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***SPOILERS*** Strange movie, even for one with Bela Lugosi in it,thats
a combination of a crime/drama & musical/comedy with a bit of a
disaster movie thrown in for good measures. Ricardo Cortez plays
Gung-Ho Postal Inspector Bill Davis who's so off-the-wall that in one
of the scenes that he's in he jumps from something like a 100 foot
plank, minus his well-pressed suit, into the flooded streets below. In
doing that Davis risks a broken neck in order to save a postal crook
who was no more then a few yards away from a police speed-boat that was
just about to rescue and arrest him anyway, without Inspector Davis
foolishly risking his life.
There's a number of songs sung in the movie by nightclub singer Connie Larrimore, Patricia Ellis, and a duet at the end of the film with Connie and her fiancé and brother of Postal Inspector Davis Charlie, Michael Loring, who's also a Federal Treasury Agent. The "Golden Eagle" nightclub owner Greg Benez, Bela Lugosi, is in big trouble with the local mob loan shark when he gets a telegram that another nightclub owner, Fred Commings owner of the Jack-O'-Lantern, was gunned down for not paying back his load from the mob. Benez is out $50,000.00 to the mob and is two weeks behind in his payments.
"Golden Eagle" singer Connie Larrimore talking to both Postal Inspector and Federal Agent Bill & Charlie Davis get some inside information from big-mouth Charlie that he's going to send through the US mail $3,000,000.00 of used ten dollar bills to the Washington D.C Treasuary Dept. The bills are to be put out of circulation by having them incinerated.
Later Connie talking to her boss Mr.Benez unwittingly tells him about the cash transaction through the local mail and Benez sees an out in getting the money that he owes the mob as well as pocketing the rest, $2.950 Million, for himself. The Benez gang steals Charlies car and uses it to corrals and rob the mail truck with the 3 million dollars in cash going back to the Treasuary Department and also shoots and kills the driver. This all happens as the town of Yarborough, where the movie takes place, is being flooded by a heavy downpour with the local river overflowing its banks.
When the police and Postal Inspector Davis find the car belonging to Charlie at the crime scene they feel that he committed the crime but his brother Bill gives him two hours to come up with who really did it feeling that he's innocent. Later Benez and his gang kidnap both Charlie and his girlfriend Connie who went to Benez's place in order to find out who in the club took Charlie's car. This later leads to the exciting final speed-boat chase scene through the flooded streets of Yarborough with Charlie & Connie ramming a platform from where Benez and his hoods are trying to escape from the police knocking them all down and into the floodwater's below.
Bela Lugosi is very subdued and, uncharacteristically, dull as the nightclub owner and mobster Greg Benez and has a supporting, but not his usual leading, role in the film. Which didn't give him that much screen time to really do "His Thing".
Both Patricia Ellis and Michael Loring were adequate as the singer and Fed Agent, as well as lovers, in the movie but Ricardo Cortez was really over-the-top as Postal Inspector Bill Davis. Davis spouting platitudes about the wonderful US Post Office in almost every scene he's in that you for a moment thought you were watching a commercial for the USPS. Even though he tried to play his part as seriously as possible Inspector Davis did have a very strange sense of humor in the film. Postal Inspector Davis almost hanged and electrocuted, this was supposed to be his idea of comedy relief, a fellow postal worker in his office with gadgets that were illegally sent through the US Mail.
Inspector Davis also seemed to be more worried about the mail of the Yarborough Post Office getting soaked by the raging floodwater's engulfing the town then he was worried about the lives and safety of the postal workers working there.
The British Board of Film Certifiers banned Universal's THE RAVEN as "overly brutal and sadistic" and gave THE INVISIBLE RAY an A (for Adults Only) Certificate. This pretty much ended the genre that we now call Universal's "Golden Age". So where did this leave its top terror stars, Boris and Bela? For awhile, nowhere! Boris ended up playing a kindly old grandfather type in NIGHT KEY (1937) and Bela ended up in the musical comedy/drama playing a Mexican nightclub owner! Ricardo Cortez (whose real name was Jack Kranz) plays the title role and much of the movies 58 minute running time shows him dealing with people who have been the victims of mail fraud. This provides a lot of intentional humour. Cortez's brother is a Treasury officer in charge of getting worn out bills back to Washington. The girl he is in love with sings in Lugosi's nightclub and lets slip a casual comment that $3 million in old bills will soon go out of the local bank. Bela is in debt to a gagnster and decides to steal the shipment. As if that were not bad enough the town is threatened by a flood! Republic would take that plot and stretch it out for a 12 chapter serial so believe me this film will be long on action. Bela played a similar character in the 1930 film WILD COMPANY. He is not menacing at all until the last 10 minutes of the film when he becomes a crook. Ricardo Cortez had worked with D.W. Griffith (THE SORROWS OF SATAN, 1926) and had been the first actor to play Sam Spade (THE MALTESE FALCON, 1931). Watch the supporting cast for Guy Usher, who would face Lugosi on less equal terms in THE DEVIL BAT (1942) and Hattie McDaniel who had already costarred with Bela in MURDER BY TELEVISION (1935) and would go on to appear in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). The terror genre would start up again within 3 years but the old days were gone for good. This is still a fun film to watch even if it is just to see Bela in a relatively normal character role.
I kept singing "You've never seen anything like it" from Doctor
Dolittle as I watched this because I hadn't seen anything like it.
Ricardo Cortez plays a postal inspector who meets up with a nightclub singer on a plane having trouble landing. The singer sings a song to help calm everyone. The plane lands and we find that the singers manager is Bela Lugosi a Mexican business man in deep with the mob. After several scenes of Cortez showing what a postal inspector does the singer takes a shower and sings. A friend of Cortez is actually wooing the singer and everyone ends up at a night club where we get another song. Lugosi finds out that the younger inspector is going to be moving some old currency so he plots to steal it so he can get out of debt. A flood happens as the robbery goes down. There's another song before Cortez springs into action.
All that and more in an hour.
As odd mixes of genre's go I'd be hard pressed to come up with one as loopy as this.
I have no idea if I liked it, but I do know its a unique viewing experience. If you want to see how to put mutually exclusive genres together and make it kind of work this is the movie for you. See it and you too can sing that you've never seen anything like it...
I saw this movie for one reason--Bela Lugosi. He was not the star of
the film, but Ricardo Cortez--a man, who like Lugosi, was in a very
lean time in his career--being forced to appear in lesser and lesser
films. Both of the men were a long way from their glory days but both
dealt with it in a very, very different way. Cortez would soon quit
Hollywood and establish a very successful career on Wall Street.
Lugosi, conversely, left Universal after this film and began appearing
in even crappier films for smaller studios--the so-called "Poverty Row"
studios such as Monogram.
This film is an oddity because it's both a crime movie AND musical! Cortez investigates various scams that go through the mail. Eventually his path took him to Lugosi and a pretty young singer that works for him (Patricia Ellis). None of it was particularly great--and I found myself dozing off again and again.
If you are looking for a horror film or a movie that is going to offer some thrills, try another movie. The film isn't terrible...just not all that great, either.
This was Bela Lugosi's last film on his first contract with Universal. As such, it is not too bad. The Actman-Loesser songs are silly but certainly not hard to listen to. There is evidence of some post-production editing on this one - it barely clocks in at an hour. The familiar background score by Clifford Vaughan was reused many times by Universal as stock music for the next 7 years. Worth looking at once if only to see Bela !
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bela Lugosi made many unusual movies during his career. Otto Brower's
"Postal Inspector" was the last film that Lugosi made on contract with
Universal Pictures. Clocking in at a mere 58 minutes, this contrived
but entertaining cinematic tribute to the U.S. Postal Service looks
rather nondescript. Indeed, "Postal Inspector" could serve as a
prototype for everything that "Dragnet" creator Jack Webb ever created.
For the record, Lugosi doesn't take top billing. Suave Ricardo Cortez
has that distinction. He played the original Samuel Spade in the 1931
version of "The Maltese Falcon" before Humphrey Bogart recreated Spade
in his own image. Lugosi took fourth billing after Patricia Ellis and
Michael Loring. Brower and "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" scenarist Horace
McCoy have forged themselves a genuine hybrid with an array of
characters. "Postal Inspector" consists of one third crime thriller,
one third musical, and one third disaster epic. At every opportunity,
our hero reminds us that the best insurance in the world is a postage
stamp. Moreover, the message that citizens must be protected from
fraudulent practices drives the Postal Service. The comic relief
consists of episodes about fraudulent gadgets sold via the mail to
naïve citizens. "There's one born every minute, " laments our hero.
Cortez looks like he would be the wrong man with which to tangle.
Sadly, Lugosi languished in a lackluster role as a shifty nightclub
owner in trouble with the mob. During the first scene, our hero and his
fellow postal inspectors receive praise from none other than President
Franklin D. Roosevelt over a speaker phone for their "fine work" moving
the gold reserves of the United States to the inland cities. Clearly,
the producers must have approved of FDR's policies. You should have no
trouble spotting African-American actress Hattie McDaniel in a
supporting role as the heroine's maid.
Richard Cortez is Inspector Bill Davis. Not only does Davis take everything seriously but he is also the epitome of efficiency. Davis is pretty unflappable, and he always has a reassuring line for anybody who has a problem with the postal service. Davis manages to sort out all the problems that citizens have without losing his cool. Patrick Ellis plays vocalist Connie Larrimore. She meets Davis aboard a flight from Washington, D.C. to Milltown, during stormy weather. The pilots are trying to land, but they cannot see anything because they are surrounded by the equivalent of pea soup. Ground Control struggles to talk the pilots safely down. Our heroine uses her vocal chords to soothe some frightened passengers, with a youngster providing accompaniment on his harmonica. The press plasters Connie's commendable singing exploits across the front page story. She warbled to calm the nerves of the passengers. Bela Lugosi makes his first appearance as Gregory Benez, a natty nightclub owner who has Connie under contract to sing in his nightclub The Golden Eagle, at the airport. Later, we learn Benez has shady dealings with the mob. He owes Alfred Carter, 'known to have financed many nightclubs, $50-thousand and he is two weeks tardy on his payment. At the airport, Connie gets reacquainted with an old friend from her past in Milltown. The friend turns out to be Bill's younger brother Charlie (Michael Loring) and Charlie wants to rekindle the flame. Seven years have elapsed since they went their separate ways. Our hero's introduction to Connie has a memorable moment. Charlie points out his brother works for the post office. Slyly, Connie reminds Charlie that it has been a long time since they played post office. Brower and McCoy exploit this moment again later in the action for dramatic emphasis. Connie learns that Charlie works for the Federal Reserve Bank. He is in charge of all the money that the Federal Reserve wants to take out of circulation. He tells Connie about a shipment of used bills, approximately $3-million worth of bills . Later, Benez and his accomplices knock over the armored car, kill a postal employee, and steal the millions. Of course, Davis is not happy.
Initially, Charlie assures his brother Bill that he had nothing to do with the robbery. It looks like Charlie and Connie are to be implicated until Connie agrees to flush out Benez. Lugosi plays Benez with considerable restraint. About 31 minutes into the action, our handsome hero catches a plane to Yarborough where heavy rains have washed out a bridge and cut off the town. The stock footage of the flood scenes is impressive. One desperate African-American scrambles to seize a chicken. Meantime, Davis relocates the post office to higher ground.
Altogether, "Postal Inspector" is a routine potboiler about the Postal Inspectors and their jobs. The joke about the elderly woman who solicits proposals of marriage through the mail with a photography of a young, beautiful woman is hilarious. The villains use a boat to elude the authorities, but they don't lose them entirely. Newspaper headline state that the mail robbers are scheduled to serve 10 years to life.
Ricardo Cortez plays it totally straight as Inspector Bill Davis, the
leader of a team of postal inspectors. He and his team investigate mail
order rip-offs: machines that grow hair on bald people, stretching
devices that increase height, any scam that involves the mail.
Cortez meets singer Patricia Ellis on an airplane; the flight is bumpy and Ellis sooths a crying child by singing a happy song. This is not Ellis's only musical number: later on, in her hotel room, she sings an unpacking song, assisted by maid Hattie McDaniel, who also sings and dances a rumba and looks no more nor less silly than anyone else in the picture.
Ellis's agent is Bela Lugosi, a vaguely sinister nightclub manager. We quickly learn that Lugosi is behind on a loan and that another nightclub owner in similar circumstances was recently found dead. Lugosi needs cash.
And so, when Cortez's brother (Michael Loring), who works at the treasury, mentions to Ellis that he collects worn out bills for withdrawal from circulation and that he is about to mail in three million dollars Lugosi catches wind of the plan and makes plans of his ownthus putting to the test Cortez's boast that "A postage stamp is the best insurance in the world."
Meanwhile, flood waters are rising and the entire postal service faces a major test: the mail must go through! An extended sequence (apparently featuring genuine flood footage) showcases the bravery and ingenuity of those grand postal employees who find ways to get the mail delivered against all odds.
Kind of a lot of plot, and it all eventually builds up to a chase through flooded streets in motorboats .and another song or two, as well.
It's all pretty ridiculous the brother is obnoxious, Ellis is silly enough to listen to his line, and postal inspector Cortez is devoted to the noble work of the postal service to the point of fanaticism. (If Cheers mailman Cliff Klaven ever had a favorite movie, this could have been it.)
Harmless enough, but that's about it .Not even Lugosi could do much with his mostly thankless role.
At heart, this is a 1930's B movie with a fair story and some
interesting aspects. There are the usual characters: the straight-laced
older brother, the reckless younger brother, the beautiful nightclub
singer, and the criminal nightclub owner--plus an array or unnecessary
comic relief characters.
What sets it apart is that it is part propaganda for the U.S. Post Office Department (as there were similar films promoting the FBI, Coast Guard, etc.) Cortez (the postal inspector) and Lugosi (the nightclub owner), not the most subtle of actors, are pretty restrained here.
Also interesting is that about half the movie takes place during a disastrous flood (which doesn't affect the electrical system, it seems) and includes some interesting stock footage of floods from the period. So instead of ending with a car chase, there is boat chase through flooded city streets. I was left wondering how those scenes were filmed--did Universal really flood streetscapes for a B movie? However it was done, it looks realistic.
All in all, worth watching if you are a fan of 1930's movies.
I doubt that any movie ever made better use of stock footage of floods than "Postal Inspector." Every time the tale sags -- or more accurately sogs -- it's back to some unfortunate town where the river is rising, the dam done burst, homes are being washed away and people are trudging through muck and mire (not to be confused with the vaudeville act of the same name,) trying to escape the deluge. The big chase scene even replaces cars and horses with speedboats. The plot centers on Bela Lugosi as a night club owner, drowning in debt, who tries to steal $3 million in old bills being transported by the US Post Office. Fortunately, Ricardo Cortez is there to sink him, aided by Patricia Ellis as a night club singer who manages to warble a few Frank Loesser tunes before the water rises. It's actually not a bad little thriller and manages to float along in a fast-moving 58 minutes.
Before seeing this the only other film I ever saw dealing with the Post
Office police was a very good Alan Ladd noir film called Appointment
With Danger where Ladd like Ricardo Cortez here plays a Post Office
cop. Postal Inspector does not have the really good plot the Ladd film
has but it's good enough and it has some nice action sequences
involving a flood that spoils plans for the good guys and bad guys
Bela Lugosi plays a nightclub owner who doubles as the boss of a gang and he's got a pretty good scheme involving the robbery of a shipment of old and soon to be retired currency being shipped by mail. He carries it off, but the flash flood interrupts his plans.
Patricia Ellis plays a nightclub singer and Michael Loring, Cortez's brother who get innocently into a jackpot in the robbery as he's suspected of being an inside man.
Postal Inspector has a nice action climax involving a chase with outboard motorboats through flooded. And in the role of the nightclub racketeer owner provided a nice change of pace for Bela Lugosi not playing a mad scientist or an inhuman fiend.
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