Old series mystery films – particularly those of the "B" variety – are fun for me on many levels. For one thing, I like mysteries and my memory's so bad, I can usually watch them several times before I stop forgetting who the culprit is. For another, these old movies are chock-full of familiar character actors and supporting players, and as an old movie buff, it's fun to pick out the lesser-known actors and actresses, especially when they've played memorable roles in other movies.
Well, last night before hitting the sack, I watched Charlie Chan in Reno again, one of the films in the last Chan DVD set from Fox. It was Sidney Toler's second film as Chan. Not only did he do a fine job in the role, the setting of Reno, Nevada – the divorce capital of the world – during the 30's made a fascinating backdrop for crimes of passion. But more than that, this little 1939 B-mystery movie is a virtual treasure trove of cinema crimefighters – nearly all of them playing suspects in the murder case!
First is suave ladykiller Ricardo Cortez, who I know mostly from having played a miscast Sam Spade in the first, pre-Bogie, version of The Maltese Falcon. One of the other suspects is Robert Lowrey, who played the caped crusader Batman (!) in the 1949 Batman and Robin serial. Another suspect is Morgan Conway, who portrayed America's top cop, Dick Tracy, in the first two of RKO's quartet of 40's Tracy B-features!
And finally, the romantic lead is square-jawed Kane Richmond, who played both Fawcett comic book hero Spy Smasher in the classic Republic cliffhanger of the same name and The Shadow in a couple of low-budget features!
So... in one 70-minute film, we've got Charlie Chan, Sam Spade, Dick Tracy, Batman and The Shadow (or Spy Smasher, if you prefer).
I think that's one helluva line up!