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This is a typical "old house" film.....a black-clad figure that throws
gigantic shadows on the walls, a secret entrance, all the
characters "creeping around", a creepy butler, and all the
It's interesting that they use some of the same sets for that other fantastic "old house" film, Dr. X. (Most notably, the upstairs hall & the kitchen).
Some people would say this film is "slow moving", but that is done deliberately to increase the creepy "something-is-about- to-happen" feeling.
As an aside, it's remarkable that the actress who plays the sick old lady looks really OLD in this film, but in Bob Hope's "Cat & the Canary" (filmed almost 10 years later, as the Aunt) looks MUCH younger! She had one heck of a make-up job in THIS film!
If you love "old house" films, don't miss it!
This is an early entry in the comic/romantic mystery genre. Joan
Blondell is bemoaning the boring existence of a hospital nurse when
wham! She is commandeered by detective George Brent to help solve a
murder case. It is he who, at her request gives her a title. The title
is Miss Pinkerton.
It's an old mansion with creepy servants and the whole deal. A young man has died. Suicide, it's thought; but we know better. The plot is a trifle complicated but not too far-fetched. And Blondell is as (almost) always a real joy.
Brent is in it blessedly little and the supporting players all do what the need to do.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hard to believe that Joan Blondell only got 65 minutes to strut her
stuff in "Miss Pinkerton". She plays a very bored nurse ("I'm beginning
to envy the patients - at least things happen to them"!!) and in answer
to her prayers she is assigned to look after an elderly lady who has
gone into shock after finding a murder victim. She is really working
for Inspector Patton (dishy George Brent) who gives her the moniker
"Miss Pinkerton". The apparent "suicide" is a young man whose death has
paved the way for the happiness of the rest of the family.
This is a really enjoyable comedy/mystery, there are plenty of scary shadows on the walls, things that go bump in the night, the usual suspects - a dour maid, an ominous butler (who threatens to kill a little dog, Miss Pinkerton's "palsy walsy"), a nervous doctor and a jittery patient - did I mention Miss Blondell is a terrific screamer - she would give Fay Wray a run for her money!!!! The judge rules suicide but Miss Pinkerton is not buying it - then a young girl appears, it is Paula Brent (Ruth Hall) she married the murder victim while loving Elliot (Donald Dillaway) yet another person who has been caught prowling around the house and is now charged with murder!! Oh yes, there is also the stenographer Miss Lenz (Mary Doran, to all those devotees of pre-coders, enough said).
George Brent was just the perfect unobtrusive leading man which made him so popular in the early 30s handsome but with a personality that wouldn't overpower the leading lady. Lyle Talbot also played a bit as a newsman. In 1933 Ruth Hall was in a short "Hollywood on Parade" which introduced several Hollywood starlets (Mary Carlisle, Patricia Ellis, Gloria Stuart etc) who were chosen as stars of tomorrow and unfortunately Ruth was the only one who didn't make good (her very pronounced lisp could have been the trouble) - her best years were 1932 - 1933.
Pinkerton is synonymous with detective agencies. Alan Pinkerton, a Scotsman, emigrated to the United States and after serving in the Civil War he became Chicago's first detective and started his own agency. He was involved with tracking down the Reno Gang and Jesse James and at the time of his death was working on a centralized criminal data base that is still used by the F.B.I.
By the time MISS PINKERTON was made, Hollywood was starting to repeat
themselves in their treatments of Mary Roberts Rinehart (first purveyor
of the "little old lady detective" that Agatha Christie would perfect
with her Miss Marple and Angela Lansbury would do to a fare thee well
in her Jessica Fletcher character) and the stage based sets for their
"old dark house" mysteries. From the very first shots of MISS
PINKERTON, with long shadows cast on the facade of the house in
question where murder is to be done (and done again?), we're back in
the territory of THE BAT (aka The Spiral Staircase), Ms. Rinehart's
most successful stage and film excursion.
As before, we have Ms. Rinehart's feisty "little old lady," Elizabeth Patterson as Juliet Mitchell, accompanied by a comic companion (in this case Nurse Adams played by Joan Blondell) and a host of potential suspects in her mysterious (and enormous) old house, but as film making technique has progressed in only a few years of sound (and Ms. Rinehart knew when to vary a successful template), this time we have a fun twist in casting the young comedienne as the lead and assistant to the fresh faced detective (George Brent as Inspector Patten on his "first case"), and the old lady as one of the potential suspects, thought to pass off a suicide as murder for the insurance money . . . or was it murder after all?
Blondell is at her youthful best, and the studio cast is crammed full of first class talent on their way up from C. Henry Gordon as Dr. Stuart to the briefest of shots of a young Walter Brennan as a Police Dispatcher at the beginning.
Modern action buffs may sniff that the atmospheric tale seems at times to be more about the enormous, detailed sets than the mystery itself, with unidentified characters sneaking in and up long back staircases, women screaming and the odd comic set piece (is the dog a clue?), but director Lloyd Bacon (the silent film actor turned director who had shepherded Cole Porter's 50 MILLION FRENCHMAN to the screen the year before with members of the Broadway cast but without Porter's songs and would mount the classic 42ND STREET *with* songs the next year, continuing to work into the 1950's!) keeps the action spinning for the barely hour (six minutes over) running time.
Bask in the details of life in the early depression era (before the details of life outside got too depressing) and have the good time this nicely layered film offers, seeing if you can keep the suspects and motivations straight even when murder is committed right in front of your eyes - and remember "it ain't over 'till it's over," and that isn't when it first appears!
Miss Pinkerton (1932)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
Nurse Adams (Joan Blondell) is growing tired and the same events happening everyday at the hospital but she gets her chance for excitement when Inspector Patten (George Brent) asks her to help with a suicide case. The nurse is brought on to care for an elderly woman who found her nephew's body after he killed himself but Patten believes it was actually murder. MISS PINKERTON, a nickname given to the nurse, is a fairly entertaining murder-mystery and just like the countless others that were released in this era. If you've seen its remake, THE NURSE'S SECRET, then you'll realize that it followed this one pretty closely but there's no question that this here is the better of the two. The main reason this one works so well is because Blondell is just so charming in her role. She manages to bring some light humor when it's needed but she can also handle the drama without a problem. Another major plus is that she's given a pre-code sequence where she's changing. Of course, by today's standards this is pretty tame but fans of the genre should at least get a smile out of it. Brent isn't all that memorable in his part as he sleepwalks through it. John Wray is fun as Hugo, a butler who is a prime suspect. Director Lloyd Bacon actually adds a little style to the picture including a very good scene where a person dies and we get a POV shot as she slips away. There are several attack sequences throughout the film and these too are well directed and staged. With that said, the 66-minute running time does drag in spots and there's no question that a bit of a stronger story would have been nice. Still, fans of the genre and Blondell should be entertained.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Most of the action takes place in an old, Victorian style mansion which art director Jack Okey excels in recreating here. In fact, his sets are one of the film's major assets. Yet another plus is the extraordinary direction by Lloyd Bacon. In fact, all the scenes in which Elizabeth Patterson appears are handled in a most unusual at least for Lloyd Bacon manner, using tilted camera angles, mirror shots, close close-ups and weird lighting effects. Indeed the most stunning effect of all occurs right at the character's death. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is handled in a far less dramatic manner. Another minus is that there is no music score to help the mood. This lack also forces viewers to focus on the dialogue which seems a trifle stagey and is certainly overplayed by some of the actors, particularly John Wray. Fortunately, sound effects and McGill's fine photography help cover up some of the worst lapses.
Nurse Joan Blondell is bored with the humdrum goings-on at the hospital where she works. So when offered a little excitement by helping the police with a murder investigation, she jumps at the chance. Pleasant old dark house mystery with a little bit of comedy added to the mix. Joan's wonderful, as she always was in the '30s. Pretty, funny, immensely likable. Very fetching in that nurse uniform. She's one of the most underrated stars of her era. She's got nice support here from George Brent in an early role and many fine character actors like Holmes Herbert and C. Henry Gordon. Also Elizabeth Patterson (Miss Trumbull from I Love Lucy) plays the old lady Blondell is assigned to take care of. Well-directed by Lloyd Bacon with some nicely-framed shots and some spooky use of wind and shadows. The film ends in such a way one might think this was the first of a series. Unfortunately, that's not the case and there were no sequels.
The Best Thing that can be said about this Pre-Code "Old Dark House"
Mystery is that the Print is Pristine. It Looks Smooth and Shiny, the
Contrast is Excellent and it is just well, Swell.
The Opening has Joan Blondell as the Title Character Stripping to Her Undies and a bit of Inner Thigh (a post code no-no) with Stockings is Exposed and there is some Talk with a Youngster about Visiting Her Boyfriend's Bedroom. That' the Extent of the "Forbidden Hollywood" Stuff.
But this one is Played Very Light Anyway and it is Virtually Impossible to Keep it all Straight as there is so much Talk and so many Suspects that the Mystery gets Less Mysterious and More Confusing as Things Move Along.
The Sets are Creepy Enough and some of the Characters Moving in and out of Suspicion are also Nutty, and there are Shadows Galore to Up the Spooky Level, with some Screams and Lurkers about. Worth a Watch, and take the Challenge to Decipher the Plot and Characters.
Joan Blondell is nicknamed "Miss Pinkerton" in this 1932 film also
starring George Brent and Ruth Hall. She's nicknamed Miss Pinkerton by
Brent when she attempts to help solve a murder. She's actually Nurse
Adams, bored with her hospital job. She's offered a chance to take care
of an elderly lady who has gone into shock after finding someone dead
in her house from an apparent suicide. Nurse Adams is supposed to keep
an eye on things. She's thrilled.
Miss Pinkerton doesn't believe the suicide - she thinks it was murder. The house gives her plenty of ammunition to believe it. It's an old, dark with a mean-looking maid, a scary butler, the frightened patient, and the doctor who doesn't seem too stable either.
A young girl shows up (Hall). She was married to the murder victim but in love with someone else. This someone is Elliot (Donald Dillaway) who has been caught sneaking around the house. There is also a stenographer (Mary Doran). Then there is a second murder.
George Brent is the investigating detective, and he's young and unmustached here. Normally he played opposite a major leading lady. He's charming here.
Fast-moving mystery with the delightful Blondell keeping things lively. Some interesting camera work, including a gigantic shadow of a man over the house. Lots of screaming, too, as befits this kind of movie.
...specifically between Joan Blondell and George Brent. These are two
players whose performances and films I generally enjoy immensely, but
here the two just seem to be acting at each other rather than with each
other. It's hard to describe unless you actually see it.
Blondell plays a nurse in a hospital - Nurse Adams - who is bored with hospital routine. One night she gets picked by the head nurse to be private nurse for the night to an old woman who has had a terrible shock - the old woman found the body of her nephew shortly after he had been shot with his own gun. Was it suicide? Was it murder? If it was murder, what was the motive? These are the questions surrounding the mystery of the unnatural death of Herbert Wynn. There is also the complication of Herbert Wynn's life being insured for one hundred thousand dollars payable to his aunt, and that his family - once wealthy - is now on the verge of bankruptcy and ruin. So, there is just as much a motive for making the suicide look accidental - or like a murder - as there is reason for making any murder that has occurred look like a suicide or accident. Life insurance doesn't pay out for suicide.
Enter George Brent, a police detective on the case that takes an immediate liking to Nurse Adams and dubs her "Miss Pinkerton". I could never really figure that one out, unless it has something to do with the famous Scottish detective whose name is often a pseudonym for detective. This is really an old dark house tale mixed in with elements of the Thin Man. From the old dark house side of things we have a creepy mansion with creepier inhabitants and mysterious locked rooms. From the Thin Man tradition of mysteries - which actually wasn't made for two years after this film - we have everybody shooting darting and knowing glances at everyone else and looking guilty and somewhat conspiratorial.
The rather complex plot will keep you interested, but you'll likely be disappointed with the romance and partnership end of things between Blondell and Brent. They were both capable of having tremendous chemistry with other leading ladies and men, just not with each other and certainly not in this film. Recommended, but with reservations.
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