austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Everyday I think of you, you're on my mind

One Mysterious Night is a curiously strong entry in the Boston Blackie series, considering this was like the 85th film in the string of B pictures. But it seems to me to do very nicely at keeping the essential elements which make the Boston Blackie story distinct --- there's none of that attempt to break into other genres which made various Lone Wolf entries flop --- while feeling fresh. Case in point, the opening shot is of a street corner sign, which starts to spin, faster and faster, until it drops out of sight. Why? I suppose just to make sure we notice we're in the pricey areas of Fifth Avenue, and why establish that in a dull static shot, even if there's no reason for the sign to rotate?

A rare jewel on exhibit (raising money for the Greater United Nations War Fund) gets stolen, and the commissioner comes down hard on Inspector Farraday, who immediate announces to the press that Boston Blackie did it. This looks like impenetrable denseness on Farraday's part, since Blackie wasn't even in the room and he's been out of action for ``years'', the exposition establishes, but it's smarter than that. Farraday was flushing Blackie out of hiding, in order to taunt him into solving the clever jewel theft for the police. Blackie goes to inspect the remaining jewel exhibition, in costume, where he's immediately spotted by a newspaper reporter even though she's a female woman girl of gender, and who distracts him long enough to call the police, forcing Farraday to arrest Blackie and inadvertently spoil the secretly-working-for-the-police gimmick. So Blackie has Farraday report his escape after only three hours in jail --- humiliating, but restoring the goal.

Blackie comes to the reasonable and correct conclusion pretty swiftly, that the theft had to have been an inside job, and looks for the highest-ranking person connected with the exhibit that's appeared in the picture. Before long he's found the sorts of clues that always pan out in this kind of mystery, like, wads of chewing gum stuck to the bottom of desks. The guy from the hotel running the show indeed palmed the jewel, and hid it in his sister's purse; before he can pass the jewel on to the small-time crooks who're his partners, she takes her purse out shopping or doing whatever it is women do in early 40s movies.

Here, now, something imaginative happens: while in the powder room, the woman reporter asks the sister for help with something in her eye, and she sets her purse on top of the sister's, then, takes the wrong purse --- and the jewel --- home with her. It looks like the movie is starting into that sort of hypercomplicated multiple-double-cross setup that turns so many mysteries into logically unsatisfying hashes, particularly since the manager's henchmen are suspecting a double-cross and his inability to turn over the jewel isn't very convincing. But it was nothing of the kind. I keep waiting for the revelation she'd swapped the jewel out for a copy, but it doesn't come. The movie actually outsmarted me by having everything be simpler and more plausible than I expected.

Well, mostly more plausible: why would the reporter be following the manager's sister? I dunno. Possibly she was simply trailing Boston Blackie. Meanwhile, Blackie talks the manager into returning the jewel, but as they start heading to police headquarters the henchmen show up, take hostages, and shoot a redshirt --- quite aware that this is all going to be blamed, in the press at least, on Blackie. But while kidnapped, Blackie (and Runt) realize the small-time nature of their kidnappers, and take advantage of that. Blackie spins a story about the jewel being an imitation used for show, and speaks with enough authority that they start having doubts (``How do we know this isn't the Blue Star, just because you say so?'' ``No, because you know I know so''), sending them in search of a fence who could tell them the truth, if he believed such small-timers had such a heist. Also if Blackie and Runt hadn't escaped from the Murphy Bed where they were imprisoned and got to the fence fast.

I hope I'm making my point clear with all this. The story finds that happy blend between being complicated enough to be engaging, straightforward enough to be plausible, and clever enough to feel fresh even as the Nth entry in a longrunning series. Mediocre genre-awareness would have the characters on-screen mock the conventions of the genre. A smarter level of genre-awareness, as on display here, teases the audience by implying where the plot has to go and then switching things around, often to a more generally plausible path.

That isn't to say it hasn't got simpler, commoner thrills. It really and truly does an ``It's quiet.'' ``Too quiet'' scene, and even has one policeman talk about how the Inspector gets all tied up in his work while, you guessed it.

Anyway, various kidnappings, escapes, costumes, et cetera --- really, a surprising amount of plot in the back half-hour of the picture, considering it doesn't feel rushed --- and the jewel is recovered, the newspaper reporter has her story, and Boston Blackie is vindicated wholly. Really good show all around.

Trivia: Mercator's Chronologia, mapping all of history, was complete by October 1568 (the publication date was 1569); Christophe Plantin sold twelve copies to a buyer in Paris almost immediately, and by the end of 1569 had sold another 24 copies. Source: Mercator, Nicholas Crane.

Currently Reading: All The Best Rubbish: Being An Antiquary's Account of the Pleasures and Perils of Studying and Collecting Everyday Objects from the Past, Ivor Noël Hume.

PS: Reading the Comics, October 25, 2012, for those who haven't been doing that on their own and are worried they missed some math jokes.

Tags: boston blackie, movies

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