Melrose's circus is being threatened by his competitor, who's angry that Melrose has outmanuevered him in bookings; what he doesn't know is that the competitor has also planted a saboteur ... See full summary »
Erle C. Kenton
'Little Billy' Rhodes
I actually like some of the later Boston Blackie films better than this one, but it is a good enough opener to the series. Chester Morris usually played a hard-boiled tough guy whether he was portraying an actual criminal or just a remorseless cheating husband as he was in "The Divorcée". As Blackie he shows a good bit of finesse and range - he admits he was a thief, and apparently one that has never really been caught, but now he's going straight. He's tough when he has to be, he's a friend when he can be, a ladie's man when he gets the opportunity, and honest if possible. He is even trusted by Inspector Faraday, his nemesis, to not run away if he promises that.
This opener to the series has a patriotic theme, with Blackie's chivalry on board an ocean liner leading to the infiltration of a nest of spies. Made shortly before the beginning of World War II, a conflict that most people saw coming, movies with patriotism and spies were common up to two years before Pearl Harbor. I didn't find the story or Blackie's romantic lead particularly interesting, but I love watching Chester Morris at work here. Plus the other characters are fun too.
In particular, Charles Wagenheim as "the runt" manages to be Blackie's trusty if not very helpful associate who is reliable comic relief without becoming whiny or annoying. Inspector Farraday is no Keystone Cop, but I would think after the first half dozen times Blackie solves the crime, gift wraps the criminals, and hand delivers them to the precinct door, Farraday might begin to believe Blackie had changed.
Highly recommended as an entertaining vehicle for an underrated actor - Chester Morris.
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