Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tuesday Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: A TRAGEDY AT MIDNIGHT starring John Howard and Margaret Lindsay

Tuesday is Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film day over at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom so don't forget to check in and see what other overlooked or forgotten films other bloggers are talking about today.

Okay, it's a brand new year and let's begin with a movie no one has ever heard of despite its being a rather charming murder mystery - the sort of thing Bob Hope (or for that matter, William Powell) could have done standing on his ear...uh, you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, this little film has that grandiose title working against it, so first things first, ignore the title as best you can. Enjoy the great cast and fun story. The setting is some unnamed city where everyone appears to live on the same floor of an apartment building. The look is definitely not noir but Republic Studio black and white in which most everything is photographed in bright light and not a lot of money is spent on props and sets.

Margaret Lindsay and John Howard

There's the usual murder and mayhem in A TRAGEDY AT MIDNIGHT, but also a great crime solving duo: Greg Sherman (John Howard) and Beth Sherman (Margaret Lindsay) - husband and wife played by two actors with oodles of screen chemistry. You actually do believe they are an old (not old old) married couple who like to have fun (despite sleeping in separate twin beds as was the 'code' of the movie-making time). In this case, while running from the law and trying to catch a murderer before being arrested themselves.

The acting is perfect for this sort of thing.  I've never much cottoned to John Howard (Greg Sherman), but in this film he wins me over pretty much. I love how he gets to call his wife, 'Mummy' for the entire film. Hard to believe that Howard would ever have screen presence with anyone (see him as the stiff-necked suitor in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY) but here he manages it.

Margaret Lindsay (Beth Sherman) is someone I'm not familiar with though I know I've seen her before in B-movies of the past. She's fine though not, as I say, especially memorable. But her chemistry with Howard works well here and she has a lot of energy.

Keye Luke (Ah Foo) has to spend the whole movie speaking pidgin English - horrible to the modern ear - but we know and he knows he's kidding no I chose to overlook it since he plays an important part as Sherman's houseboy who helps them escape the law and ride around in the back of a borrowed laundry truck for the whole movie. In fact, the laundry truck becomes a sort of portable dressing room (with Ah Foo and/or Beth bringing changes of linen) for the husband and wife - funny. Still, it is kind of irritating to hear an educated man and wonderful actor such as Keye Luke have to speak gibberish.

Roscoe Karns plays Lieutenant Cassidy in his usual fast-talking Roscoe Karns way which is always an education in establishing a screen persona and sticking to it.

Miles Mander, a genial graduate of the Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone here shows up playing a doctor working on secret experiments. There's stuff in this screenplay that makes little sense, but hey, it's not THAT kind of film. Don't look for 'sense' in a B-movie - that's part of their allure.

The Plot:

Greg Sherman is a very popular radio detective who weekly goes on the air and solves a major crime that has stumped the cops. Naturally, the cops aren't happy with this and would love for Sherman to go off the air one way or another.

One night, after a broadcast and a solo social event, Sherman arrives home late and goes right to bed. In the morning when he tries to wake what he assumes is his wife, he finds instead a dead woman with a knife in her back. The usual.

For an uncomfortable moment or two, Beth thinks the worst of her hubby who, in his pajamas, tries to explain away the dead woman.

The cops show up thinking Sherman is a murderer and the husband and wife duo must make a fast getaway (with the help of Ah Foo) down the fire escape to spend the rest of the movie on the run from the law. Of course this means that Greg and Beth must solve the crime to keep from being carted away to the Big House and that's where all the screwball fun comes in.

There's some mish-mash about the dead woman having kept two apartments on the same floor under different names which makes little sense but helps keep the plot moving along. There are some nightclub bad guys in white tuxes (the usual), another murder (for which Sherman is also blamed) and back at the radio station there is a sponsor going berserk (literally) over his wayward radio detective.

Last but not least, there's a rip-roaring ending at the station in front of a live audience with shots fired and a flood of cops and a jumpy sponsor who finally gets his money's worth as Greg Sherman goes on the air and spills the beans in the nick of time. Phew!

Added Note: A Tragedy at Midnight is currently available for streaming at Netflix.


  1. Just added it to my Netflix queue! Sounds like a fun way to spend part of the weekend!

  2. I hope you enjoy it, Lauren. :)

  3. Quite right. have never heard of it.

  4. Happy new year Yvette. Never actually seen this one but it sounds great and I love Margaret Lindsay - she was a very busy contract artist at Warners in the 30s and basically got to play every major one of their leading men's girlfriend/wife at one point or another and played Nikki Porter to Ralph bellamy's Ellery Queen at Columbia too!

  5. Yvette, you are so right about the title -- who would think this was more of a comedy? I've never seen it, and I'd like to! My sister has Netflix, so I'll invite myself over to her house and watch it! LOL!

    I loved your description of the look of the movie: "The look is definitely not noir but Republic Studio black and white in which most everything is photographed in bright light and not a lot of money is spent on props and sets." LOLOL! So true of Republic!

    Thanks for the heads up for a new old movie -- good article!!

  6. Never heard of this movie or the two lead actors. I've probably seen them in something though. Ah! Lindsey was in JEZEBEL. Don't remember her though. Howard was in the original LOST HORIZON. He was also Bulldog Drummond! I love browsing through imdb.com. Learn so much. I'll have to keep an eye out forthis one. You always find movies that I end up really enjoying.

  7. Happy New Year, Sergio! I found this little film on Netflix by happy accident. I think you'd enjoy it.

    I have to find that Ralph Bellamy Ellery Queen thing. I've never seen it.

  8. You're welcome, Becky, and thanks. It's not a great film just a fun one - but still worth a look because of Howard and Lindsay's on screen chemistry. Nice.

    The title is an abomination. For sure. Ha.

  9. Thanks for the compliment, John. :)

    Mostly I find good old movies on youtube, but occasionally on Netflix too. I think we have similar tastes in films.

    Well, some films. :)

    I'd never heard of this one until I stumbled across it.

  10. I forgot to mention -- I've always liked Margaret Lindsay. Many people don't really know her, but I think they probably have seen her more than they think. Sergio is right-she was in a lot of films. She was a lovely, quiet type in her acting, never the bride, but always the bridesmaid who added a lot to the movies.

  11. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Yeah, that counts. :)

  12. I really want to watch this now.


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