Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: NANCY DREW, REPORTER (1939) starring Bonita Granville, John Litel and Frankie Thomas

NANCY DREW, REPORTER, a 1939 film directed by William Clemens starring Bonita Granville, John Litel and Frankie Thomas is based on the series of popular books by Carolyn Keene which for many girls (including myself) were reading rites of passage once upon a time.

The movie's not a bad way to waste a little over an hour if you're in the mood for a jaunty little mystery minus the mystery, but like the whole idea of Nancy Drew, girl detective, getting into improbable scraps while trying to nab a killer.

Truth to tell, my favorite parts are the scenes between Nancy and her father Carson Drew (played by John Litel). The comfortable house they live in is the sort of place many of us dreamed of when we were kids - it comes complete with spacious, homey interiors, a wonderfully classic staircase and a sweet old housekeeper. Looked at with 2013 eyes, it seems almost like life on another planet...

With a spot of murder thrown in for good measure.

As usual with these sorts of things, the cops don't have a clue (they're portrayed rather unflatteringly), the wrong person is in jail and it's up to Nancy Drew (along with her eternally hapless boyfriend Ted - Ned in the books) to set things to rights. In this story the two youngsters are hampered in their quest for justice by Ted-Ned's obnoxious younger brother and sister who tag along at inappropriate times and enjoy putting explosive devices under the hood of Nancy's car.

"Oh Ted, why do you have to have a little brother?"
"Ask my mother."

As part of a school project, Nancy and a few other students will spend three days 'working' for the town newspaper. Whoever does the best reporting job will win fifty bucks and a medal.

Nancy immediately gets involved in the murder case of Mrs. Lambert, a rich old woman who was killed with a rare chemical poison only available to photographers. The young woman currently accused of the crime lived in the house with the old woman and was keen on photography - uh oh. Of course there's a huge inheritance involved. The spoils have been left to the accused languishing in jail insisting (rather lamely) that she's innocent.

Soon Nancy and Ted are chasing around town in Nancy's nifty convertible roadster (my dream car), breaking and entering, absconding with evidence the police have overlooked (of course). Poor skinny Ted is then coerced into a ridiculous boxing match with a bad guy sporting a cauliflower ear, and when the kids stop to eat at a Chinese restaurant (complete with live band and a dance floor) they're forced to sing for their supper. (They're minus the 65 cents needed to pay the tab.) All in a day's work.

In the end, Nancy and Ted and a cop dressed like an old woman (Olin Howland pretending to be the kids' grandmother) set up a recording device to trap the real killer at a hotel in town all without benefit of police back-up - the way they did things in the old days.

It's all preposterous fun plus Bonita Granville is adorable and Frankie Thomas is a cutie.

NANCY DREW, REPORTER is currently available to watch on youtube.

Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom to see what other Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films other movie mavens are talking about today.


  1. How have I never seen this?!

    I was/am such a huge Nancy Drew fan. Thanks for turning me onto this one!

  2. I never read a Nancy Drew book, but I read about a dozen of the Hardy Boys. Now that I think back on it, those books were what started me on a life of reading.

  3. Picky, I gave you the link - watch it instantly! :)

    The books are much MUCH better, but the films can be fun if you're in the right mood. :)

  4. It's either Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, Mark. I hope I can get my granddaughter hooked on Nancy. :)

  5. Plenty of readers became mystery readers because of Nancy Drew (and/or The Hardy Boys), Yvette, and I'd bet that the silliness of the movie did nothing to discourage them from reading more!

  6. What a grand movie to write about.

    John Litel looks like my late dad - something about the eyes. The relationship depicted between Nancy and Carson reminds me of my hubby and daughter.

  7. I have this movie....but haven't watched it yet. Have to find time to squeeze it in amongst all the challenge reading I'm doing.

  8. Thanks Yvette - I actually have this on a DVD (double bill with KENNEL MURDER CASE) but have never watched it - sound like fun though!

  9. When I was little, I wanted to learn to read so I could read Nancy Drew books myself. My big sister would read some parts aloud to me, but that wasn't good enough.

    I have all the Bonita Granville Nancy Drew movies. I love movies from that time period. The houses seem so gracious and cozy, the cars have such style. I'm sure it's my imagination and that it seems rosier from the distance of years, but life seemed simpler and more satisfying back then.

  10. I'm with you, Les. But sometimes 'silly' is okay. My fascination with mysteries can definitely be linked back to Nancy.

  11. Carson Drew/John Litel has that father aura going for him. I love that part of the film best.

    Would all daughters had this type of dad.

  12. It's not very long, Bev. Just a little over an hour. It's a cute movie.

  13. Sergio, I'd rather watch this than the KENNEL MURDER CASE which I watched long ago and didn't think much of.

  14. Joan, I agree. Life seemed simpler and cozier then. Though it probably wasn't except in movies. :)

    I read all the Nancy Drew books available as well as the Dana Girls books back in the day. Thus: my love of mysteries. :)

  15. How is your health? Did you see the doctor and was he/she any help?

    I saw "House Calls," as I will watch anything now with Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson.

    It was a lot of fun. Some excellent rants by Matthau, with Jackson playing the perfect straight-woman to deflect back his sarcasm.

  16. I grew up with Drew. Please don't change your Header. I love it. The shadow says it all.
    Hope you are doing better.
    Did not know you were sick.

  17. Sounds fun. I always wanted to eat at a Chinese restaurant like that. It sounds like the one in the After The Thin Man.

  18. Yvette, I have only read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and never seen any of the movies. A visual trip down memory lane would be nice at this point. I'll check this out on Youtube.

  19. Ooooh, Kathy, I don't think I ever saw HOUSE CALLS. I'm adding it to my queue.

    I'm not feeling all that great. Doctor has me on antibiotics. Hanging in there. Tired all the time. Hence my lackluster presence (or lack of it) on the blog.

  20. If I do change the header, Yvonne, it will only be for the summer. :) I'll bring it back later. But right now I'm not changing anything except the side bar which is giving me fits.

    Not feeling great, but hoping next week will be better. :)

  21. It is fun, Ryan. Just the sort of thing to cheer you up if you're feeling in the grumps. :)

  22. There are lots of old movies available on youtube, Prashant. Including a bunch of Charlie Chans and even some maintstream movies.

  23. Yvette, I must confess that at first, I preferred the Hardy Boys because they had more action in them, but I got into them when older cousins gave me the 1970s versions, and I became more interested. (For the record, I liked Trixie Belden, too, but that's a story for another time! :-)) But now that I've read your review and discovered that the 1939 version had murder and mayhem! Whoopee! :-) I had only seen Bonita Granville in a more grown-up role in the 1942 version of THE GLASS KEY, but now you've got me interested in keeping an eye out for more theatrical Nancy Drew reviews, including NANCY DREW, REPORTER, of course! :-) Totally entertaining blog post, Yvette, as always!

  24. Thanks, Dorian. I loved the Nancy Drew books (and The Dana Girls) and remember them very fondly because they gave me my life-long interest in reading mysteries.

    I'm not surprised you liked the Hardy Boys, you boy-crazy girly-girl you. HA!

    When it comes to all these books though, it's the very early ones I remember best.


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