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COVER-UP (director: Alfred E. Green; screenwriters: Dennis O’Keefe/Jerome Odlum/Lawrence Kimble/Francis Swann; cinematographer: Ernest Laszlo; editor: Fred W. Berger; music: Hans J. Salter; cast: William Bendix (Sheriff Larry Best), Dennis O’Keefe (Sam Donovan), Barbara Britton (Anita Weatherby), Art Baker (Stu Weatherby), Ann E. Todd (Cathie Weatherby), Helen Spring (Bessie Weatherby), Doro Merande (Hilda), Dan White (Gabe, Deputy), Virginia Christine (Margaret Baker), Russell Armes (Frank Baker), Paul E. Burns(Mr. Abbey); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ted Nasser; UA; 1949)

“Pleasing old-fashioned crime drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Alfred E. Green (“Baby Face”/”The Jolson Story”/”Sierra”)directs this pleasing old-fashioned crime drama that’s written in a Christmas spirit way by Dennis O’Keefe and Jerome Odlum. It’s about Chicago insurance detective Sam Donovan (Dennis O’Keefe)who investigates in the rural peaceful Midwestern small town of Cleberg, during the Christmas holiday season, the supposed suicide of a hated elderly local named Roger Phillips. Why the town hates him is never clarified with specifics, but he was reputed to be a scoundrel. Things don’t add up to suicide for Sam when Sheriff Larry Best (William Bendix) informs him there was no gun found and no coroner’s report. But no one in town, including the sheriff, wants to call it murder. Sam forces the reluctant sheriff to show him the recovered bullet from the missing Luger murder weapon. The beneficiary of the estate, the victim’s niece (Virginia Christine), doesn’t want an investigation even if the insurance policy has a double indemnity in case of murder–meaning she would receive twice as much in benefits.

Sam’s boss allows him to stay in town until the coroner returns from vacation, suggesting it would be good for the company’s business if they can solve the case despite taking a temporary hit because of the double indemnity clause. In the meantime Sam datesAnita Weatherby (Barbara Britton), the pretty woman who took the same train ride and he met when he helped her with her Christmas packages on the bus ride to the center of town. Anita is the single daughter of bank president Stu Weatherby (Art Baker), who becomes a prime suspect when it’s revealed he has a missing Luger. Other suspects include the jeweler (Paul E. Burns) who found the body and said there was no gun there and Frank Baker (Russell Armes), who married the victim’s niece despite not being approved of by Phillips and was last seen arguing with the victim.

Sam upsets a lot of folks in town until it’s revealed why the cover up. Things are contrived to make its plot-line agenda driven work add up, rendering the narrative too artificial. In the end it disappoints by coming to such a corny and unconvincing surprise conclusion, making it a feel-good story over murder. It seems to be proud of itself for making in a friendly way its small town so utopian and ripping the big city as a place where it’s too easy to lose one’s feelings for community.

REVIEWED ON 12/28/2011 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”