By Barbara Peterson

Murders in Black & White

George Sanders as the Saint

The recent Saint movie starring Val Kilmer was an abomination. Even if I liked Val Kilmer, which I don't, I wouldn't have liked this movie. The plot was just too grandiose - outwitting the entire Russian secret police indeed. It suffered from the same problem as Alec Baldwin's The Shadow. I loved the movie for its opulent sets and costumes, and its 'in-jokes' for fans of the original pulps, but the plot of Shiwan Kahn and his atomic bomb was too grandiose, his ability to 'cloud men's minds' about an entire building for over ten years, and doing it from China! was just too much to swallow! If only they'd toned it down a bit. But the Saint movie was just ridiculous. This shy female professor deduces who 'The Saint' is, but instead of telling the cops she travels to Russia herself? In no way, shape or form would any intelligent woman - with this character's mousy temperament - have done this!!!

For the 'real' Saint, I recommend the VHS tapes below, starring George Sanders. They were all made in 1939 or 1940. (They made movies quickly back then, quality didn't necessarily suffer as you'll see!):

The Saint in New York/The Saint Strikes Back
The Saint in New York, the first, stars Louis Hayward (he of And Then There Were None). His casting wasn't a success, but it's nice to be able to compare his performance with George Sanders in The Saint Strikes Back just so you can see how suited to the role George Sanders is. In The Saint Strikes Back, someone is murdering prominent gangsters...and placing the blame on Inspector Fernak. My favorite, with a sad ending, unfortunately.

Order New York/Strikes Back : HERE.

The Saint Takes Over/The Saint Takes a Vacation
All of the Saint movies seemed to have the same ensemble cast (and the last two suffered because they weren't there). Jonathan Hale plays Inspector Fernak of the police, the long-suffering friend of Simon Templar. In this one, Fernak has to (try to) arrest Simon for murder, but Simon leads him on a chase for the real killer. It's a remake of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye.In The Saint Takes a Vacation, Simon takes on Nazi spies. Good fun.

Order Takes Over/Takes a Vacation : HERE.

The Saint in London/The Saint's Double Trouble
Wendy Barrie played the different heroines in most of the Saint movies opposite George Sanders, in The Saint in London it is Sally Grey. I prefer Wendy Barrie myself. She and Sanders had a chemistry. (She also starred opposite him in the three Falcon movies that Sanders made, before he let his brother Tom Conway take over the role). There's a master criminal - a counterfeiter, afoot in London, ('Now you're not dealing with dolts, you're dealing with me', he says, minutes before the Saint bops him one). The Saint's Double Trouble has Sanders playing two roles, again no Wendy Barrie, and Bela Lugosi as one of the villains. The crooked Sanders hides some jewels in a mummy case which he sends to a friend of Simon Templar - later on he murders the Saint's friend in order to get the jewels. The man's daughter thinks Simon did it. A good programmer, but not one of my favorites.

Order London/Double Trouble : HERE.

The Saint in Palm Springs/The Saint Meets the Tiger
One of the two weakest of Sander's Saint episodes, along with The Saint's Double Trouble. This doesn't mean that they're not fun, just that the wit and style and panache of the first four isn't here, so you only like it if you're a fan of George Sanders. The Saint is taking valuable stamps to a woman refugee from the war who is working as a tennis pro in Palm Springs - but when he hands over the locket in which they're secreted - they aren't there any more. As for The Saint Meets the Tiger, another opportunity to see a different actor in the role of Simon Templar - once more assuring George Sanders' supremacy in the role! George Sanders for movies, Roger Moore for tv. Nuff said.

Order Palm Springs/Meets the Tiger : HERE.

William Powell and the Thin Man

William Powell and Myrna Loy were the best screen duo of the 1930's, in my estimation. They had a wonderful chemistry, and its a pity they weren't married in real life! (The sentimentalist in me speaking). There are six movies in the Thin Man series. Only the first two are 'A' shows, the rest of them unfortunately have to suffer from the censor - they'd been drinking too much, etc. Also, the characters change, mellow - they are two different characters, not really Nick and Nora Charles. So get the first two because they are excellent movies, get the last four because Powell and Loy work well together and the films are fun.

The Thin Man
First entries in a series are always the best - probably because they have to stand on their own and aren't meant to be a series in the first place. Once their popularity is established, the sequels come. Dashiell Hammett wrote The Thin Man, and compared to his other books, it's light-hearted! The movie makes it more so, but there's still an edge to it. Wonderful ensemble acting by all concerned.

The thin man doesn't refer to Nick Charles, but to the disappearing inventor and chief murder suspect, Thomas Wynant. His daughter wants Nick to find him in time for her wedding, his ex-wife wants Nick to find him because she needs money. Then the murders start, and the dragnet (literally) is out. It'll keep you guessing til the end.

Order The Thin Man: HERE.

After The Thin Man
Nick Charles was a poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks, Nora belongs to a rich family, which doesn't approve of her choice of husband. But when they need a detective to find the wayward husband of Nora's cousin, they turn to Nick. And when the husband is murdered, trouble mounts. A young Jimmy Stewart has a large role, George Zucco, as a quack psychiatrist, has the funniest line. ''By George, I was right! He is crazy!''.Powell has the funniest piece of business - an elderly butler tells him to 'waljk this way' and totters down the hallway, Nick says, ''Well, I'll try,'' and totters after him.

Order After The Thin Man: HERE.

Another Thin Man
Little baby in tow, the Charles' go up to Nora's fathers lumber mills at the behest of C. Aubry Smith - the man in charge. A gangster (Sheldon Leonard as Phil Church) has been threatening his life. Well, he dies anyway, but did Phil Church do it? Thanks to the convention of the time, you know who the killer is as soon as they are introduced - still, good performances, a fun time.

Order Another Thin Man: HERE.

Shadow of the Thin Man
Well, Nick's son is about 4 years old, and puts his dad on a milk diet. Nick takes him for walks in the park and reads to him from the Racing Form. Later on in the day, Nick and Nora head for the race track - to gamble. But a jockey has been killed and the police want Nick in on it. A friend of Nick's, a writer, is trying to bust open a crooked gambling ring...but when there's another death you have to wonder if he's the killer. Some hilarious scenes, a good mystery.

Order Shadow of the Thin Man : HERE.

Song of the Thin Man
''Dust doesn't start rising til deuce of bells.'' Nick and Nora go to a gambling ship, and witness a fight on the bandstand. Later on, the band conductor/piccolo player, who had wanted to break his contract with the ship to go for the big time, is murdered. Was it the gambling ship owner, the loanshark to whom he owed tons of money, or the guy he fought with on the bandstand? Funniest line - Jazz musician Wynn is taking Nick and Nora on a tour of jazz clubs. In one of them, he burns an important piece of information. He says, ''This music really sends me.'' Nick, noticing what he has just done, says, ''It should have sent you a little sooner.''

I liked the jazz band scenes in this, with Ed Wynn, and all the slang they lay on you. Gloria Grahame is a singer. A young Dean Stockwell is Nick Charles, jr. Fun

Order Song of the Thin Man : HERE.

The Thin Man Goes Home
Nick and Nora and their terrier Asta (whom I haven't mentioned above but who has an integral part in all the movies) go home - Nick Charles' old home. But his parents have been transformed into the upper middle class, a cantankerous old doctor and a sweet old mother - and never would the Nick Charles of The Thin Man have parents like these. It's the middle of WWII, they're on the coast, there's a defense plant nearby. Most unlikely suspect is the murderer, for no good reason. Get it to complete the set.

Order The Thin Man Goes Home : HERE.

I'm going to recommend two other movies:

I Love You, Again
My favorite movie starring Powell and Loy except for the first Thin Man. (They made 13 movies together, only 6 as Nick and Nora). It opens onboard ship, with Powell as a dull and boring individual. When he's knocked overboard, he regains his memory - he used to be a conman, the best conman in the business. He returns to his 'home' intent on fleecing the town of all its money. Problem is his 'wife' (Myrna Loy) has grown tired of the dull stick and wants a divorce - which will not put him in good with the townsfolk. So he tries to win her back. Funniest line - they're dining at a fine restaurant, Powell asks Loy to dance with him. Loy agrees with a wince, feeling for her feet. But Powell turns out to be an excellent dancer. ''How did you learn to dance?'' ''I took lessons. By mail.'' The way Powell delivers that line is priceless!

Order I Love You Again : HERE.

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford
Made at a time when Myrna Loy was holding out for more money, this one stars Jean Arthur as William Powell's ex-wife. She's a mystery writer, he's a doctor. She kept trying out her murder methods on him. Eric Blore plays his man-servant in a hilarious role. A jockey falls off a horse and is killed, the lad's trainer comes to Bradford for help - but then he's killed. Arthur insists on getting Powell involved in it. Hilarious.

Order The Ex-Mrs. Bradford : HERE.

Warner Oland as Charlie Chan

To me, Warner Oland is Charlie Chan, so I was surprised and disappointed to see that offers three times as many Sydney Toler Chan's as Oland! Toler's voice has always been too nasal and monotonous for my liking - and the scripts for the Oland Chan's were a heckuva lot better. There's a movement afoot to not show these on tv because of 'racism', but I don't think they're racist at all. At least - not towards Chinese Americans. Sure, Charlie doesn't speak grammatical English, but his sons do. And even if he can't speak grammatical English he can detect rings around Caucasian police officers, and he's a lot more likeable than them, to boot.

Charlie Chan at the Opera
Boris Karloff as an opera singer named Gravelle! A great baritone coming out of his slender frame strains credulity, nevertheless he's great in the role of an amnesiac who sees a photograph of his oper-singer wife one day, and suddenly remembers that it's she who tried to kill him - locking him into a burning theater. He escapes from the asylum where he's made his home for the last few years, and goes in search of her.

Order Charlie Chan At the Opera : HERE.

Charlie Chan in Paris
Someone's been passing counterfeit bonds, and they're coming from the Lamartine Bank in Paris, so Charlie goes there to do some investigating. He's got an agent in place there, a dancer at a local nightclub. On the night of his arrival he goes to the nightclub - just in time to witness her murder. Now it's personal. Good fun, and an extra treat for me in that Erik Rhodes, another of my favorite actors (hey, I've got a lot of 'em - he's most famous for guest-starring in the Astaire/Rogers films The Gay Divorce and Top Hat) has a large role in this.

Order Charlie Chan in Paris : HERE.

Charlie Chan's Secret
Well, I know I've seen all the Charlie Chans, but unfortunately I don't remember the plot of this one from its title and I don't have it on tape. But, it stars Warner Oland so it's gotta be good. Check it out anyway!

Order Charlie Chan's Secret : HERE.

Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto

The Mr. Moto series starring Peter Lorre is one of my favorite series; I've always thought it a pity that Lorre apparently hated the character. They were all filmed between 1936-1939 when serious things were going on in the Germany that Lorre (Jewish) had emigrated from. He probably desired more serious roles to open up people's eyes.

I'm going to review these movies, even though you can't get them from I got mine many years ago by staying up til 2.30 am every Friday night for 8 weeks. (I didn't trust the timer on my VCR, and besides, late night movies always had too many commercials). I know that Mr. Moto's Last Warning has been issued on video - let's launch a campaign to get the rest of them available!

Think Fast, Mr. Moto
The first in the series, and, of course, my favorite. Mr. Moto is pretty mysterious in this one, if you weren't familiar with the series you wouldn't be sure if he was hero or villain. My favorite line, on board ship: ''I know who you are, Mr. Moto,'' says a crooked steward, and Mr. Moto replies, ''That is most unfortunate for you.'' And then he tosses the steward overboard!

Someone is smuggling diamonds out of Hong Kong and into the United States via the Hitchings Line of cruise ships. Even though they're not responsible, the Hitchings Line has to pay the fines! So Hitchings sends his young wastrel of a son, Bob, to Hong Kong to check out what's going on at that end. On board the ship, Bob meets Mr. Moto, and then a beautiful, mysterious blond named Gloria. The crooked steward lurks. (For a while, anyway). Then Gloria is taken off the ship by private launch and Mr. Hitchings determines to find her.

Thank You, Mr. Moto
The burial place of the infamous Genghis Khan has never been discovered. There's a legend that seven scrolls, when joined together, reveal the location of the tomb. Lots of people would like to get their hands on the treasure within the tomb. Six of the scrolls belong to a Chinese friend of Mr. Moto's, Prince Chung, an ancestor of Genghis Khan, who does not want to see the tomb defiled; one of those has already been stolen, and Mr. Moto has the seventh (thanks to a little jaunt in the Gobe desert). But they're in Hong Kong, and smugglers and thieves are ready to make off with what they can. I liked this show, and thought the friendship between Mr. Moto and the Prince was quite poignant, although I don't think the Chinese actually committed hara kiri if they felt they had disgraced themselves. (SPOILER--------------Although its Moto's job to find Genghis Khan's treasure, he ends up burning all of the scrolls to protect the heritage of the House of Chung. ''Now my friend can face his ancestors, without shame.'' ) Fade out.

Mysterious Mr. Moto
A band of assassins is going around killing people for hire. They also augment their ranks with proven killers, and it just so happens that there is a good one imprisoned for life on Devil's Island. Mr. Moto goes in undercover, helps him break out, and becomes his houseboy in New York, just in time for the assassins to recruit him. Moto has to find out who the Assassins are planning on killing next, and prevent it. One of my favorites, especially because Erik Rhodes (yep, that guy from Charlie Chan in Paris) is in this one as well.

Mr. Moto's Gamble
One of my favorites in the series. It was originally meant to be a Warner Oland Charlie Chan, but Oland became sick unexpectledly and returned to Sweden, and the script was rewritten to feature Moto teaching a criminology class, with Chan's number one son Lee one of his students. Moto and his friend, a police officer (played by Harold Huber) take Lee to a boxing match. One of the two boxers is murdered - did the other boxer do it? Moto helps his friend solve the case. Of course Lee and his chum from criminology class, Knockout Welligton, want to help as well. At one point they're arrested, and the sheriff tells them he's called Mr. Moto, who says he doesn't know them. Alone in the cell, Knockout wonders why. Lee nods thoughtfully. ''Dad used to leave me in jail alot, too.''

Mr. Moto Takes A Chance
Mr. Moto is excavating in the jungles of Tong Moy, in East Asia, when a aviatress attempting to fly around the world crashes. Also in the mix are a newsreel reporter and his cameraman. The natives of Tong Moy are restless, someone is smuggling guns in to them. A fun film, with amusing (if unintentional) rear screen projection of crocodiles and various denizens of the jungle.

Mr. Moto on Danger Island
Someone's smuggling diamonds in to Puerto Rico, and the local police can't do anything about it. A special agent has been killed. So Mr. Moto sails to the island at the request of the Governor. Unfortunately, he gets appendicitis on board the ship taking him to Puerto Rico, and then kidnapped when he arrives in port. Once he escapes, turns out he's not Mr. Moto at all, but an international criminal named Shimako.....Warren Hymer as 'Twister' McGurk provides excellent comic relief.

Mr. Moto's Last Warning
The only Moto on video, perhaps because one of the villains is played by George Sanders. The French fleet is due to sail through Port Said, but there's rumours that the fleet is going to be sabotaged. It's Mr. Moto's duty to make sure that doesn't happen. The head of the saboteurs works as a ventriloquist in a night club. Although I like most of this show, Mr. Moto is responsible for the death of fellow secret agent John Carradine, due to a bit of incredible stupidity. But if you overlook the scriptwriters' cop out, its pretty good.

Mr. Moto Takes A Vacation
The last in the series, and Lorre guest stars with one of his German emigre friends in America - Joseph Schildkraut. The crown of the Queen of Sheba has been found and transferred to a museum in New York City. Several groups of thieves are after it (and it sometimes gets a bit confusing. But its fun and fast-paced. Also stars Lionel Atwill as a splendid red herring.

Boris Karloff as Mr. Wong

I'm not going to bother to review these movies. They're all formulaic programmers made to cash in on the success of Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto. They are the definition of 'B' mystery movies. But they're fun, and it's a kick to see Boris Karloff with died, black hair oiled down, and round glasses, playing a soft spoken good guy instead of a soft spoken bad guy. Get a couple, then settle down to a night of hot toast, Pepsi, and Karloff.

Click on the title to order each one:

Mr. Wong, Detective.
Mr. Wong: Doomed to Die.
Mr. Wong in Chinatown.
Mr. Wong's Fatal Hour.

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