*** I Love a Mystery (1945-46)
Based on an earlier radio program of the same name, I Love a Mystery (1945) is the first of three films starring Jim Bannon and Barton Yarborough as detectives Jack Packard and Doc Long. The duo (actually a trio in the original radio broadcasts – a young Tony Randall played a character called Reggie who doesn’t appear in these film adaptations) meet the always excellent George Macready in a nightclub arguing with a woman about the fact that he apparently he knows when he’s going to die. A twisty and slightly preposterous plot unfolds when all the possible bad guys start dropping like flies, victims of some unknown assailant.
In the second film in the series, The Unknown (1946), Jack and Doc are hired to escort young Nina Arnold (Jeff Donnell, and yes that’s a girl) to her ancestral mansion in Kentucky for the reading of her grandmother’s will. The twist is that Nina was placed in foster care as an infant and will be meeting her mother Rachel (Karen Morley) for the first time. It’s a well-written and nicely paced film with a lot of misdirection and a few unexpected plot elements. Although Bannon and Yarborough are the series regulars, top billing for The Unknown went to the underrated Morley. She is excellent as the mother who never recovered from the loss of her baby daughter. The was probably Morley’s best performance, and shortly after she fell victim to the HUAC hearings and worked very little in the industry from that point on.
The final entry in the I Love a Mystery series is The Devil’s Mask (1946). This one begins after a shrunken head is found in the ruins of a crashed plane that was headed from California to Latin America. A woman, who believes that her step-daughter is planning to kill her, hires Jack and Doc to assist her. The mystery deepens when the family butler is killed by a poison dart from a blow-gun similar to those used by the jungle tribe of head-hunters responsible for the shrunken head. A host of possible suspects include a blackmailing psychiatrist, a crazy taxidermist and the original victim himself, but the reveal comes too early and spoils the film a little.
All three films are on a single DVD-R in the FBW Black Vault.