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In the 1940's there were probably 5,000 B movies made that were no
better or worse than this one with one big exception.This little film
has a scene that contains five truly great jazz artists playing at
close to their peak. I think it's now on youtube.
I saw it on a late show in Palo Alto California 42 years ago and in those days there were no tape machines.(it wouldn't have mattered since I was watching it in a motel.) Anyway, the jazz greats are Coleman Hawkins, Howard McGee,Sir Charles Thompson, Denzil Best, and most of all, Oscar Pettiford on the bass. For a young jazz bass player to be able to watch the great Pettiford in action would be worth something of value thats immeasurable. MOST IMPORTANTLY, the other comments are incorrect !! That is definitely Coleman Hawkins and Oscar Pettiford on the sound track. Believe me, I KNOW their playing. It's definitely THEM !! I'm shocked that people haven't heard that. p-s I had just finished playing a concert with the George Shearing Quintet in Concord California opposite Dave Brubeck and came back to the motel and this movie was on t.v. Talk about an unbelievable experience...by the way, I was able later to secure the film.
Jazz saxophone pioneer Coleman Hawkins plays in the background of this fun mystery in which a jazz-mad detective secures his dream assignment: investigating a murder in a jazz cabaret. The detective's musical passion is infectious and the film stimulated my interest in jazz of all periods. For me the refreshing depiction of detective as music enthusiast raised the film above the level of most B-mysteries then prevalent.
I've never seen the film either but the Esquire Jazz All-stars sequence is over on you tube, just search for Crimson Canary (the Josh White clip is there too) - see the comment there that the musicians actually playing are not the ones that were filmed (sadly enough) ... N --- PS. I guess I might as well duplicate my comments here since IMDb won't let me post a comment under 10 lines: Unfortunately (according to David Meeker's Jazz in the Movies) the featured musicians are not the ones actually playing! The musicians are: Nick Cochrane - trumpet; Eddie Parkers - lead trumpet; Dale Nichols - trombone; Barney Bigard -clnt; King Guion - tenor; Stan Wrightsman - piano; Budd Hatch - bass; Mel Torme - drums. Why the Esquire all-stars weren't good enough to play their own music one can only guess but I suspect it was a licensing or union thing. BTW, the other musicians pictured there besides Howard McGhee, Oscar Pettiford, and Coleman Hawkins are Sir Charles Thompson on piano and Denzil Best on drums ... N
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
-- "THE CRIMSON CANARY" - 1945 A group of navy vets form a jazz combo
just after the war and hit the road looking for work. We have Noah
Beery Jr. on trumpet, Danny Morton on drums, John Kellogg on the
ivories, Jimmy Dodd on sax and Steve Brodie playing the clarinet. They
are playing a small jazz club owned by Steven Geary. Claudia Drake is
the club singer who is making the rounds of the band. The drummer,
Morton, falls hard for the tart and wants to marry her. Beery, the
leader of the group, warns her off with an "or else" threat. The band
ends their set for the night and hit the bar to tip a few. Morton begs
off saying he has had enough already. 20 minutes later the band hits
the change room to pack up their stuff. What do they find but an
unconscious Morton and a very dead Drake. The boys grab up Morton,
their instruments, their pay, and make a dash out the door. Morton
recalls having an argument with Drake but has no idea how she ended up
dead. They all agree to split up and lay low for a while till the heat
cools. Beery and Morton hide out in San Fran where Beery's girl, Lois
Collier lives. John Litel is the Police detective who draws the case.
Litel is a jazz fan who uses a recording of the band to track them
down. He hits all the local jazz clubs till he rounds up the band.
While this is going on, Collier is doing an investigation of her own.
She discovers that Miss Drake had also been stepping out with club
owner Geary. Geary was less than amused with the attention she was
laying on Morton. Geary had killed Drake and framed Morton for the
crime. Collier confronts Geary, which needless to say is not the
swiftest thing to do. It is only the timely arrival of Detective Litel
and Beery that save Collier from the same fate as Drake.
While not a gem by any means, this Universal Studios low renter passes the time quite well. As a bonus for the jazz fan, there is a set that features tenor sax great, Coleman Hawkins, as well as bass legend, Oscar Pettiford. Josh White even gets in a couple of songs.
John Hoffman directed the film. Hoffman worked mostly as an editor with WHY MUST I DIE and WAR HUNT as examples of the films he worked on. The screenplay was by Henry Blankfort. Blankfort wrote the screenplays for "Underworld Story" and "Open Secret". The D of P was Jerome Ash who was a bottom B and serial cameraman.
John Litel was in THE MADONNA'S SECRET, SMOOTH AS SILK, LIGHTHOUSE, THE GUILTY, KEY LARGO, PITFALL, WOMAN IN HIDING, KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE. Collier was in COBRA WOMAN and OUT OF THE STORM. Claudia Drake was in THE LADY CONFESSES, LADY AT MIDNIGHT and DETOUR. Morton had roles in MONEY MADNESS, SMOOTH AS SILK and CRIME INC. Kellogg was in SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT, THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS, JOHNNY O'CLOCK, PORT OF NEW YORK and THE ENFORCER. We all know Brodie's noir pedigree and some of us will remember Jimmy Dodd from THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB.
1945's "The Crimson Canary" was a Universal mystery with a twist, the main suspects are jazz musicians, allowing for about 20 minutes of music to detract from the investigation. Noah Beery Jr. heads the cast as the trumpet playing bandleader, who discovers the body of their flirtatious singer (Claudia Drake), dead from a fractured skull, in the same back room as her unconscious fiancée, the group's drummer. With a young Mel Torme dubbing the drums, the music holds more intrigue than the whodunit angle (the killer's identity is hardly a surprise), but John Litel steals it as the detective with a fine ear. This film aired twice on Pittsburgh's CHILLER THEATER, although it was never included in Universal's popular SHOCK! package of classic horror films first issued to television in the late 50's, which still featured a number of non horror titles. Also shown on CHILLER THEATER was another whodunit with music, 1944's "Murder in the Blue Room" (also with John Litel), but at least that one featured an actual ghost, albeit a comic one. Other non SHOCK! Universals to air on CHILLER THEATER included 1934's "The Crosby Case," "The Man Who Reclaimed His Head," and "Rendezvous at Midnight," 1938's "The Black Doll," "The Crime of Doctor Hallet," and "The Missing Guest," 1939's "The House of Fear," 1940's "The Invisible Woman," 1941's "The Black Cat," 1942's "Invisible Agent," and 1944's "Jungle Woman."
...because there just isn't that much story here. A vocalist in a small
dive of a club is flirting with all of the five members of a jazz band,
trying to get her hooks into one. Why I don't know. It's not like she
is Yoko Ono and these guys are the Beatles. They are impoverished
musicians on the way up - maybe- living out of a suitcase. The
beginning shows Danny (Noah Beery, Jr.) telling the vocalist, Anita
(Claudia Drake), to leave Johnny alone - he's promised to marry her and
Danny says he'll kill her if she doesn't back off.
Then after the next number Anita's bludgeoned body is found in the back room by the quintet. Johnny blacked out during the time of the murder so he doesn't know if he did it. Danny is the leader of the band, and says that, before anybody else discovers the body, they should just all pack up and leave as though they never saw anything, and go to their next gig. So that is what they do, except the police are waiting. So they split up waiting for the heat to be off. But the heat is never off when it comes to murder.
And so for the next thirty minutes you are mainly following Danny around as he is always looking over his shoulder for the police. Danny turns out to be engaged to a girl with an inquiring mind who goes looking for the real perpetrator. In this interim period that really has no surprises there is a great jazz performance by Coleman Hawkes.
The end finds the jazz quintet right back at Vic's club, the scene of the crime, where detective Quinn (John Litel) is waiting for them. Now how Quinn got this job is crazy. The commissioner thought he would be good at it because he likes jazz? Crazy man, crazy.
The ending is not that big of a surprise because of the claustrophobic scene of the crime and therefore limited number of suspects, but for what The Crimson Canary lacks in plot it makes up in atmosphere and some great jazz. Just realize that this film is more hep cat than Hitchcock and you should enjoy it.
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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