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STRANGE BARGAIN(director: Will Price; screenwriters: from a story J.H. Wallis/ Lillie Hayward; cinematographer: Harry J. Wild; editor: Frederic Knudtson; cast: Martha Scott (Georgia Wilson), Jeffrey Lynn (Sam Wilson), Katherine Emery (Edna Jarvis), Richard Gaines (Malcolm Jarvis), Henry O’Neill (Timothy Hearne), Henry (Harry) Morgan (Lt. Webb), Walter Sande (Sgt. Cord), Raymond Roe (Sydney Jarvis), Michael Chapin (Roddy Wilson), Arlene Gray (Hilda Wilson), Bette Underwood (Miss Vantay); Runtime: 68; RKO; 1949)
“A well-conceived mystery B-film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A well-conceived mystery B-film, but strictly second feature material. Sam Wilson (Jeffrey Lynn) is a Los Angeles suburbanite, happily married to Georgia (Martha Scott), with two lively children, Roddy (Chapin) and Hilda (Gray). The only problem is that they are just scraping by every month and he can’t even afford to buy the kids a bike. Sam’s an assistant bookkeeper, who fails in his attempt to get a raise after working 12 years for the same brokerage firm employer Malcolm Jarvis (Richard Gaines). In fact he’s fired, as Jarvis tells him he can’t afford to keep him on any longer, the firm is losing too much money. Instead Jarvis makes a strange bargain with him. He plans to scam the insurance company and leave $250,000 to his wife Edna (Emery) and their son Sydney (Roe). He plans to commit suicide but the insurance company won’t pay on a suicide, so he wants Sam to come by after the suicide and fire a shot from the gun and then remove it.

Sam refuses; but, he receives a call from Jarvis and rushes over to his Beverly Hills mansion and finds Jarvis dead and there is an envelope addressed to him containing $10,000.

When the murder is splashed over the Sunday papers, Sam and his wife go over to console Mrs. Jarvis. Sam gets nervous when he sees Jarvis’ business partner, Timothy Hearne (O’Neill), who never got along with Jarvis and wanted to buy the business, treated as a suspect by the police. Sam is upset because he knows Hearne is innocent.

The case is being handled by Lt. Webb (Morgan), who has a reputation of always getting his man. Wilson’s kids compare him to the comic strip’s Dick Tracy. The nervous Mr. Wilson also becomes a suspect and his movements are followed by a detective. In the plot twist Sam gets framed for the murder and it is up to Lt. Webb to figure out whose lying, as he smells something isn’t kosher.

Strange Bargain showed up in a 1989 episode of TV’s Murder, She Wrote. By removing the original happy ending, the TV installment allowed Angela Lansbury to solve the mystery of the boss’ murder–and to exonerate the long-imprisoned bookkeeper, played again by Jeffrey Lynn. Also appearing on this Murder She Wrote were Lynn’s Strange Bargain costars Martha Scott and Henry Morgan.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”