Sunday, November 13, 2016
Murder is not Funny
This is my entry in the Imaginary Film blogathon hosted by Silver Scenes.
Note on this movie: I took great care to find actors and actresses who were active in Hollywood in 1951, and who would be the appropriate approximate age for the characters for whom they were cast Nothing annoys me more than someone who is only a year or two older than the person playing their son or daughter or, as in the case of William Frawley and Vivian Vance from "I Love Lucy", being so disproportionate in age as to make a marriage highly unlikely. Each character therefore, is reasonably cast, using only age and their active status in 1951. Whether or not it's likely they'd take on their respective roles is therefore only a matter of taste or opinion. -Quiggy
Murder Is Not Funny (1951)
Robert Mitchum plays Jeff Davis, a private detective who is put upon by everybody, but battles his detractors like he battles his own demons. He has a girlfriend, Valerie (played by newcomer Barbara Rush), who doesn't approve of his lifestyle or his attitude in general. He has a racist father, Jack, played by Edward G. Robinson, who has an opinion on everything and is not shy about voicing it. (Jeff's real name, given to him by his father, by the way, is Robert E. Lee Jefferson Davis) He has a deceased former partner, Spencer (Richard Widmark), whose ghost shows up to give him advice, sometimes at the most inopportune times. And, worst of all, he has a client who only comes up to his kneecaps.
Jeff begins the movie with a voice-over monologue, delivered in the classic style with just enough nonchalance and ennui to tweak the average viewer:
"It was after midnight on a hot sultry summer day in Chicago. I was finishing up some paperwork on my last case, a skip-trace for some punk eight-year-old who had absconded with my client's milk money. Hey in my line of work, you take the jobs when you get them. Anyway, so it was after midnight, and the phone rings. I usually don't answer the phone after midnight. After all, who calls after midnight anyway? Usually it's some drunk miss-dialing the number of an old girlfriend whom he is convinced is, at that moment, pining away for him and his overrated libido. Besides, usually after midnight, I'm drunk and trying to call old girlfriends that I KNOW are pining away for me and my more than ample libido."
The phone call is not from a drunk however. It is from a potential client. Billy Barty (in his first headlining role) plays Corky, a dwarf who is working in a circus that is currently on an extended stay in Chicago (Jeff's home base). It seems that Corky's pal, Dinky, a circus clown, played by Fred Gwynne, has been arrested for the murder of Shirley, the circus' bearded lady (in flashbacks played by Rita Moreno). Corky is convinced that Dinky has been framed, but by whom he does not know. He claims that Dinky and Shirley were an item, and that Dinky was in love with Shirley. He hires Jeff to investigate and clear his friend.
Jeff begins his initial investigation by snooping around in the circus. It turns out that Dinky was seeing Roberta, the elastic woman (played by French actress Corinne Calvet), on the side, and had had strong words with Shirley that ended in a shouting match and Dinky storming out of Shirley's tent. According to Henry (Werner Klemperer), the circus boss, Dinky was overheard in a fit of anger threatening to kill Shirley if she didn't leave him alone. But when Jeff goes to talk to Dinky, he admits to arguing, but denies threatening her.
Jeff is followed from the prison and waylaid and left for dead by a mysterious cloaked figure. Someone is desperately trying to get him off the case. His girlfriend, afraid for his life, wants him to give up on the case, and in fact the profession altogether. But being adamant that something sinister is going on behind the scenes at the circus, Jeff refuses.
Spencer, Jeff's deceased partner, clues Jeff in on something shady going on in the circus' front office. Henry observes Jeff talking to himself and thinks he is a bit nuts, and so lets his guard down, slightly. Jeff snoops around the head office tent and discovers some strange letters written in a language that, although Jeff cannot read, he determines is in German.
The crap hits the fan when Jeff discovers that Henry's real name is Heinrich. And that Heinrich was a Kommandant in the Third Reich during World War II. And that he was in charge of a P.O.W. camp. Dinky had inadvertently discovered this, and was, in the process with Roberta, planning to expose him, Roberta having recognized him because she had seen him on one occasion in Occupied Paris. Dinky, trying to be surreptitious, had intentionally argued with Shirley in order to cover his tracks, because he thought Heinrich was onto him. Little did he know, Heinrich was. In fact it was Heinrich who killed Shirley and tried to frame Dinky to get him discredited and hopefully, executed before Dinky could expose him.
Jeff eventually exposes Heinrich and gets Dinky released. Dinky and Corky thank him by giving him lifetime passes to the circus, and Jeff has to find another way to pay his bills. Luckily for him, a new client awaits in his office when he gets back, a goat farmer who wants to hire him because his prize goat was goat-napped, he thinks, by a renegade Chicago Cubs fan in an effort to somehow break the "goat curse" that has shadowed the team for years.
Folks, this one is for the record books. I finally did something I've wanted to do for a long time, and I can thank the Metzinger sisters for allowing me the opportunity, that of ad-libbing an entire movie from scratch. Does it work or does it suck? Don't be shy about telling me.