STAR OF MIDNIGHT(director: Stephen Roberts; screenwriters: based on a novel by Arthur Somers Roche/Howard J. Green/Anthony Veiller/Edward Kaufman; cinematographer: J. Roy Hunt; editor: Arthur Roberts; music: Max Steiner; cast: William Powell (Clay Dalzell), Ginger Rogers (Donna Mantin), Paul Kelly (Kinland), Gene Lockhart (Swayne), Russell Hopton (Tommy Tennant), Ralph Morgan (Mr. Classon), Vivian Oakland (Mrs. Classon), Leslie Fenton (Tim Winthrop), J. Farrell MacDonald (Inspector Doremus), Robert Emmett O’Connor (Sgt. Cleary), Frank Reicher (Abe Ohlman, play producer); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pandro S. Berman; RKO; 1935)
“Good escapist entertainment mixing snappy dialogue with pistol shots and cocktails.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An unofficial sequel to the surprise hit The Thin Man (1934), but with Ginger Rogers replacing Myrna Loy while Stephen Roberts (“If I Had A Million”/”The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo”/”Romance in Manhattan”) replaces director W. S. Van Dyke. William Powell remains the constant, appearing in both crime thrillers. The changes were enough to bring the film down a few notches from its previous lofty heights, but still it was good escapist entertainment mixing snappy dialogue with pistol shots and cocktails. The star power was effectively exploited, but they got little support from the supporting cast and from only a so-so screenplay. It’s based on a novel by Arthur Somers Roche and written by Howard J. Green, Anthony Veiller and Edward Kaufman.
Tim Winthrop (Leslie Fenton) goes to New York and seeks the help of his friend, debonair happy-go-lucky society lawyer Clay Dalzell (William Powell), an amateur sleuth, in solving the case of his actress girlfriend Alice disappearing a year ago after he put her in a Chicago cab. At the theater that night, Tim recognizes the masked actress going under the name Mary Smith as his Alice, but as he shouts out her name she runs out of the theater.
Meanwhile Clay’s pesty fiancée Donna Mantin (Ginger) asks him to retrieve incriminating letters written by her married girlfriend that are held by mobster Jimmy Kinland (Paul Kelly), and Clay goes to his apartment and negotiates to get the letters back because he has something on Kinland regarding his falsifying back taxes.
The radio reports that Mary Smith disappeared and most believe it to be a publicity stunt, but Broadway gossip columnist Tommy Tenant (Russell Hopton) goes to Clay’s apartment to tell him he knows the full story. But before he can blab, he’s fatally shot by an unseen intruder and Clay receives a minor flesh wound in the hip.
The cunning low-key Inspector Doremus (J. Farrell MacDonald) takes charge of the case and finds it hard to believe that the disappearance of Mary Smith and murder of Tommy Tennant are connected. But he goes along with Clay’s theory despite him being the prime suspect, because he doesn’t have any other clues and in his heart he doesn’t think the lawyer’s guilty. Meanwhile Clay enlists the help of Donna, his butler Swayne (Gene Lockhart) and the gangster Kinland. Eventually Clay finds out that his former lover, Jerry Classon (Vivian Oakland), and her fourth husband, the wealthy Chicago lawyer Roger (Ralph Morgan), are also in Manhattan, with him looking for Alice. Classon claims Alice is the only person who can exonerate his Windy City mobster client for a murder he didn’t commit against a fellow mobster and therefore must find her.
The film never satisfies as much as its more sparkling predecessor did. It seems more interested in dishing out the urbane comedy and showing its protagonist’s mixing the right cocktail than in setting up a first-class murder mystery.
REVIEWED ON 4/13/2009 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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