'The Taxi Mystery' starts very promisingly, but rapidly goes pear-shaped. In its general tone, this film is very similar to 'The Second Floor Mystery' (1930): both films feature a young hero who finds himself in adventures that get very weird very quickly. But 'The Second Floor Mystery' remains enjoyable because we rapidly twig that the hero's implausible adventures are fictional yarns which he spins to impress the heroine. In 'The Taxi Mystery', all the implausible events are ostensibly genuine ... and the viewer's credulity snaps from the strain.
Right, let's get started. Handsome young Harry Canby (Robert Agnew) is a jaded yachtsman, who has just sailed round the world in search of adventure but failed to find any. (He can't have been looking very hard.) Mooring his yacht at a Manhattan quay -- and still wearing his yachtsman's cap -- he tries to hail a taxi parked nearby, but discovers it has no driver. Just then a mysterious young woman rushes up. They 'meet cute' as she mistakes Harry for the driver, and she demands to be taken away in a hurry by Harry. He starts to protest, until he realises that she's being pursued by men with guns. Without even bothering to start the taxi meter, he hoists her into the cab for an exciting chase sequence. (The real cabbie conveniently left the key in the ignition.) This is where Credibility gets out and walks.
The thugs overtake the cab, forcing Harry to pull over near a high brick wall with no doors nor windows. As Harry manfully fights off the thugs, one of them notices that the woman has scarpered. How did she vanish from an open area with no place to hide? Hell if I know ... but she conveniently dropped a McGuffin: a photo of herself.
SPOILERS COMING. The real cab driver conveniently tracks down Harry in his posh Manhattan residence. Apparently the cabbie knows the mystery woman's identity. Just as he's about to reveal this information to Harry, a hand appears from behind the drapes, clutching a pistol ... and the cabbie is shot dead. The gunman has a chance to kill Harry too, but instead he exits stage right.
See what I mean? We never find out how this gunman got into Harry's rooms. We never find out why he bothered to conceal himself and wait until the most dramatic instant, instead of shooting the cabbie straight off. (And he could have killed Harry too, but then there'd be no story.) The gunman isn't there to steal anything; he serves absolutely no purpose except to fulfil a dramatic set-piece that ultimately leads nowhere. And the whole movie is like this!
As played by Robert Agnew, Harry Canby looks to be in his mid-20s, but we learn that he's the ward of Willoughby Thompson, so Harry must be a minor. (Sailing round the world by himself, mind you.) Now get this: the mystery woman is Nancy Cornell, an actress starring in a Broadway show. Her understudy Vera Norris is the wife of the show's producer. That's right: the producer's wife is the star's *understudy*. By an amazing coincidence, Nancy Cornell and Vera Norris are exact lookalikes, give or take a beauty mark. (Both played by actress Edith Roberts.) No explanation for this contrivance is ever offered: they're not twins, nor even cousins. I could see that a movie actress would hire a stand-in who is her exact double, but there's no particular reason why a stage actress would need a lookalike for her understudy: the understudy merely has to fit the same costume.
Wait, it gets worse. Years ago, Willoughby Thompson's infant daughter disappeared, and he's been mildly curious as to her whereabouts ever since. Nobody has any idea what the wee child would look like now, but apparently Nancy and Vera could both pass for her. (I was expecting either Nancy or Vera -- or maybe *both* of them -- to turn out to be the missing girl. Some hope!) Vera Norris's husband the Broadway producer is also a crook (I can believe *that* part!) and he has a fiendish plan to pass off his wife as the missing girl. But that sound you hear in the distance is Credibility's death rattle, because (wait for it), in order for Norris to achieve his scheme, he has to bump off Nancy.
Eh? Wha-? Huh? Hello? Nowhere in the plot of this movie does Nancy Cornell stand in the way of the Norrises' scheme, so there's no reason for the Norrises to kill her. Except that the scriptwriter needs to keep putting Nancy and Harry in harm's way.
If 'The Taxi Mystery' tipped the wink to its audience -- like 'The Second Floor Mystery' does -- and indicated that it didn't take itself seriously, this weird story might work. There are bits of comedy relief along the edges, such as a backstage sequence with Robert Agnew disguising himself in a ludicrous wig, but there isn't enough intentional humour here for this story to qualify as a comedy. Even the parts of it that *could* have worked are handled badly: Nancy Cornell's abrupt vanishment would have been more plausible if the sequence had been shot in front of a wall with doors and windows, to indicate how she managed to disappear so suddenly. Since this movie isn't funny and it isn't remotely plausible, I'm generously rating it only 2 points out of 10.
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