Low budget with a charm and style all their own, the five whodunits in The Complete PRC Michael Shayne Mystery Collection will likely be welcomed by fans of the character who will now have something new to compare to the Lloyd Nolan/Fox films which preceded them.
The Production: 3/5
Brett Halliday’s good-natured private detective Michael Shayne was a hit in a series of 1930s potboiler mysteries, and the character was then adapted for the silver screen in a series of twelve second tier mystery films throughout the 1940s. Lloyd Nolan starred in the first seven produced by Twentieth Century Fox, but after the studio dropped the series, it was picked up by the Producers Releasing Corporation in five poverty row-budgeted second features (each running a touch over an hour) starring Hugh Beaumont as the genial gumshoe. Fine as second feature mysteries, Classic Flix has packaged the five films on DVD for The Complete PRC Michael Shayne Mystery Collection.
The first is Murder Is My Business filmed and released in 1946. When haughtily wealthy Eleanor Ramsey (Helene Heigh) is strangled and the murder is pinned on detective Michael Shayne’s ex-con pal Joe Darnell (Parker Garvie), Shayne tries to clear his buddy’s name by investigating the five people with the strongest motives to kill the society matron: her penniless husband Arnold (Pierre Watkin) kept on a tight budget by his penny-pinching wife, her grasping, ungrateful stepchildren Ernest (David Reed) and Dorothy (Julia McMillan), Eleanor’s ex-con brother Buell Renslow (Lyle Talbot) who’s due half of her million as part of his inheritance which she has refused to give him, and her gigolo lover Carl Meldrum (George Meeker) who is romancing both mother and step-daughter. Naturally plodding police detective Pete Rafferty (Ralph Dunn) does everything in his power to thwart Shayne’s investigation and get enough goods on him to strip him of his P.I. license. While the threadbare production values are obvious (stock footage of a nightclub floor show plays on a process screen as a few actors sit at tables in front of it) and Sam Newfield’s direction is nothing special, Beaumont saves the day with his lighthearted manner, his peanut addiction, and his cheerful readiness to take a punch (Talbot’s Buell lays him out with four separate knockout punches), attributes which can be found in all five of these productions.
A body that keeps disappearing and reappearing causes trouble for the affable shamus in Hugh Beaumont’s second Michael Shayne mystery Larceny in Her Heart. Wealthy Burton Stallings (Gordon Richards) comes to the private dick for help in locating his missing stepdaughter Helen. Shayne and his Girl Friday Phyllis (Cheryl Walker), leaving on vacation, initially turn down the assignment despite Stallings’ $500 retainer, but no sooner does the man leave Mike’s office before in stumbles a blonde (Marie Hannon) who’s been drugged, the very woman he’s supposed to be trailing. He rests her on the couch, takes Phyllis to the train station, and comes back to the office to find her dead and the police led by the suspicious Sergeant Rafferty (Ralph Dunn) anxious to search the office and adjoining living quarters. What follows is one of the more convoluted mysteries in the Shayne canon, with an unknown husband (Lee Bennett), a mistrustful nightclub owner (Charles Quigley), and a rehab facility run by a shady operator (Douglas Fowley) all adding to the mystery of the girl’s murder. Sam Newfield directs again and includes one hilarious montage of Shayne going through a detoxification ritual at rehab when he checks himself in there to snoop around. As always, best friend Tim Rourke (this time played by Paul Bryar) is a great help to Mike in his sleuthing.
The mood turns more serious for Shayne’s next adventure Blonde for a Day. Mike has moved to San Francisco, but he rushes back to Los Angeles when best friend Tim Rourke (Paul Bryar) is shot after writing a series of newspaper exposés on the murders of three high-winning gamblers, all mysteriously accompanied by a flashy blonde who vanished each time without a trace. Tim’s editor Walter Bronson (Frank Ferguson) had warned him that his aggressive reporting might get him into trouble and was going to fire him right before he took a bullet and lay in a coma unable to spill all he knew. Mike’s investigation takes him to the gambling club owned by the shady Hank Brenner (Mauritz Hugo) whose hired thugs beat Shayne up and are constantly after him along with the usual interference from Detective Pete Rafferty (Cy Kendall). Sam Newfield directs a very good and surprising mystery with his usual plodding efficiency, and the real-life Mrs. Hugh Beaumont Kathryn Adams plays Girl Friday Phyllis Hamilton for the first and only time.
One of the lesser of the Shayne entries is the fourth one Three on a Ticket. With not much mystery present and surprise revelations that are anything but a surprise, Three on a Ticket doesn’t measure up at all to its predecessors. In it, Shayne and secretary Phyllis (Cheryl Walker once again) are greeted one morning by a man (Brooks Benedict) who staggers into the office, a bullet in him, and promptly dies. He’s clutching a baggage claim ticket that Shayne pries from his death grip and hides under the foot of his office sofa. From then on, a steady stream of suspicious characters assault Mike either with affection (Louise Currie as Helen Brimstead), physical violence (Douglas Fowley as Mace Morgan, Charles Quigley as Kurt Leroy, and Noel Cravat as sociopathic gunman Trigger), or intimidation (Gavin Gordon as government agent Pearson). Allegedly the baggage claim is to a suitcase holding confidential plans for a new secret weapon coveted by a foreign government), but Shayne surmises that there is more to this puzzle that anyone is telling, and, of course, he’s right. As usual Mike takes his usual pounding three or four times between bouts of peanut munching during the one hour film, but it’s good to see stock company members Ralph Dunn and Paul Bryar back in their comfortable roles as the acerbic Detective Rafferty and Mike’s best friend Tim Rourke respectively.
Sadly, the last of the Michael Shayne 1940s films doesn’t live up to the three initial ones either. Again, the film, with a new producer and director team behind the scenes, is more a crime drama than a mystery as the bad guys are easily spotted and the mystery a very weak one. Counterfeit winning race track tickets are turning up at the Santa Rosita track causing owner Albert Payson (John Hamilton) and general manager John Hardeman (Grandon Rhodes) no end of headaches. Newspaper publisher Gil Madden (Ben Weldon) was going to pay Michael Shayne not to take the case, but as he and secretary Phyllis Hamilton (Trudy Marshall) are going on vacation, there’s no reason now to fork over any cash. Shayne, of course, can’t keep from snooping around which gets him shot and punched loopy a couple of times. The script makes Phyllis shriller than ever and even at only an hour, the story seems full of holes and needlessly confusing. This is the least of the five Shayne movies even with old reliable Ralph Dunn as the crotchety Detective Peter Rafferty and Charles Mitchell playing a more charming version of reporter Tim Rourke this time around.
3D Rating: NA
The films are all presented in their original theatrical aspect ratios of 1.37:1. New 2K scans have improved picture quality immeasurably from what was available to watch before, but there are still plenty of artifacts present including scratches, dirt, damage, debris, and reel change markers that would require greater time and money to eliminate. The grayscale seems a tad on the dark side though black levels are usually good (with some undeniable crushing from time to time). However, as one works his way through the five films, timing gets brighter images on the screen and fewer artifacts. The images retain a very film-like appearance that hasn’t been erased by DNR. Each movie has been divided into 9, 10, or 11 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound mix is decoded by Prologic into the center channel. While dialogue is almost always clearly discernible and is combined with Emil Cadkin or Alvin Levin’s background scores and the expected sound effects with surety, engineers haven’t completely removed age-related problems with hiss, crackle, pops, and other aural anomalies.
Special Features: 1/5
Restoration Comparisons (2:50): split screen and other visual aids showcase the restoration work on these five films in before-and-after shots.
Low budget with a charm and style all their own, the five whodunits in The Complete PRC Michael Shayne Mystery Collection will likely be welcomed by fans of the character who will now have something new to compare to the Lloyd Nolan/Fox films which preceded them. While Classic Flix hasn’t been able to bring spiffy, flawless transfers to this single disc of five films, lovers of the genre probably won’t care and will snatch this up at its relatively low price.
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