Monday, June 21, 2010

Footsteps in the Dark

Apart from establishing that we should vary genres, I haven't established any rules regarding our movie choices.  When you have four crates of VHS tapes to choose from, it's not very hard to make a decision.  My husband, who has seen a scarce few of these films, pulls out a tape.  "Footsteps in the Dark?"  "Oh, that's a good one.  That has... ah..." I take the tape out of its sleeve.  "Yeah, that has Errol Flynn in it.  I was going to say that but it sounded ridiculous.  Oh, Kisses for Breakfast and Whistling in Dixie, too." (Most tapes have three or four movies on them.)  "That's a really good one."

Footsteps is the first one on the tape, so Footsteps it is.  And the remarkable thing (that had me confused) is that this isn't a swashbuckling adventure, no frigates or sword fights here.  That kind of thing is what we expect from Errol Flynn, and it is what he is most famous for.  Rather, Footsteps in the Dark is one of those mystery/comedies that were so popular in the 30s and early 40s.  The most memorable among those were the Thin Man series, of course.  No film of the kind ever stood up to the sheer radiance that William Powell and Myrna Loy produced in those movies.  But we'll get to them later.  And while Errol Flynn's Francis Warren is no Nick Charles, Footsteps has, like a fingerprint, a charm particular to itself.

The Basics:
Released in March of 1941, Footsteps featured a cast of familiars directed by Lloyd Bacon, if you can believe the name.  Brenda Marshall, only featured in 19 films (some of which were Flynn vehicles), is Warren's wife, Rita.  Alan Hale and William Frawley gallivant as misguided policemen, Ralph Bellamy is a soft-spoken dentist, Lee Patrick is an untalented burlesque dancer, and Roscoe Karns, Allen Jenkins, Lucille Watson, and Grant Mitchell (unfamiliar names with familiar faces) round up the cast of characters quite nicely.  The film runs a short 96 minutes long.

The Plot:
[As it turns out, I remembered almost nothing about the movie correctly.  That makes one feel a little foolish when one has began by saying, "Oh, that's a good one."]

Society gent Francis Warren (Flynn) leads a double life.  Holding down a reputable, boring life as the financial manager of the best portfolios in town by day, Warren entertains his whims by night as F.X. Pettijohn, the amateur sleuth who pesters the police and writes shockingly skewering novels about the high society ladies' clubs to which his wife belongs.  This isn't giving away too much, mind you; the picture opens with Warren entering his own home through via the upstairs bedroom window at 3 o'clock in the morning (this does not wake his wife).

When a jewel smuggler who has knowledge of this double life attempts to blackmail Warren into laundering money and then turns up dead, Warren is drawn into a murder mystery so dramatic it outclasses his penmanship.  The police, as they were often portrayed in film at this time, are inept and stupid, though comically so thanks to Frawley (you may recognize him from I Love Lucy).  Warren and his chauffeur relieve the police of their responsibility and save the day on their own, and Warren almost ends up in divorce court because of it.

Pros and Cons (not Con men):
Pros
  • Flynn, a smooth operator as always, is pleasant to watch as he juggles two complicated lives.
  • Frawley is enjoyable as the tough-talking, pudding-brained cop.
  • There funny moments throughout, many coming from unexpectedly amusing dialogue.
  • The film was shot in black and white, which always adds richness to any type of murder mystery caper.
Cons
  • The police may have been a little too stupid this time around. (This gets frustrating at the end.)
  • Warren poses as a Texan to gain the affection of the burlesque dancer, Blondie White, pursuant to solving the case.  Now, this in itself is not necessarily a con, but is a gag that was done to much better effect in several other films, notably Pillow Talk and The Awful Truth.  Depending on your mood, Flynn's version of The Texan could try your patience.  If you are a Texan you might be offended.
  • I got confused sometimes.  Granted, that is bound to happen every now and then.  
  • Blondie White frightened me a bit.  I don't know if it's Lee Patrick's fault or the character's.  This could be a pro if you are prepared to laugh about it, and I suppose you would understand the sense in which I use the word "frightened" if you checked it out. 

As I mentioned, many of these cons could turn out to be pros for you depending on how you approach the viewing experience.  If your sense of humor has a hankering for the ridiculous, this could be your summer runaway sensation!

Conclusion:
That said, your viewing experience could be totally different from mine.  I think this film is fun and worth the watch.  Like I said above, it does have a charm of its own, which may be due to seeing Flynn do something a little different.  If you've got the time, why not give it the old college try?

Note: I don't have a clip to share with you this time because YouTube doesn't have anything in the way of "Footsteps in the Dark" that comes without electric guitars. Electric guitars are cool, but they're just not relevant right now.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a lover of old films and though Errol Flynn was not a particular favorite this summary perks my interest to view the movie!

Priscilla Racke said...

Great - my goal in writing this is to stimulate interest! Thanks for reading! Invite your friends and family to read, too :)

jillybean said...

Shockingly, have never seen this one! Unfortunately, it is not available on Netflix, so I guess I will have to watch for it on TCM when I am at home in the blessed homeland:)

Priscilla Racke said...

Ahhh! Or you can come over and watch it with us!

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