Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Boston Blackie Films

Long time readers of this blog will know that I have a fascination for the various mystery movie series of the 1930s and 1940s. It started out as a love for the Charlie Chan films and grew almost out of control as I stumbled across The Saint, The Falcon, The Crime Doctor, etc. This love is pretty indiscriminate and even the weakest entry in the weakest series can bring me great joy and entertainment for it's 60 to 70 minute run time. It's rare I get to sit down and plow through one of these series with any real plan. I'd really like to go through them continuously in chronological order over the course of a week or two but it can be difficult just to locate many of these films. In general I just catch them as they are broadcast on Turner Classic Movies and therefore I have the suspicion that there are some I'll just never see. Occasionally it turns out that I'll have the DVR grab an entry in one of these series, watch the first 10 minutes and realize I've already seen it. Of course, sometimes having seen it already doesn't mean I won't rewatch it. As I say, I have a great love of these movies.

I caught up with a Boston Blackie entry the other night (CONFESSIONS OF BOSTON BLACKIE) and while it is far from one of the best of the run of these fun little movies it had enough to rate it midrange as far as movies in general  are concerned and, in fact, mid-range for the Boston Blackie series. For the uninformed, Boston Blackie is an ex-thief who, although reformed, is always suspected whenever a robbery or, indeed, any criminal activity happens anywhere in the city. Blackie uses his knowledge of the criminal mind and methodology to help the police solve these crimes and keep himself out of prison. Although the first Boston Blackie film was produced in 1918 (!) it's always Chester Morris' performance as the character in the much later Columbia film series that defines what most fans think of when they hear the name. Morris starred as Blackie in 14 movies from 1941 to 1949 and was only dethroned as 'most recent' by Kent Taylor for a 58 episode television series in 1951. One year versus eight means Chester Morris remains the longest running Boston Blackie - he even played the character for five years on the radio! 

Morris is an odd actor to choose for such a role as he looks like he would be more comfortable playing a thug rather than some kind of reformed criminal / good guy. In fact it's very easy to imagine him starring next to someone like Jimmy Cagney or Edward G. Robinson and roughing up people who aren't paying their protection money on time. But it's just this bit of slightly off casting that makes the Boston Blackie films work as well as they do. Even the weaker films in the series are fun just to watch Morris lie, cheat and charm his way to the solution of the mystery.

Since there is no DVD set of the Columbia set I don't know if I'll ever see them all. I'll just keep hoping they continue to turn up on TCM and that I can eventually work my way through all 14. Also, I need to read the original Jack Boyle short stories to see what the character was like on the page before he became linked forever with Chester Morris.

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