The Complete PRC Michael Shayne Mystery Collection DVD Review

Low budget mysteries retain a fair amount of fun. 2.5 Stars

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.

Murder Is My Business (1946)
Released: 07 Mar 1946
Rated: PASSED
Runtime: 64 min
Director: Sam Newfield
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime
Cast: Hugh Beaumont, Cheryl Walker, Lyle Talbot, George Meeker
Writer(s): Brett Halliday (novel), Fred Myton (screenplay)
Plot: Private eye tries to find a killer.
IMDB rating: 6.6
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Other
Distributed By: ClassicFlix
Video Resolution: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Subtitles: None
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 5 Hr. 20 Min.
Package Includes: DVD
Case Type: Amaray case
Disc Type: DVD-9 (dual layer)
Region: 1
Release Date: 11/12/2019
MSRP: $19.95

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.

Video: 2.5/5

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.

Audio: 2.5/5

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.

Overall: 2.5/5

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.

Published by

Matt Hough

editor,member

28 Comments

  1. I'll be getting this. I like Hugh Beaumont, and it is nice to see him in something outside of "Beaver". He also has a running part on the "Public Defender" TV Series, also from Classic Filx.

    The picture used to illustrate the review is not from any Michael Shayne movie.
    View attachment 64779

    But, it led to an interesting side-trip search. It's an actual 1941 true crime photo of a murder suspect about to have his mug shot taken. The photographer was a crime photographer, Arthur Fellig, known as 'Weegee'.
    View attachment 64780

  2. borisfw

    Received mine in the mail today. Happy to have the films. Just wish CF had put the 5 films on two discs instead of one.

    I received my dvd today. Was also shocked to see that all 5 films were on a single disc. Thought for sure this would come as at least a 2 disc set.

    Gary “nevertheless, I’m thrilled to have this” O.

  3. Gary OS

    I received my dvd today. Was also shocked to see that all 5 films were on a single disc. Thought for sure this would come as at least a 2 disc set.

    Gary “nevertheless, I’m thrilled to have this” O.

    Somebody didn't read this sentence in my review very closely:

    "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."

  4. Matt Hough

    Somebody didn't read this sentence in my review very closely:

    "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."

    Sorry, I didn't read the review. I was speaking from the point of someone that pre-ordered the day it came up on Amazon and just assumed it would be a multi-disc set.

  5. I also ordered in advance from Amazon and assumed that the 1 disc listing by Amazon was a mistake. I did not see the review till after i received my set. With that said i did a spot check and am quite satisfied with the disc. Love these films . They have a nice feel to them.

  6. borisfw

    I also ordered in advance from Amazon and assumed that the 1 disc listing by Amazon was a mistake. I did not see the review till after i received my set. With that said i did a spot check and am quite satisfied with the disc. Love these films . They have a nice feel to them.

    Thank you all for your support!

    Price point was the main driving point behind keeping it on one disc as the price would have been higher if we went with two.

    Do know that our top line releases won't sacrifice bit rate, but our budget Silver Series line may on occasion to keep the price affordable.

    Also know that I personally compared several clips, one at the lower and one at the higher bit rate. We went with the lower and kept it on one disc because if there was any difference between the two, it was negligible. If the viewing experience had suffered, we would have went with two and charged a bit higher price.

    – David
    ClassicFlix Founder, Producer

  7. As a big fan of the Nolan films i was very keen to see these 5 with Hugh Beaumont. The good news is that Classic Flix have given us a nice restoration for what was a low budget 'Poverty Row' series. The bad is that they are not very good films and Beaumont is a poor Shayne. I can't help thinking that the budget would have been better spent on releasing a higher profile single film.

  8. Keith Cobby

    As a big fan of the Nolan films i was very keen to see these 5 with Hugh Beaumont. The good news is that ClassicFlix have given us a nice restoration for what was a low budget 'Poverty Row' series. The bad is that they are not very good films and Beaumont is a poor Shayne. I can't help thinking that the budget would have been better spent on releasing a higher profile single film.

    I'm sure you'd expect this to come from the label that produced the set, but they ARE good B entertainment.

    And while Beaumont may not make a good Shayne in the mold of the books or the Fox films, he holds his own as the PRC crafted Shayne and is very fun to watch. I especially think his chemistry with Ralph Dunn and Paul Bryar are quite good.

    – David
    ClassicFlix Founder, Producer

  9. ClassicFlix

    I'm sure you'd expect this to come from the label that produced the set, but they ARE good B entertainment.

    And while Beaumont may not make a good Shayne in the mold of the books or the Fox films, he holds his own as the PRC crafted Shayne and is very fun to watch. I especially think his chemistry with Ralph Dunn and Paul Bryar are quite good.

    – David
    ClassicFlix Founder, Producer

    I completely agree, David. Thank you ClassicFlix for releasing these great little B films. Right up my alley and thoroughly enjoyable!

    Gary “these Shayne films deserved a release” O.

  10. As a major Michael Shayne fan (I have a complete collection of the Bret Halliday novels and many of the old time radio shows on CD), I happily ordered this set. Thanks to ClassicFlix for putting it out.

    That said, I suppose PRC moved Shayne from Miami to California to save money on exterior shots, but why did they change Lucy Hamilton’s name to Phyllis Hamilton? In the early novels Phyllis Brighton became Shayne’s wife. She was eventually killed off and Lucy Hamilton became his secretary.

    More importantly, why is the last Fox/Lloyd Nolan film, Time to Kill, still locked up in the vaults? First Fox released a stand-alone DVD of Dressed to Kill, followed by four Shayne films (“Volume One”) in a nice set with extras. After waiting and waiting for Volume Two which now obviously never will be, Fox finally got around to releasing Just Off Broadway as part of its Cinema Archives MOD program. As far as I can tell, Time to Kill has never even made it to the Fox Movie Channel.

    And then there is the 1960-1961 TV series starring Richard Denning, who played the character more like the Shayne of the novels than either Lloyd Nolan or Hugh Beaumont. I’m not expecting to see that released on DVD during my lifetime! I have 21 of the 32 episodes that I picked up from several sources over the years.

  11. Matt Hough

    Very interesting, Richard. Thanks for sharing your expertise on all things Shayne.

    When I was 12 or so my godmother, who lived in Astoria (Queens) and was my father's cousin, started bringing me Shayne books when she would visit us. From the Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection:

    "The Halliday private detective stories contain more legitimate detection than the reader has come to expect from other works in this subgenre. Critic Anthony Boucher frequently praised the author's ability to 'play fair' with the reader in presenting clues. Scholars Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor noted that the Halliday plots were 'complicated but often adroitly worked out.'"

    There also was a Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine that competed with Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine for many years.

    I believe that all of the Shayne books are currently out of print in book form, but 28 are available in Kindle editions.

  12. Richard Gallagher

    When I was 12 or so my godmother, who lived in Astoria (Queens) and was my father's cousin, started bringing me Shayne books when she would visit us. From the Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection:

    "The Halliday private detective stories contain more legitimate detection than the reader has come to expect from other works in this subgenre. Critic Anthony Boucher frequently praised the author's ability to 'play fair' with the reader in presenting clues. Scholars Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor noted that the Halliday plots were 'complicated but often adroitly worked out.'"

    There also was a Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine that competed with Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine for many years.

    I believe that all of the Shayne books are currently out of print in book form, but 28 are available in Kindle editions.

    I have a collection of the original printings mainly for the artwork. The later releases had photos of women that obviously were trying to capture the James Bond audience. The editions with the artwork are more to my liking

  13. Keith Cobby

    As a big fan of the Nolan films i was very keen to see these 5 with Hugh Beaumont. The good news is that Classic Flix have given us a nice restoration for what was a low budget 'Poverty Row' series. The bad is that they are not very good films and Beaumont is a poor Shayne. I can't help thinking that the budget would have been better spent on releasing a higher profile single film.

    For me, they are just right the way they are. As someone who has worked as a film teacher and critic for decades, I naturally gravitate to B films for a refreshing change of pace and am trying to collect every single one from the poverty row studios that come out on DVD and Blu. They are like eating a hot dog after all the gourmet dinners I'm eating the rest of the time. And having a performer like Hugh Beaumont in the lead is the mustard.

  14. MDS

    I have a collection of the original printings mainly for the artwork. The later releases had photos of women that obviously were trying to capture the James Bond audience. The editions with the artwork are more to my liking

    Yes, those are the highly-regarded McGinnis covers My collection is first-edition Dell paperbacks. Many have McGinnis covers but originally the Dell books were "map backs" that had a map on the back showing where the action took place.

    I did my collecting in the pre-Internet days so I had to work to find many of them. The most difficult to find was "Killers From the Keys" (1961), because for some reason Dell printed only one edition of it. Interestingly, it is dedicated "To Richard Denning who has superbly brought Michael Shayne to life on the television screen."

    The later books with photos on the cover were written by ghostwriters, many of them well-known mystery writers. Brett Halliday (real name Davis Dresser) died in 1977 but he essentially retired in 1960 or so and lived well off of his royalties.

    View attachment 65297

  15. I've been enjoying these Michael Shayne films. There's always something so comfortable about the B-mystery milieu, even when coming from the el-cheapo PRC side of things. Two or three of these Shayne films I'd never seen before, so this brings me ever so much closer to having viewed the complete 1939-47 output of PRC product. I have McFarland's PRC filmography book by Ted Okuda, and try to keep tabs on what I've watched. By the time of these Shayne films, PRC seemed a bit more steady in quality, without the kind of jaw-dropping cheeseballs like "They Raid By Night" (1942) or the notorious "Miss V From Moscow" (1942). In fact, by this later date, the company had some of those very decent Ulmer films, like "Her Sister's Secret" (1946) and "The Wife of Monte Cristo" (1946) boosting its output. Most of these later-era PRC films (right before Eagle-Lion) generally aren't TOO bad. "Killer at Large" (1947) is disappointingly bland, and the Gas House Kids films are borderline (at best), but otherwise, the studio's output had developed that aforementioned steadiness, even in its cheapness.

    If ClassicFlix wants to follow-up with the Philo Vance titles, I wouldn't complain. I'm assuming they are under the control of Films Around the World as well, although I've never been entirely clear on the full extent of their PRC/EL holdings. And quality of elements is always a question. Hope to eventually get around to seeing some of the handful of PRC titles that I've yet managed to catch, like the mystery films "Dangerous Intruder" (1945), "I Ring Doorbells" (1945), and "Lady Chaser" (1946), along with the dramas "Stepchild" (1947) and "The Big Fix" (1947). I think they are mostly around, floating among collectors, and I just need to make an effort to find them. Maybe PRC just innately instills a laziness in me. Anyway, I appreciate ClassicFlix releasing these Shayne films. Typical low-budget fare, of so-so quality, but fun nevertheless. A nice set.

  16. Few years ago HARD CASE CRIME reprinted the Shayne novel, "Murder is my Business".
    Which is the title of the first Beaumont movie.
    I have read the novel(several years ago) and watched the movie 2 weeks ago.
    Other then the title and Michael Shayne I believe they have nothing in common.

    Like Richard I have listen to the radio series. Actually Shayne had multiple series.
    Wally Maher was Shayne in the 1st series with his girl friend, Phyllis Knight voiced by Cathy Lewis.
    Light mysterious with a "Nick and Nora" vibe to them. Stories took place in the San Francisco area.

    And then Shayne without his girl turns up in New Orleans as a hardboiled PI.
    Jeff Chandler is Shayne with Jack Webb playing a police Lt.

    I like both versions.

    It seems there is a 3rd radio series with Donald Curtis, Robert Sterling, and Vinton Hayworth all
    voicing Shayne. I haven't heard any episodes from this run.

    View attachment 65404

  17. Much thanks to ClassicFlix for working out a deal with Films Around The World to get the five Shayne films with Hugh Beaumont out on DVD. As others have previously mentioned, I also would have preferred this to be a two or even three disc set, but the one disc seems to be working fine as I haven't encountered playback issues and the video quality of these black and white B films from 1946/47 is very good, just what I would expect them to look like.

    My favorite titles in the series are the ones with Cheryl Walker, she and Hugh Beaumont worked good together in these movies, there's an element missing in the other two movies without Cheryl.

    Until now, Blonde For A Day had been the only film in this series to see the light of day on DVD, a company called Mr. Fat W released it a few years ago. But now this has changed with the full five film collection from ClassicFlix.

    I have another copy of Larceny In Her Heart, it's a VHS recording from a TV station airing of some years ago. I'm holding on to this copy because it's unique although the new ClassicFlix release improves a little on the quality.

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