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Monday, December 17, 2018

MGM Gets Out A Sleeper B

Lab Crew Cracks Murders in Kid Glove Killer (1942)

Chicago Puts Killer Over Larceny For First-Run Crime Pairing
A sleeper sprung from B ranks and opportunity for Leo to show off talent incubated in-house. Kid Glove Killer was all the more pride-and-joy for coming unexpected. There was little extraordinary beyond the fact it was so expertly done. Support purpose of a B (and top-of-the-bill in smaller situations) was served, element of surprise a bonus to ticket purchase. Producing (Jack Chertok), writing (Allen Rivkin, John C. Higgins), and directing (Fred Zinnemann) team had brought experience from past budget work or short subjects and would go on to noir topics after the war. Kid Glove Killer was Zinnemann’s first feature as director. He began in Germany, did assistant jobs through the 30’s, manned various one and two reelers for MGM that included entries in the Crime Does Not Pay series.

Good Sport Fred Zinneman Submits To On-Set Gag With Crime Lab Equipment

I looked at two of his from the Crime group to detect an emerging style. Zinnemann wrote in his autobiography (oversized, richly illustrated, and recommended) of thrift plus rush in doing these. “Rigid schedules” were maintained, four days allowed for each reel shot. The Crime Does Not Pays, being two reels and somewhat deluxe among shorts, had name casts, at least to extent of known character players, and curried favor with both law enforcement and civic minds in towns where they played. Zinnemann signed While America Sleeps and Forbidden Passage, 1939 and 1941 respectively. Like others of the Crime group, they focus on victims of lawlessness and teach that no good can come of outlawry. There is downer aftertaste from these not unlike latter-day scaring straight by law dogs.

What Kid Glove Killer anticipates is Dragnet style of confined detection, B films having much relation with TV to come. It’s been said that Jack Webb got his cue from He Walked By Night, but surely he saw and was influenced by Kid Glove Killer too. There was a series here just waiting to happen. Metro in fact suggested in early press that there would be further exploits for “Gordon McKay,” forensic expert and test tube wiz who could solve misdeeds without getting off his lab stool. Van Heflin essayed the part just before Johnny Eager broke out and won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Maybe he saw a McKay series as hobble to progress and balked. McKay had makings of a modern Sherlock Holmes with up-to-minute technology at his service. Here was best evidence so far that crime would not prevail over such sophisticated means of combating it. MGM’s trailer for Kid Glove Killer cites 310 “detective novels” read by three million during 1941, plus 56 magazines devoted to detecting art. I wonder what portion from such vast number seek out crime fiction in our present day, or do they get fill of felonies from television? Something “original and startling” was a constant goal at peak of crime interest that I assume was the 30/40’s, what with the rise in pocket novels contributing to mayhem in print.

Zinnemann wrote that Kid Glove Killer was shot in three weeks. He knew he had arrived when he asked for a camera crane and they gave it to him. There was a preview in Inglewood that Louis Mayer attended, an indicator that all MGM pictures, even small ones, had value. Zinnemann memoir put across fear an audience could inspire when they got a picture cold and unannounced, but how else to know if you had a click or a cluck? People talk of movies being ground out like salami during the Studio Era. That’s how Loew’s in the East viewed what MGM in the West was doing, wrote Zinnemann, but creative personnel was still judged on the quality of films they made, and previews could make/break a beginner at directing. Kid Glove Killer got uniformly good trade reviews, as close to raves as B product could generate, but these do not appear to have led to special handling in release. I looked for “sleeper” ads in trades, found none. Initial dates for April 1942 found Kid Glove Killer at Arthur Mayer’s Rialto for Gotham premiere, a site suited to thrillers, mystery, often horror. The film had a first weekend of “capacity audiences,” said Film Daily, earning a five-day holdover. Kid Glove Killer is available on DVD from Warner Archive.


Blogger DBenson said...

"Crime Doesn't Pay" deserves a post of its own. I got the Warner Archive set; after a few discs it got downright oppressive.

Victims suffered to the point where crime not paying was cold comfort. Often the message appeared to be that some trifling sin -- putting a dime in a slot machine, or buying from a shady business, or letting a teenager out at night -- made YOU complicit in the horrors that followed. Other times the idea seemed to be that you could be saintly and civic-minded and still be swindled, ruined, or killed -- and there's not a darn thing you can do about it. Much of the time there's a weird feeling you're not supposed to be entertained, or even allowed to wallow in righteous outrage. It's bitter medicine by design.

The very fact that they're often well made makes it hard to laugh them off, even now with full awareness of the manipulation. I can imagine their value in letting MGM test dramatic talent, as most other short product was news, music, and comedy.

How did they play with audiences? One can only imagine two reels of grimness just before an Andy Hardy romp. Were the shorts heavily booked, or was this MGM's version of the public service shows local TV used to run on low-viewership Sunday mornings?

If their primary purpose was to ingratiate police and local civic guardians, how well did they serve that purpose?

1:59 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

My thoughts exactly, Donald. I find these to be incredible downers, and generally avoid them. For that reason, I doubt there will be a Greenbriar post devoted to them.

5:43 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...


7:40 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers Marsha Hunt:

I understand that, incredibly, Marsha Hunt is still alive, at the age of 101, and still living in the same house she bought in 1946.

She played leads in smaller pictures, often "B"s, usually as a nice girl, and provided support in the bigger pictures, playing whatever was needed. I suppose that her patrician prettiness didn't set her up for real stardom, though she was good in whatever she was asked to do. She was also active in the Hollywood movement against the House Un-American Activities Committee and was one of the actors and actresses that flew out to Washington, D.C. with Bogart and Bacall.

Last year, she was interviewed on NPR, principally about her political activisim, and seemed quite lucid and charming.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Theater managers loved the "Crime Does Not Pay" series and recommended them by title to fellow exhibitors. The typical theater manager took special pride in doing some form of service to the community, and the "Crime Does Not Pay" reels were so well made that the manager could endorse them wholeheartedly.

Those unfamiliar with the series might check out an M-G-M B feature called MAIN STREET AFTER DARK. It was sold as a noir feature but it was really a "Crime Does Not Pay" short expanded to feature length, with Edward Arnold added to the cast as a detective lieutenant. The public menace in this one was an unwholesome family of "patty friskers" -- translation: pickpockets who cozy up to servicemen on a spree, and then roll them). The film featured a couple of new personalities, Audrey Totter (who went places) and Tom Trout (who remained in the lesser ranks).

11:51 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

The Crime Does Not Pay shorts should be watched sparingly, the way they were released, in tandem with a comedy to ease the experience.

1:47 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Scott MacGillivray: It sounds like exhibitors embraced the shorts primarily out of civic-mindedness (and a desire to be seen as civic-minded). That still leaves the question of audiences. Did they enjoy "Crime Doesn't Pay" as part of a fun night out, or did they accept it as the nutritionally responsible spinach before dessert?

7:35 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Both. The public was intrigued by the shorts, and the exhibitors were proud to show them. The poster child for "Crime Does Not Pay" is DRUNK DRIVING, with Dick Purcell as the reckless driver who pays a horrible price. Quoting a Cleveland news item: "Library displays... are proving an excellent method of increasing reader interest in books with material allied to the picture's theme, in the opinion of Frederick L. Myers [of the Cleveland Public Library. DRUNK DRIVING] aroused so much interest on the part of the reading public that, following the viewing of the short, there was so great a demand for such books as And Sudden Death, Youth at the Wheel, and Man and the Automobile, that the shelves were in constant use." An Indiana exhibitor who played the picture reported, "Again we nominate this as the outstanding short of the season. This series is the tops of the industry and this short the tops of the series. Our nomination for the Academy Award."

8:51 AM  
Blogger Vertigo's Psycho said...

Marsha Hunt is still with us at 101. I saw her a few months ago at a screening of The Virginia Judge during a classic film festival in Hollywood, and recently in Blossoms in the Dust, which I finally watched. She's charming and adept in it, and you wish she'd been given more opportunities before the blacklist cut her career off, for awhile. It's nice she and Lee Grant survived all the haters from back then.

1:53 AM  

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