Thursday, November 25, 2010

'Tis the Season - Part II


Whodunit? That's the question on everyone's mind. Of course motive and method are important, but only insofar as they are necessary to solve the puzzle. The classic whodunit should not be weighed down with psychological quirks and ramifications. As to method, we will leave the gory details to the television of the 21st century. If I had wanted to be an autopsy surgeon, I would be an autopsy surgeon.

The comedy-mystery film can be one of the most delightful ways to spend time, but the style is fraught with pitfalls. It takes the right touch from all involved to pull one off successfully. 1945s Lady on a Train is a comedy-mystery that works. It is based on a story by Leslie "The Saint" Charteris with a screenplay by Edmund Beloin who wrote everything from Bob Hope's Christmas classic The Lemon Drop Kid to episodes of television's Family Affair. The movie was directed by Charles David, a career producer/production manager who has two directing credits to his name. The other is also based on a Charteris story, 1945s River Gang starring Universal's criminally under-valued Durbin back-up, Gloria Jean. Charles David married his leading lady, Deanna in 1950 and they remained so until his death in 1999.


Lady...with a book...on a train

Deanna Durbin stars as Nikkie Collins, heiress. She is not the madcap heiress of 30s comedies, but a determined young lady with an acute case of Nancy Drew Syndrome. On her way to NYC from San Francisco to spend Christmas with an aunt we never meet, Nikki looks up from her mystery novel and witnesses a murder through her train window. In the natural course of events desk sergeant William Frawley has no time for dizzy dames and suggests she consult the author of the fiction she's reading to help with the fiction she has brought to the authorities.


Dan Duryea, Deanna Durbin, Ralph Bellamy
Suspects and sleuth on the set

Nikki needs ploys-a-plenty to solve this case. She finds ways to ditch her "keeper", Haskell of the New York office, who proves totally inept in his assignment to keep her safe and secure. She convinces the befuddled and bemused mystery writer that he must help her. She convinces the heirs of the murder victim that she was the late millionaire's night club singer paramour.

Suspects include disinherited nephews Bellamy and Duryea, a proud sister, Elizabeth Patterson, a sinister underling, George Colouris, a mug, Allen Jenkins and a lawyer, Samuel S. Hinds. A gloomy mansion, a fancy nightclub and a deserted warehouse complete the atmosphere.

Jacqueline deWitt, wise-cracking secretary
David Bruce, author about to have life turned upside down
Deanna Durbin, girl detective

David Bruce, usually seen as the best friend or a stalwart office gives an assured, appealing performance as the romantic lead in this picture. However, I'm one of those gals who has eyes for no one else when Dan Duryea is on the screen. Here Duryea is a wastral nephew with an eye to increasing his fortune.


Everyone's favourite, Edward Everett Horton
Haskell of the New York office

Deanna's lovely voice is showcased beautifully and naturally in this movie. She sings a tender Silent Night over the long distance telephone to her father. When put on the spot by the baddies at the night club she gives out with a cute-sexy rendition of Gimme a Little Kiss. Later in the club Deanna's sultry Night and Day is a highlight.


Bill Frawley is annoyed.

Lady on a Train also abounds in Christmas trees. There is the tree the sergeant is delicately decorating at the police station. There is a big, friendly tree in the mystery author's spacious apartment. There is an elegant tree in Nikki's hotel suite. There is a partially decorated tree at the mansion. It is believed the deceased millionaire fell from a ladder while decorating his tree. We can also spot a tree behind a fellow who thinks he is shaving in the privacy of his own apartment, but comes face to face with Nikki seeking the room she spotted from the train.

Lady on a Train offers a satisfying puzzle, moments of true suspense, and comedy that comes from character without becoming frantic. All that plus Dan Duryea and Christmas trees. Thank you, Santa.


7 comments:

  1. Dang, another I haven't seen. And I love train movies. Thanks for the heads up on this one.

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  2. I know you're a train gal from way back! It always fascinates me that no matter how many classic movies I have seen, there are still more. Love it!

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  3. Another winner there, CW. Keep them coming!

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  4. Oooh, how I love this movie and your nimbly written appreciation of it--not just for featuring one of Deanna Durbin's more languidly sensual singing and acting turns, (though I have to admit that singing "Silent Night" so lovingly to her father on the phone was a bit creepy for me), but it has a nifty little mystery as well as Dan Duryea and Edward Everett Horton!

    One other excellent reason to see this film: the lush black and white cinematography of Elwood "Woody" Bredell, who was also responsible for giving Robert Siodmak's The Phantom Lady (1944) and The Killers (1946), as well as Christmas Holiday (1944), their velvety look. Though not as well known as John Alton, Lucien Ballard or Gregg Toland, Mr. Bredell was one of those cinematographers who could "paint with light," making Durbin's movies a visual as well as aural pleasure.

    I wonder if you might on a roll, Patricia? Could a review of one of my other favorite Durbin films, It Started With Eve (1941) be in the works??
    Cheers,
    Moira

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  5. Moira, your vast knowledge of movies is a treasure. I shouldn't be surprised if I start becoming more aware of Woody Bredell's work. In "Lady on a Train" he brought the perfect touch of suspense and danger, especially to the mansion and warehouse scenes.

    "It Started With Eve" does happen to be a favourite of mine. Laughton was never more adorable!

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  6. Caftan Woman, don't you love it that suddenly everyone's noticing how delightful and generally awesome LADY ON A TRAIN is? Today our pal Yvette has reviewed it it on her always-awesome blog ...in so many words, with a most-welcome and appreciated link to my own recent LADY ON A TRAIN blog post, and now I find you already wrote your own terrific review of this daft, deft comedy-thriller back in 2010! Truly, fate and our love of screwball noir and/or Deanna Durbin has brought us together! To borrow a line from another favorite comedy-thriller, FOUL PLAY, it's Fate, Fergie - Kismet! :-) So glad we're all spreading the good word about LoaT!

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  7. So, this is where I saw it! I posted a link to your wonderful review on my blog a few minutes ago, C.W.

    What a fun film!

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