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This is the only film where a sitting President of the United States has been credited as a writer. See more »
James Blake's dog accompanies him on the fishing trip, and then doesn't appear when he goes into the meeting hall or after that at all. See more »
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, talking with a magazine editor on one of his favorite subjects - mystery stories - advanced the question: "How can a man disappear with five million dollars of his own money in negotiable form and not be traced?" Challenged by this, the editor enlisted the aid of six famous authors. The result was a thrilling story. The same problem intrigued the producers of this photoplay, and in another form is now brought to the screen. The proceeds of the sale of the plot, both for publication and motion picture rights, have been given voluntarily by the publisher to the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation. See more »
"The President's Mystery" isn't really a mystery, but it's a well-made B-picture with an interesting premise. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was fond of reading murder mysteries. On 12 May 1935, at a White House luncheon, FDR offered his lunch guests an idea for a mystery: How could a millionaire disappear and start a new life for himself, under a new identity, yet manage to take his wealth with him? One of the guests at that luncheon was magazine editor Fulton Oursler, who wrote mystery stories under the pseudonym 'Anthony Abbot'. Intrigued by FDR's idea, Oursler contacted five other authors (including S.S. Van Dine, creator of the popular Philo Vance mysteries), and they set out to write a novel that could answer FDR's question. This was published as "The President's Mystery Story", with FDR listed as co-author (although he contributed only the premise). It is not a very good book, due to its patchwork structure: the various chapters are written by different authors of radically different styles and widely varying talent. But largely due to its novelty appeal and FDR's personal popularity, "The President's Mystery Story" became a best-seller.
This movie is the film version, with a title card in the opening credits explaining FDR's participation. The screenplay was written by Lester Cole and the grossly overrated Nathanael West, who brings none of his own sardonic viewpoint to this movie.
Industrialist James Blake (the underrated actor Henry Wilcoxon, who later submerged his career into C.B. DeMille's) has messed up his personal life and he wants to start over in a new identity ... but he doesn't want to lose the fortune he's already compiled. He hits upon a very clever plan which might actually have worked in the 1930s, but which nowadays (with computer databases and biometric I.D.) couldn't possibly succeed. Blake locates a crooked investment firm run by two con men (one of them is played by Charles Williams, the meek little actor who played Eustace Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life"). Claiming to have enough evidence to put the crooks in prison, Blake bullies them into abandoning their investment firm without dismantling it. Blake then secretly takes over the brokerage without any paperwork to document the transfer. Operating in the open, he then proceeds to invest his own fortune in the crooked brokerage house ... thus neatly robbing himself! (But how does he withdraw the money after he deposits his cheques?)
Because Blake is publicly perceived to lose his fortune, nobody is surprised when he vanishes ... an apparent suicide. He establishes a new identity with plausible ease (again, this was before high-tech I.D.) and it looks like he's accomplished his goal. But then something goes wrong...
There are several good performances here, most notably Wilcoxon's, Sidney Blackmer's and a comic turn by Barnett Parker in his usual silly-ass Englishman mode, and a performance by the underrated John Wray. Byron Foulger gives his usual inept performance as a milquetoast. Betty Furness is dull and unattractive, as usual for her.
I'll rate this movie 5 out of 10. FDR's participation is almost nonexistent, and co-screenwriter Nathanael West's influence on the material is minor. But this modest film has some genuine merits and an unusual story; I recommend it.
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