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SLIGHTLY HONORABLE(director: Tay Garnett; screenwriter: Ken Englund/Robert Tallman/John Hunter Lay/from novel “Send Another Coffin” by F.G. Presnell; cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstad; editors: Otho Lovering/Dorothy Spencer; music: Werner Janssen; cast: Pat O’Brien (John Webb), Edward Arnold (Vincent Cushing), Broderick Crawford (Russel Sampson), Ruth Terry (Ann Seymour), Alan Dinehart (DA Joyce), Claire Dodd (Alma Brehmer), Eve Arden (Miss Ater), Phyllis Brooks (Sarilla Cushing), Ernest Truex (P. Hemingway Collins), Bernard Nedell (Pete Godena), Douglass Dumbrille (George Taylor), Douglas Fowley (Charles Madder), Janet Beecher (Mrs. Cushing), John Sheehan (Mike Daley), Addison Richards (Inspector Fromm), Cliff Clark (Capt. Graves), Howard Hickman (Senator Scott), Willie Best (Elevator Operator), Bud Jamison (Humboldt, the Cop); Runtime: 83; United Artists; 1940)
“A zany mystery/comedy featuring Pat O’Brien and Broderick Crawford…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A zany mystery/comedy featuring Pat O’Brien and Broderick Crawford as less than honorable lawyer partners out to break a corrupt political machine headed by Broderick Crawford. It’s adapted from F. G. Presnell’s novel “Send Another Coffin” and directed with style by Tay Garnett. It was produced by Garnett’s longtime collaborator Walter Wanger. The story skips along in a lighthearted manner, even when dead bodies start showing up.

Promised a large fee by their clients if they can change the way their state issues highway contracts, lawyer partners John Webb (O’Brien) and Russel Sampson (Crawford) vow to get a bill sponsored by an honest politician (Howard Hickman) through the state legislature guaranteeing sealed bids on contracts to pave the highways. A crooked mogul contractor and partner of machine boss Vincent Cushing (Arnold) has just died on one of his own rotten highways. The public is concerned that these corrupt businessmen use the cheapest stuff for paving material and get their contracts through secret political deals.

Cushing’s mistress is the fast-living Alma Brehmer (Claire Dodd), who invites her friend John Webb to a nightclub party. Webb meets a talkative 18-year-old hoofer at the club, Ann Seymour (Terry). When she tears her dress avoiding the groping manuevers of Alma’s ex-boyfriend Pete Godena (Nedell), a crooked associate of Cushing’s, Webb reluctantly brings her to his swell pad and buys her another dress. But Webb is concerned that she’s too young, and he feels uneasy when she walks around his place in her slip without a dress. He’s obviously a moralist.

In Webb’s office someone throws a long knife above his head with a note attached, warning him to stay away from investigating Cushing’s criminal activities any further. Soon after his client Alma calls to tell him Cushing got into a spat with her last night because he’s jealous, but this morning he made up by presenting me with a diamond bracelet. She requests Webb to come over that night to insure the diamond. When he comes to her penthouse, he finds her stabbed to death with the same knife that was thrown in his office.

Inspector Fromm investigates and holds all the suspects for questioning, which include Webb, Cushing, Pete, and Alma’s current husband Taylor (Dumbrille). They all have an alibi, and therefore no one gets held. Ann Seymour comes up with the dumbest line at the police station: “I think whoever did it, won’t admit it.”

The next death is a surprise, as Webb’s secretary Ms. Ater (Eve Arden) is found at her desk slumped over after being stabbed with that same knife. Webb is being framed by the killer, who it turns out is a lot closer to Webb than he thinks. This gets Webb to realize he’s been barking up the wrong tree, and he comes up with an idea that brings the killer out in the open.

It’s a breezy thriller.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”