I noticed Alias Boston Blackie was available for free viewing on Amazon Prime, which is a treat given Sony holds the rights to the Boston Blackie series and has not done much to make the films available. While this was released in April 1942, it’s the most Christmasy detective film I’ve seen from the 1940s, so much so I debated not reviewing it until Christmas, but since it might disappear from Amazon before then, I decided to review it now.
Alias Boston Blackie find Blackie (Chester Morris) staging a Christmas Eve show for prisoners. Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane) comes along for the ride suspecting Blackie is up to no good. However, a bitter prisoner (future Academy Award nominee Larry Parks) claims he was framed. He decides to tie up a performing clown and take his place so he can get to the outside and enact vengeance on the men who framed him. Blackie needs to stop him before the prisoner gets Blackie and his sister (Adele Mara) in trouble.
Morris’ portrayal of Boston Blackie is the best I’ve seen. This film avoids the worst fault of Blackie as a character as he can sometimes seem a bit “too cool for school.” Here Blackie is more grounded. The script acknowledges Blackie’s been to prison and Farraday sent him there. Blackie expresses an understandable note of annoyance at Farraday’s continued suspicion.
I also like Farraday in this one as he seems more competent and believable than in many of the radio episodes. Blackie still gets the better of Farraday several times throughout the story, but it feels less like Blackie is fighting a battle of wits with an unarmed man than it does in some later films.
Detective Matthews schtick as a bit of a dim bulb policeman works far better than it did in the later film A Close Call for Boston Blackie which I reviewed previously. He’s helped by Farraday’s competence.
There are fun antics and clever turns as Blackie has to dodge the police and find some way out of this mess. There were a couple moments when I was expecting the film to go one direction and it went somewhere else entirely, leaving me pleasantly surprised. It was both exciting and amusing.
George Stone made a decent showing here as Blackie’s sidekick Runt, delivering a few laughs, and never becoming annoying.
I like the Christmas vibe, which the film uses just right. While the movie’s not overly sentimental, it does maintain a holiday feel without overdoing it. It’s the type of detective movie you’d reach for around the holidays when you want their flavor without being drenched.
Also, we get to see the character of Arthur Manleder, who I’d only heard in the 1944 Summer radio series.
What Doesn’t Work
Larry Park’s character is loathsome. Giving the escaped prisoner a sister who was one of the performers served a plot purpose of explaining why Blackie tries to reason with the guy so he can return the escapee without getting the sister in trouble. However, the guy’s response to Blackie’s overtures and his willingness to expose his sister to legal jeopardy to carry out this revenge plot makes me despite this character. That’s a problem as the movie’s focus eventually shifts to Blackie trying to uncover proof of the escaped would-be murderer’s innocence.
I also have to say the prisoner had his own private office as the prison’s “dramatic director” that he could access while guards were everywhere. This is one of the silliest plot ideas I’ve ever heard.
Being only sixty-seven minutes hurts this film as its more than forty minutes in when Blackie shifts from tracking down the prisoner to proving his innocence which makes for a bit of a rushed story towards the end.
I enjoyed this quite a bit. It’s still a B-movie, but it’s a pretty well-done film despite its flaws. Chester Morris turns in a solid performance and most of the rest of the cast is on-point. It’s a fun, fast-paced film with fun comic moments. Watch it now, or wait until December and hope it’s still on Amazon to watch so you can enjoy it in all its Christmasy glory.
Rating: 4 out of 5
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