Name: Criminal Investigator
Release Date: 1942
Writers: George Jeske, Edmond Kelso
Director: Jean Yarbrough
Robert Lowery: Bob Martin
Edith Fellows: Ellen
John Miljan: Edward Judson
Jan Wiley: Miss Drake
Charles Jordan: Charlie Brannigan
Gloria Faye: Belle
Paul Bryar: Stuart
George O’Hanlon: Powers
Vivian Wilcox: Joyce Greeley
Charlie Hall: Soapy
John Maxwell: Brandt
Lawrence Creighton: Black
Mauritz Hugo: Henchman
Run-Time: 61 mins.
Studio: Monogram Pictures
Despite some boasting some laughably wooden acting and a bushel basket’s worth of newspaper business cliches, this surprisingly taut featurette is still consistently entertainning.
Barely a day into his first newspaper job, cub reporter Bob Martin (Lowery) finds himself trying to solve the murder of an ex-showgirl-turned-millionaire’s widow.
The movie’s production values rarely rise above Poverty Row standards. In general, the cinematography is flat and it’s possible in some scenes the see the joints in the theatrical flats that comprise the backgrounds on interior sets.
Still there are some standout performances, including John Miljan as sleazeball lawyer Edward Judson, who’s intent on getting his hands on the showgirl’s inheritance.
Making her last screen appearance before embarking in a long career in television, Edith Fellows turns in a respectable performance as Ellen, the younger sister of the murdered showgirl, who must turn to Andrews for help.
In fact, it’s Lowery, in the lead role, who is the movie’s weakest link. He spends much of his allotted time on screen sounding like he’s reading his lines from cue-cards just out of camera range. And if Lowery’s name sounds familiar to some of you, it may be because he went on to play one of the first screen incarnations of Batman in the 1949 movie serial “Batman and Robin.”
As a guy who makes his living in the news business, I was mostly amused by the fact that, after 70 years, Hollywood’s stock portrayals of reporters remain remarkably consistent.
On the other hand, “Criminal Investigator” also reminds me that some cliches endure mostly because there is a grain of truth behind them.
Eager, idealistic young reporter, who, despite having absolutely no experience, still somehow manages to solve an amazingly complicated crime? Check.
Blustery managing editor, who threatens young reporter if he fails to come back with the story? Check. We’ve all known someone like that.
Down-at-the-heels bar where reporters gather after-hours to share stories and drinks? Check. And I’ve even hung out in a few places like that in my 20 years in the news business.
Gruff older colleagues who try to prank the new guy? Check. And we still do that.
In sum, “Criminal Investigator” is hardly deathless art. But you could find worse ways to pass a spare hour.