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BUREAU OF MISSING PERSONS(director: Roy Del Ruth; screenwriters: novel “Missing Men” by John H. Ayres/ Robert R. Presnell, Sr.; cinematographer: Barney “Chick” McGill; editor: James Gibbon; cast: Lewis Stone (Captain Webb), Pat O’Brien (Detective Butch ‘Butchie Wootchie’ Saunders), Glenda Farrell (Belle Howard Saunders), Bette Davis (Norma Roberts, an alias of Norma Williams), Allen Jenkins (Detective Joe Musik ), Hugh Herbert (Slade), Ruth Donnelly (Gwendolyn “Pete” Harris), Alan Dinehart (Therme Roberts), Adrian Morris (Conlin); Runtime: 73; First National/Warner Bros.; 1933)
“So the story’s not perfect! But this was a fun programmer, fast-paced and a typical Warner’s potboiler of that time period.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A breezy screwball comedy about police with a slightly different twist, it is about NYC’s Bureau of Missing Persons. A scrawl flashed across the screen notes that there were 27,000 missing people in NYC last year. It is based on a book by a former police captain, John H. Ayres.

Bette Davis was just a year away from stardom in her breakthrough film “Of Human Bondage,” therefore she reluctantly settled for Warner Brothers giving her second billing to Pat O’Brien.

Two-fisted Butch Saunders (Pat O’Brien) is unceremoniously transferred out of the robbery division and into Missing Persons because of his rough tactics and too many unnecessary arrests.

Butch meets with Captain Webb (Lewis Stone), who tells him in his department it is not force that counts but brainwork. The captain is the wise man on the hill, conducting his department in a humane and considerate fashion, as he shows a healthy tolerance for the human condition and an ability to circumvent the bureaucratic way of doing things in favor of common sense. A series of on-going cases are briefly targeted, by showing the other detectives on the job. Joe (Jenkins) is looking for a missing husband who has run away with another woman. Detective Conlin (Adrian) tracks down a missing boy via a chase involving an airplane and a carrier pigeon. Detective Slade (Hugh Herbert) is comically in pursuit of a husband looking for his wife Gwendolyn who finally finds her right under his nose. A 12-year-old concert violinist runs away from home and is returned to his pushy parents who won’t let him play with the other children. A woman is mercifully not told by the captain that her missing daughter is in jail, figuring that would break her heart even more.

Halfway through the film, Bette Davis pops into the Bureau to report her husband as missing. Butch, who is separated from his wife, falls immediately in love with Bette and tries to help her find her husband. The tough-guy detective’s heart goes out to her, but he is in shock when the Chicago police accuse her of murder. Left with the choice of arresting her or giving her a chance to explain what happened, he chooses the later and she plays him for a sucker and disappears.

Belle (Glenda Farrell) comes calling on her ‘Butchie Wootchie’ every payday to get her allowance, as Butch tries to hide from her. Glenda lightens up the crowded Bureau offices with her shrieks of Butchie Wootchie, as she chases after her unhappy husband.

O’Brien comes up with an ingenuous plan to find Bette: he takes a “dead body” from the morgue, tells the newspapers that the body is Davis’s, and stages “her” funeral. He figures she can’t resist attending her own funeral. His plan works, but Bette when caught again by O’Brien tells him that she is innocent and explains to the puzzled cop who is willing to do almost anything for her even take her word again, to give her one more chance.

Bette tells him she was a secretary to a guy named Therme Roberts (Dinehart) who is a Chicago broker accused of embezzlement, and he has a twin daffy brother no one knows about. She says that was not Therme who died, but his unknown brother. When the police came in, she just discovered the body and was holding the murder weapon. She thought the best chance she had for clearing herself was to come to NYC and get the Missing Persons to help her locate him. Her chance to prove herself correct comes when Therme is also spotted at the funeral.

So the story’s not perfect! But this was a fun programmer, fast-paced and a typical Warner’s potboiler of that time period.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”