Kid Glove Killer (1942)


(director: Fred Zinnemann; screenwriters: John C. Higgins/Allen Rivkin; cinematographer: Paul Vogel; editor: Ralph E. Winters; music: David Snell; cast: Van Heflin (Gordon McKay), Marsha Hunt (Jane Mitchell), Lee Bowman (Gerald I. Ladimer), Samuel S. Hinds (Mayor Richard Daniels), Cliff Clark (Captain Lynch), Eddie Quillan (Eddie Wright), John Litel (Matty), Robert Blake (Boy in Car), Ava Gardner (Car Hop), Paul Fix (Allison Stacy); Runtime: 74; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Chertok; MGM; 1942)

“It’s the kind of film only television now makes, but this one’s a beaut and hard to beat.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A dated murder mystery, but for its time was charming, unpretentious and perfectly done. The is the first film of director Fred Zinnemann, who was to go on and have a long and successful 41 year career in Hollywood. For a B-film with a modest budget, this one rose to a higher level than intended. Van Heflin is excellent in the role of police criminologist Gordon McKay, who tracks down the murderer of two important politicians in his town. Kid Glove Killer is a longer remake of They’re Always Caught (1938), an entry in MGM’s “Crime Does Not Pay” series on which Zinnemann served his apprenticeship. The film is all about getting the culprit through laboratory detection work, which makes it differ from the usual crime film. What is also unique, is that the viewer already knows who the culprit is. So the questions become how or if he is going to get caught.

McKay’s criminology lab assistant he just hired is the perky unmarried Jane Mitchell (Marsha Hunt), who has a graduate degree in chemistry but questions if the job is more suited for a man. McKay has fallen for her, but he’s not glib enough to tell her that as he functions better looking under the microscope.

City Hall has a new reform-minded mayor, Richard Daniels (Hinds), who was swept into office on the promise he would clean up the corruption. He is relying on his special prosecutor Hunter Turnley to do the job. But Turnley is killed and his body is dumped in the lake. The mayor then turns to someone who helped him during the campaign, Jerry Ladimer (Lee Bowman). The viewer already knows that he conspired with mob boss Matty to have Turnley killed in anticipation of him getting that prestigious position. The ambitious Jerry is on Matty’s payroll for a thousand smackers a week to keep the heat off, and all his tough talk on the radio amounts to is that he pretends he’s cleaning up crime. But in reality he’s just squeezing the small-time criminal and letting the big boys go scott-free, as they continue to openly shakedown the small restaurant owner.

Meanwhile McKay cracks the district attorney murder case by getting the dog hair sample left at the crime scene and matching it with the one found on the killer. But when he confronts the killer (Fix) he’s attacked and Captain Lynch has to come to his rescue by killing the attacker.

When the mayor learns that Jerry, who was so broke a few months ago he had to lend him $500, now has $28,000, he tells him that tomorrow he will conduct an investigation. He reasons with Jerry that everyone in his administration has to be above suspicion. When Jerry asks Matty to take care of this problem like he did the other, he’s told to take care of it himself that the organization has done enough for him. At night Jerry plants a bomb under the mayor’s car and in the morning when the mayor turns his ignition key, the bomb explodes killing him.

Jerry is slicker than McKay, and therefore starts courting Jane. She’s receptive but hesitates to say yes about his marriage proposal, as the plot thickens when these two friendly rivals pursue Jane in their own way. McKay’s approach is passive, and he’s losing. Jerry’s is aggressive, as he a man who will step over anyone to get what he wants. Jerry’s relationship with Jane is also helpful in keeping tabs of what’s going on in the lab. By doing that he learns from Jane about washing the gunpowder from underneath his nails.

The police bring in a suspect Eddie (Quillan), who is a restaurant owner who went to the mayor’s house after work to complain about the continual mob shakedowns despite Jerry’s announcements over the radio that everything has been cleaned up. He was stopped for loitering, and is now held as a prime suspect. Jerry pushes for Eddie’s arrest but McKay resists, and goes back to the lab to conduct more forensic tests. His most interesting test was in collecting hair samples by using a suction vacuum and then in the lab checking it under the microscope to see if it contained gunpowder from the bomb.

Kid Glove Killer had some light moments that were wonderful, as there was a steady good-natured banter between Van Heflin and the wisecracking Hunt. Bowman’s suave villain portrayal was multi-dimensional, as it is easy to see how he shrewdly fooled those who trusted him by acting as a regular guy. It’s the kind of film only television now makes, but this one’s a beaut and hard to beat.


REVIEWED ON 9/19/2002 GRADE: A –