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GRAND CENTRAL MURDER(director: S. Sylvan Simon; screenwriters: Peter Ruric/based on the novel by Sue MacVeigh; cinematographer: George Folsey; editor: Conrad A. Nervig; music: David Snell; cast: Van Heflin (Rocky Custer), Sam Levene (Inspector Gunther), Patricia Dane (Mida King), Cecilia Parker (Constance Furness), Virginia Grey (Sue Custer), Tom Conway (Frankie Ciro), Connie Gilchrist (Pearl Delroy), Samuel S. Hinds (Roger Furness), Millard Mitchell (Arthur Doolin), Mark Daniels (David V. Henderson), Betty Wells (Baby Delroy), Stephen McNally (Turk), George Lynn (Paul Rinehart), Roman Bohnen (Ramon); Runtime: 73; MGM; 1942)
The case is as simple as a Chinese puzzle.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A breezy whodunit that is similar to the Charlie Chan B- movies, but livelier and better scripted and acted than most Chan episodes. It’s MGM’s follow-up to its surprise hit starring Van Heflin, “Kid Glove Killer.” The film is set in NYC’s legendary Grand Central Station but because of the war and its heavy usage, it was filmed at MGM’s Culver City, California, studio.

The film opens as a convicted criminal, Turk, escapes from police escorting him by train in Grand Central Station for a new court appearance. Turk calls his ex-girlfriend, the vaudeville showgirl Mida King (Patricia Dane, she was known more as a playgirl than an actress in her short acting career), and threatens to kill her. Mida is a cold-hearted gold digger who has made a career of taking guys for their gifts they shower on her and then dumping them. Frightened by Turk, she runs out after the first act of her hit show at the Harmony Theater “Take It Broadway.” Her maid Pearl Delroy is asked to pack her bags as she flees to a private car she has at nearby Grand Central Station.

While Inspector Gunther (Sam Levene) is chasing after Turk in the railroad terminal, he runs into a couple, David V. Henderson and Connie Furness, who discovered Mida’s dead body in her private car. They also put the finger on Rocky Custer (Van Heflin) and his wife Sue who were near Mida’s car, as the inspector resents the wisecracking private eye and takes him along with every other suspect down to the police station to try and put together what happened. Rocky says he was hired by Turk’s lawyer, who wants to gather evidence for a new trial that Turk was framed by Mida and her producer Frankie Ciro.

Gunther questions Mida’s maid along with her actress daughter, Baby Delroy. She’s the understudy for Mida, and both are not bashful about telling all they know about Mida. Frankie Ciro is also a suspect, as she dumped Turk for him after he put up the money for her show but is now being dumped in favor of another rich man. Mida’s ex-husband Rinehart, a railroad electrical maintenance worker, was also spotted around her private car. He claims he still loves her and was only trying to see her so he can get her back.

Connie tells how she and the millionaire David knew each other as children and expected to get married, until David foolishly fell in love with the spiteful Mida and he told her they were getting married right away. Connie’s father, who is head of the railroad, learned about this and tried to bribe Mida with $50,000 to keep away from David. These events are recreated in the flashbacks, as the colorful characters tell about Mida.

Ramon, Mida’s untrustworthy stepfather, who is a crystal gazer and has been shaking her down for money, tells his side of things. Turk who was recaptured is given an alibi for this murder by Rocky, who says he followed his client as soon as he learned of his escape.

The case becomes a clash between the frustrated inspector and the smart-aleck Rocky, who keeps goading the excitable inspector that he won’t be able to crack the case without his help. That proves to be right, as Rocky says the case is as simple as a Chinese puzzle. And when the dim inspector goes after the wrong suspect, Rocky caustically says to him: “You’re quick to grasp things, you should have been a detective.”

The film was fast-paced, comical, and done in the satisfying traditional way they made mysteries in the Forties. The scenes of trains pulling in and out from the railroad yard added a bit of intrigue to the mystery story. The only dull spot was in the reconstruction of the murder. It came as a surprise because the viewer was left in the dark how the murder was committed until the final few minutes, and therefore would have no logical reason to guess who did it. Nevertheless, it was an entertaining film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”