December 10th, 2014

MIDNIGHT MANHUNT (1945) **

A big time gangster is wanted dead or alive for a $5000 reward. A night watchman at a wax museum finds his body, and before he can call the cops, it disappears. Pretty soon, two rival reporters are on the case looking for the elusive stiff, who keeps mysteriously disappearing and reappearing at the most inopportune times. There’s also a plot about some missing diamonds that further complicates matters.

Leo Gorcery, in a rare non-Bowery Boys role, co-stars as a worker in a wax museum. Even though Gorcery isn’t playing a Bowery Boy, he’s still basically doing the same old shtick. He’s pretty funny too and his performance is easily the best thing about the movie.

George Zucco is also on hand as the murderer. He plays a good heavy and lends the film a little gravitas. The wax museum set also gives the flick a little bit of atmosphere as well.

However, much of Midnight Manhunt is routine at best. It’s not very funny (save for some of Gorcey’s one-liners) and even though the running time is barely an hour, it feels much longer. All the banter between the competing reporters is fairly tepid, and you can’t help but think how much better it all would’ve been if Gorcey had been the star instead of them. The finale is a letdown and squanders the potential of the fun (if unlikely) set-up.

THE MOONSTONE (1934) **

Anne (Phyllis Barry) is a beautiful young woman who is gifted a valuable Indian jewel called “The Moonstone” at her father’s mansion. The gem gets stolen in the middle of the night, and her boyfriend (David Manners from Dracula) hires a detective from Scotland Yard (Charles Irwin) to get it back. He then devises an unlikely plan to recover the jewel and find the thieves.

I’m a big David Manners fan, so I enjoyed the portions of the film where he was front and center. The scenes where he’s drugged and put into a stupor were kind of kooky though. The rest of the cast doesn’t really measure up, but he at least pulls his weight, even when he is literally sleepwalking through his performance.

As low budget Old Dark House mysteries from Monogram go, The Moonstone is about par for the course. It’s more than a bit creaky and at times, a bit dull. However, since it’s only 46 minutes long, it never wears out its welcome or anything.

In fact, the running time is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the movie is over before you know it. On the other, the robbery happens at the halfway mark, so the mystery-solving portion of the film feels rather rushed. The denouement, which involves Manners being put into a trance, doesn’t really work, and the identity of the crook is pretty easy to figure out.