Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Footsteps in the Dark (USA, 1941)

(Trailer.) An inconsequential but pleasantly entertaining star vehicle for the ever smooth Errol Flynn, shown here both in chest-shaven profile and in full glory. A criminal comedy, Footsteps in the Dark tells the story of Francis Warren, a rich, married businessman who leads a second life, unknown to his family and business associates, as a mystery writer. (Likewise, the police know him only as the mystery writer, and not as the wealthy business man.) When the police chief berates him as probably incapable of solving a real crime, Warren decides to solve the murder of a jewel smuggler. His detective work results in his wife suspecting him of having an affair with a stripper named Blondie (Lee Patrick) and the police believing that he is the actual murderer of the smuggler and, later, of Blondie. All’s well that ends well, and by the end of the film the innocent get off free, the guilty get caught, and Warren runs off to solve another crime, this time with his wife by his side.... one thinks there had been hopes to create a new series similar to that of The Thin Man films (1934-47), which this movie so obviously emulates in a decidedly second-class manner (and without the alcohol).
Footsteps in the Dark is nonetheless a painless and inconsequential 96 minutes with more than a few mild chuckles. Lightly screwball in nature, the film takes place at a time when the public could still identify with unrealistically rich, fast-talking heroes living in a perfect world in which husband and wife slept in separate beds, wives stayed happily unemployed at home, strippers only shed their gloves and no one died who didn’t actually deserve it. (And face it, a stripper—even one that only removed her gloves—deserved it!)
A familiar face amongst the various characters in the film is that of William Frawley as the incompetent detective Hopkins, more or less rehearsing an incompetence he would specialize in later as Fred Mertz in The Luci & Desi Show. Likewise of mild interest is the brief appearance of the young Turhan Bey, making his screen debut at the tender age of 19. Director Lloyd Bacon had a career that began with the silents in 1925 and ended with a cerebral hemorrhage on November 15, 1955. Averaging 1 to 2 movies a year (or more, before talkies), Bacon was a competent studio system streamliner who, while never innovative in nature, always directed his films in a fluidly competent if not somewhat mundane style. This film is no exception. Among Bacon’s last films before he died was the 1953 3-D curiosity The French Line (trailer), a typical musical of the time starring Jane Russell and her bust.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

1940s films weren't so clean cut yet, the separate beds with happy home wife didn't really hit hard until after the war.

In 'Wings in the Dark', 1935 James Flood melodrama, Myrna Loy talks about how she is a barnstormer because woman aren't allowed to be mail pilots, or fly for airlines. Cary Grant then goes blind.


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