Friday, October 14, 2011
Patricia Alphin & The Mysterious Mr. M (Universal, 1946)
On June 28, 1949, she married Occidental College senior John W. Moorman, but not without some headline-grabbing melodrama. On her way to the nuptials, Patricia's sister Bonnie injured her back in a car accident and was forced to perform her bridesmaids duties from an ambulance stretcher.
By 1949, meanwhile, Patricia Alphin's career had pretty much come to a halt with an appearance in a Tex Williams western short, Six Gun Justice. She certainly wasn't helped by comedian Bud Abbott, who was responsible for the following missile:
"Comedians like Danny Kaye and Red Skelton get color and good stories and girls like Esther Williams in their pictures," he said. "We're third on the box office list, a bigger draw than any of them. But we've never done a color picture: we've never gone on location, and instead of Jane Russell we get Patricia Alphin.”
One of Patricia Alphin's earliest screen roles was as a Washington secretary, Miss Buckley, who turns up in the opening scene of chapter 9 of Universal's final chapter-play The Mysterious Mr. M (1946).
THE MYSTERIOUS MR M
Keeping his wealthy grandmother a slave to his will by a hypnotic drug called Hypnotrene supposedly dead gangster Anthony Waldron (Edmund MacDonald) invents the identity of the Mysterious Mr. M in order to get his hands on a new engine that will permit submarines the size of luxury liners to remain underwater indefinitely. But someone else is also after the secret engine, someone assuming the identity of the Mysterious Mr. M and performing a bit of blackmail via a series of mysterious recordings. But who is he?
It is nice to be able to report that Universal’s serial unit went out with a minor bang rather than a loud whimper! The studio had, at long last, taken a lesson from rival Republic and there is more action in The Mysterious Mr. M than usually found in Universal serials. That some of this action is literally borrowed from Republic, including entire cliffhangers from Daredevils of the Red Circle (1939) and Spy Smasher (1942), is really neither here nor there; the old footage still works. In addition to the Republic-style mayhem, Mr. M retains Universal’s main strength, a fairly interesting plot, although at times the serial cannot quite decide whether to be a straight crime story, a science fiction drama, an old house thriller or a whodunit. Not that the standard cliffhanger ingredients aren’t all there; you get not one but two heroes (three, in fact, if you count insurance investigator Pamela Blake, and why shouldn’t you? The former MGM starlet makes a spunky heroine), a master criminal seemingly returned from the dead, a duplicitous femme fatale, even a mystery villain. And unlike previous serials, Mr. M doesn’t cheat with the identity of said mystery villain; anyone familiar with classic Hollywood B-Movies will instantly recognize Mr. M’s recorded voice as belonging to … well, suffice it to say, the actor in question, a former director with the Pasadena Playhouse, is one of those faces that pop up all over the place in the 1940s. Meanwhile, Dennis Moore plays the nominal hero with his accustomed grim determination, and newcomer Richard Martin, destined to become cowboy star Tim Holt’s Irish-Mexican sidekick a few years later, gets to exercise his thespian abilities a bit while hypnotized by Edmund MacDonald. Virginia Brissac, Byron Foulger, and former RKO starlet Jane Randolph do quite well in other supporting roles and, acting wise, Mr. M ranks higher than most of its 1946 competitors. In contrast to the good performances, Universal’s custom of working chapter recaps into the dialogue backfires here; too much talk about what you’ve already seen tend to slow down the action and make a lot of the exposition redundant. It is, however, a negative that Mr. M shares with every Universal chapter play from 1940 onwards.
Although the rear projection is obvious, chapter 9 comes with the serial’s best cliffhanger: Dennis Moore and Edmund MacDonald bailing out of an airplane but only the latter enjoying the benefit of a parachute. The two men fight all the way to the ground and Grant lands on the railroad tracks with a train bearing right down on him. But what, pray tell, happened to the third man in the plane, henchman Shrag (Jack Ingram)? Is Shrag one of those thugs who instinctively know how to safely land a plane? Or is there a second parachute stowed away out of sight? Whatever the case, Shrag turns up right as rain in the following chapter.
The rehabilitation of Anthony Warde:
A conscientious chief lieutenant of numerous brains heavies, Anthony Warde appears in chapter 10 as a law-abiding inventor. Yes, Anthony Warde plays a good guy for what must have been a welcome change. Unfortunately, he doesn’t live long enough to enjoy this newly found respectability.