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,Meet Boston Blackie

Meet Boston Blackie

"Do you happen to have a hammer in your pocket?" asks a handcuffed Chester Morris to his girl Friday Rochelle Hudson. This is a typical line from Columbia Pictures' 1941 detective comedy-thriller, Meet Boston Blackie. Morris is the title character, a reformed career criminal who arrives back in the US (via steamer) only to find himself under suspicion from his friendly nemesis, Inspector Faraday, played by Richard Lane. (Although the character's name is spelled "Faraday" in this picture, it is spelled "Farraday" in subsequent Boston Blackie films.)

When a corpse is found in Blackie's stateroom, Faraday focuses his investigation on our hero even though Blackie is innocent. In order to clear his blackened name, he follows his only lead, Marilyn Howard (Constance Worth), to a Coney Island freak show exhibit. (One of the attractions is Schlitze the pinhead, who appeared in Tod Browning's notorious 1932 film, Freaks.) Marilyn meets her end, fittingly on a Tunnel of Horrors ride, and the same killers go after our hero. Blackie forces a ride with Cecelia Bradley (the aforementioned Rochelle Hudson), an innocent bystander, and the two, along with Blackie's sidekick, The Runt (played for the only time by Charles Wagenheim; the character would subsequently be played by George E. Stone), unravel a mystery that goes beyond two homicides and into the world of espionage.

Boston Blackie was created by pulp writer Donald Boyle. He appeared in Boyle's 1920 novel Boston Blackie, which was a compilation of his short stories "Boston Blackie's Mary" and "Fred the Count," published in Red Book Magazine in Nov. 1917 and Jan. 1918, respectively. Blackie then got film treatments in the late teens and early twenties by the time Columbia launched its Boston Blackie series in 1941, under the working title The Return of Boston Blackie. Meet Boston Blackie became the first film in Columbia's profitable 14 film series, with Chester Morris providing an amiable, charming hero in all episodes. Morris "brought to the role a delightful offhand manner and sense of humour that kept the films fresh even when the scripts weren't," according to critic Leonard Maltin.

The inventive and talented Robert Florey directed the picture and kept the hour-long film tight and quick, with an added dash of moodiness with interesting camera angles and excellent photography by Franz Planer, particularly some convincing day-for-night sequences during a car chase. However, the New York Times dismissed Meet Boston Blackie as "third-rate" fluff. Despite Chester Morris' appealing performance, the reviewer only noted that his "spotted career is too notorious for any dependence upon him." But the Boston Blackie character has proven to have an enduring popularity. In 2002, Moonstone Books unveiled a Boston Blackie graphic novel as part of their ambitious "Moonstone Noir" crime comic series.

Producer: Ralph Cohn, Irving Briskin
Director: Robert Florey
Screenplay: Jay Dratler
Cinematography: Franz Planer
Film Editing: James Sweeney
Music: Sidney Cutner
Cast: Chester Morris (Horatio 'Boston Blackie' Black), Rochelle Hudson (Cecelia Bradley), Richard Lane (Insp. Faraday), Charles Wagenheim (The Runt), Constance Worth (Marilyn Howard), Jack O'Malley (Monk).

by Scott McGee



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