Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I Love a Mystery

Scott Cupp, knowing I'm a fan of the radio version of I Love a Mystery, called to alert me to the fact that yesterday afternoon TCM was showing the three 1940s movies based on it. I set the DVR, but then I decided to watch the first one, I Love a Mystery: The Decapitation of Jefferson Monk, which is based on the radio program of the same title.

Carlton E. Morse, who wrote the radio show, liked to let his imagination run wild for these programs, and this one opens with a guy (Jefferson Monk, played by George Macready) who's killed in a single-car accident. And his head is missing. The rest of the story is told in flashback, as Jack (Jack Bannon) and Doc (Barton Yarborough, who played the part on radio) tell the owner of The Silver Samovar what happened.

Then we get flashbacks within the flashback as Monk relates the strange circumstances that led to his being followed by a peg-legged man carrying a small black valise, just the right size to hold Monk's head.

As the stories unfold, you have your secret societies (which want Monk's head), your prophesies, your paralyzed wife, and plenty of murders. Some of this is preposterous (a guy with a peg leg wears a mask to disguise himself?), and some is beyond that, but it's all part of the fun.

Jack figures out a lot of things apparently by having picked up on clues that aren't shown to the viewer, or by having heard descriptions that the viewer didn't hear. But even Jack can't figure out everything, which leads to a dumb series of events and the climax. The final moments aren't bad, but the final moments of the radio show are a bit spookier.

And here's the thing. The movie is pretty spooky. It's preposterous, but it still manages to work up a nice atmosphere and to cram plenty of plot into 65 or 70 minutes. I'd rather listen to the radio show, but I'm glad I watched this. I'm sure I'll check out the others one of these days.


Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

As an individual who's always opined that the radio show is a tad overrated, I will say that I think Columbia's I Love a Mystery movies are very entertaining, considering their B-picture origins. Mostly due to Barton Yarborough's participation, though--I think he's positively aces.

Unknown said...

I have to agree that he's the best thing in the picture. The pride of Goldthwaite, Texas.

Anonymous said...

The movie flaunts its radio origins with the extensive use of narration for exposition, and the use of sound clues (the cult's mystery tune, lifted from Tchaikovsky). I know I wasn't the only one who yelled at the tv, "Walk this way!", when the oboe-playing blind beggar told Jefferson Monk to "Follow me". Preposterous fun, but I did appreciate the chance to see Barton Yarborough, a Radio Immortal to me, not as Doc Long, but as Sgt. Ben Romero, Joe Friday's first partner.

When you get around to the next two, I think you'll find the 2nd ILAM movie irredeemably awful, but I kind of liked the last one, The Unknown, kind of a cross between Tennessee Williams Gothic and The Cat and the Canary.

Art Scott