-city hotel, who’s in love with Johnny Jones (Peter Cookson) — couldn’t they have figured out at least a nominally more creative name for him? — who runs the travel information desk at the hotel. (They’re constantly calling each other on the hotel’s intercom lines even though they literally work across the lobby from each other — a gag that has a surprisingly modern feel, though in a movie of today they’d be using cell phones.)

The film’s gimmick is that Kttty O’Day incessantly reads true-detective magazines and fancies herself a crime-fighter — and she gets a real crime to fight when people start getting murdered in mysterious ways all over the hotel, especially on the third floor. I had a hard time keeping awake through this movie, which might have been an indication of how tired I was or a demonstration of its relatively low quality, but from what I could see it was pretty much just a farce dressed up with a few dead bodies, as Kitty, Johnny, their bosses and various assorted suspects ran around the hotel a lot and Jean Parker tried to play both farce (at which she was pretty good) and slapstick (at which she wasn’t good at all; one imdb.com commentator said she reminded him of Lucille Ball’s “Lucy” character, which could only make me think of how much funnier this movie would have been with Ball in Parker’s role).

Eventually it all turns out to have something to do with a plot to steal guests’ jewelry from the hotel safe, and the guilty man turns out to be one of the four or five portly middle-aged men with little moustaches who are the suspects (in virtually ALL Monogram's mystery films, the killers turn out to be portly middle-aged men with little moustaches) — not that it really matters that much — and Johnny Jones has just about managed to get Kitty O’Day to swear off detective work when yet another body is found at the hotel (this place must have the worst survival rate for its guests in the entire history of hostelry!) and she’s off and running — while the movie itself sputters out, a really disappointing “B” because the premise, though not exactly fresh, had the promise of a genuinely entertaining and amusing film instead of just a lot of running around.

The original source for the film was a story by Victor Hammond called “Kitty O’Day Comes Through,” and Hammond joined George Callahan and Tim Ryan to form the writing committee for the actual script — while the director is Monogram stalwart William Beaudine, who could be good or could be dreadful (his one unquestionably great film, The Old-Fashioned Way, is great because W. C. Fields was the star and the only things you needed to do to make a great Fields movie were point the cameras and mikes at him, and make sure the cameras were in focus and the mikes were recording him intelligibly) and gets a few cool noir-ish effects whenever O’Day enters a darkened room and sees it in the half-light through open Venetian blinds (a favorite effect of Monogram directors when they tried to get arty); alas, as soon as she turns on the lights Mack Stengler’s cinematography becomes typical Monogram, flat and dull.