Saturday, January 18, 2014

Detective Kitty O'Day (Monogram, 1944)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Two nights ago Charles and I screened Detective Kitty O’Day, a 1944 Monogram comedy-thriller that proved surprisingly good, even though William Beaudine’s name on the director credit provoked groans from both of us (“Well, someone had to direct it!” said Charles). It begins in the office of a company owned by Oliver Wentworth (Edward Earle) — well, actually it begins on the street outside the Wentworth building, where Johnny Jones (Peter Cookson), a Wentworth employee, is supposed to be delivering a briefcase containing an incredibly valuable set of negotiable securities to Wentworth — only he leaves it in the car and the cop who was driving has to tell him, “Didn’t you forget something?” After that brief bit of byplay — which lets us know that this is basically going to be a funny movie even though people are going to die in it — we meet Kitty O’Day (Jean Parker) herself. She’s another Wentworth employee and she and Johnny are dating, though their attempts to go out together are systematically being frustrated by Wentworth continually calling her in to work for him at night and having her over to his home — which has understandably led Johnny to think that Wentworth has the hots for Our Kitty himself. It’s established that Mr. and Mrs. Wentworth (she’s played by the marvelously named, and regrettably under-used, Veda Ann Borg) had an unhappy marriage and that she had a boyfriend on the side, Harry Downs (Douglas Fowley, reuniting him and Parker from the cast of PRC’s marvelous vest-pocket thriller Lady in the Death House, made the same year), also that he was planning an out-of-town trip and he told Kitty it was to Boston but his ticket was actually to South America, where he was going to abscond with all those securities — only someone came along and murdered him, and later on killed Harry Downs and the Wentworths’ butler Charles (Olaf Hytten).

The identity of the murderer wasn’t hard to dope out — once a portly-looking middle-aged man with a moustache entered the action and was introduced as Wentworth’s attorney, Robert Jeffers (Herbert Heyes), I guessed him if only because of Monogram’s casting department’s penchant for casting portly middle-aged men with moustaches as their killers — but the motive was: it seems as if he, Downs and Charles were all part of a plot to steal those securities, only Jeffers decided to knock off his co-conspirators so he wouldn’t have to split the money with them. What’s most interesting about the movie isn’t the murder plot but the sheer joyous ditziness of Parker’s title character — it’s the sort of part one could readily imagine Lucille Ball playing in full “Lucy Ricardo” cry — and the predictable but still entertaining set-tos with the official law-enforcement officers, particularly Inspector Clancy (Tim Ryan) and his sidekick, Joe Kasinski (Fred Roberts). Director Beaudine, working from a script by Ryan and Victor Hammond, actually brings some life to this one and doesn’t just plod along the way he usually did (especially when he wasn’t working with a major star like Mary Pickford, Carole Lombard or W. C. Fields); the film has real energy and drive, and is a lot of fun to watch. Though the plot didn’t seem to leave room for a sequel, Monogram did make one, Adventures of Kitty O’Day, in 1945 — and that would be fun to watch!