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HAT BOX MYSTERY, THE (director: Lambert Hillyer; screenwriters: story by Carl K. Hittleman/Don Martin; cinematographer: James S. Brown Jr.; editor: Arthur A. Brooks; music: Darrell Calker; cast: Tom Neal (Russ Ashton), Pamela Blake (Susan Hart), Allen Jenkins (‘Harvard’), Virginia Sale (Veronica Hoopler), Leonard Penn (Stevens, aka John Moreland), Olga Andre (Marie Moreland), Al Hill (Flint, the Boss), Zon Murray (Joe, a thug), Edward Keane (District Attorney); Runtime: 43; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Carl K. Hittleman; Alpha; 1947)
“A snappy murder mystery story with many shortcomings.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Lambert Hillyer (“Guard That Girl”/”The Girl from Rio”/”One Is Guilty”) directs this short programmer, a snappy murder mystery story with many shortcomings. Don Martin writes the screenplay from a story by Carl K. Hittleman.

It stars Tom Neal as a private detective named Russ Ashton and Pamela Blake as his secretary Susan Hart. Russ’s detective agency is floundering and about to go under; hungry for any assignment, he accepts an out of town job to guard jewelry at an overnight social affair. While he’s on assignment, his girlfriend, who is not suited for detective work, takes charge of the office and accepts a mysterious client, Mr. Moreland (Leonard Penn), who wants photographic evidence that his wife is cheating on him. He hands Susan a hatbox that he rigged with a “camera” inside. But, instead, the hatbox contains a gun, and Susan is flabbergasted when she unwittingly shoots Mrs. Moreland (Olga Andre). This gimmick used was inspired by a real-life murder case. Why Susan shoots a picture of Mrs. Moreland in the street seems odd, since she’s certainly not in an act of cheating (just one of many major plot holes). The DA arrests Susan, but Russ on his return brazenly acts to clear her name by trying to catch the real culprit with his loyal assistant Harvard (Allen Jenkins) and the help of the police. Jenkins is around for comic relief, as his dim-witted character spends most of his time gobbling down hamburgers from his girlfriend Veronica’s nearby hamburger joint.

The intrigue heightens when Russ learns that the deceased Mrs. Moreland was a widowed wealthy society matron and she was being blackmailed by a ruthless gang.

It’s best asset are its short running time and its breezy pace; but the sloppy handling of both the narrative and the climax, and the failure for it to sustain suspense leave it in the ordinary range of poverty row thrillers.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”