When Henry Blankfort testified at a 9/18/51 HUAC hearing during the McCarthy "Red Scare" period, he was "belligerent and strident" (according to The Hollywood Reporter) and, when mentioning this film, wryly pointed out that the title had nothing to do with politics. See more »
Musicians led by Noah Beery, Jr. elude Det. John Litel who is on a case of murder
The fame of "The Crimson Canary" rests on the appearance of several jazz notables at 32 minutes in. The front line is Coleman Hawkins on tenor and Howard McGhee on trumpet. Oscar Pettiford plays a vigorous bass, Denzil Best is on drums and Sir Charles Thompson on piano. They play "Hollywood Stampede" for almost 2 minutes. They are followed by Josh White. They do not play either the orchestral sound track or the dubbing for the traditional jazz quintet. Other reviews identify those musicians. Among them, Barney Bigard on clarinet is the best known.
Noah Beery, Jr. leads a quintet of vets. In the club's back room, drummer Danny Morton passes out. When he awakes, joined by the others, they find the dead body of the club's singer. Morton has no memory of what happened, so they go on the run. Club owner, Steven Geray, cannot tell Det. John Litel where they've gone. Litel, a jazz fan, has one recording of the group and seeks to find it by the distinct sound of Beery's trumpet.
This movie is a noir in several respects, both story and atmosphere. I strongly doubt that the film's makers consciously strove to make a noir as that style was not even identified. It's more that it was becoming a way to do films like this. The "way" actually consists of a number of elements. In the story, we have a veteran who has no memory for the time he blacked out. Compare "The Blue Dahlia". The police may be pursuing the wrong man, but we are unsure. There is ambiguity. There is a singer who can excite, tantalize and frustrate men. A trustworthy and helpful figure can turn out to be duplicitous. The atmosphere is dark clubs and the quintet flees into the dark night. Beery is almost paranoid about police in a dark scene with Lois Collier. The jazz figures as a kind of underground music, found in smoky and dark clubs.
The overall result is far, far different than a Charlie Chan mystery. It's not a major b-movie noir, not in the category of "Detour". The jazz clip is on youtube. Old collector copies are available for a price. Maybe some day Universal will clean it up and market a good copy.
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