"With your nerve, I'd hate to have a tooth pulled!" That's Phyllis Brighton speaking indignantly to Mike Shayne (Lloyd Nolan) in the movie Michael Shayne, Private Detective. Mike has just intervened to keep her from betting a bundle she can't afford on a possibly rigged horse race. It doesn't help minutes later when the nag wins.
Lloyd Nolan was one of those first-rate actors who had plenty of charm, energy and charisma, with confidence to spare. He always came across as smarter than he might seem, whether he played good guys or, more often, tough good guys. He had a long career and was 83 in his last movie, Hannah and Her Sisters. He is one of the best things about that fine movie. Michael Shayne, Private Detective was the first of seven Shayne movies Nolan starred in. He crammed them all in a three year contract period. They're all comedy-mysteries, all B movies, made quickly on tight budgets by journeymen, then shot out for quick play on the lower half of double bills across America. Four of these movies are in Michael Shayne Mysteries - Volume I. Nolan gives us a character who is tough, resourceful and cocky. He's usually good natured and usually impertinent. He runs rings around the cops, who are usually portrayed as dunderheads. He's attractive to the the ladies but always manages to escape a wedding ring.
----In Michael Shayne, Private Detective, the script has Shayne deal with fixed horse races, gambling debts, sleazy opportunists and a strong-willed young woman. Besides Nolan, it's always good to see Douglas Dumbrille (as a confident crook), Walter Abel (as a weak crook) and Elisabeth Patterson (as a crime-loving aunt).
----The Man Who Wouldn't Die has the old dark house cliche down pat. Mike Shayne is called upon to pretend to be the new husband of the daughter of a wealthy businessman. The man has a lush, young wife, an obsequious male secretary, an older and discrete butler and a live-in, tall and handsome doctor/scientist. Most of all, the man has a huge, isolated mansion with lots of corridors and rooms. And at night, the shadows are dark, the grounds are scary, a murderer creeps about and a buried corpse has trouble staying buried. It's always fun to see Olin Howland do his gullible hayseed routine, this time as Police Chief Meek.
----For the first 40 minutes of Sleepers West I thought we might be in the middle of tense Narrow Margin territory. Mike Shayne is hiding a secret witness on a train barreling through the night between Denver and a high profile trial in San Francisco. Her testimony can prove the innocence of a man framed for a murder...a murder that involves some very powerful people who want the case closed fast and permanently. And on that train is a killer determined to identify the witness and stop her from testifying. That's not all. Also aboard is a smart, shrewd and sexy newspaper reporter, Kay Bentley (Lynn Bari), an old romance of Mike's who is determined to find Mike's witness and get a scoop. Then there's the tall guy with a suitcase full of cash who might just be a poor shrump...or a killer, too. If that's not enough for Mike, his witness, Helen Carlson (Mary Beth Hughes), is a lush scoop of frosting who enjoys a drink, has lazy eyes and lips as plump as a grouper's. If Sleepers West, a great, odd-sounding title, settles down to standard B movie fare toward the end, the ride at least is a lot of fun. Lynn Bari adds style and sexiness and has a great voice. She was a good actress who could handle comedy, drama, weepies or romance. Over a long career she was never able to break out of the B's.
----Blue, White and Perfect is the fourth and last in the Michael Shayne Mysteries - Volume I. In some ways, it's the best of the four. Once again we have an economical set, this time on an ocean liner steaming from Los Angeles to Honolulu. There's espionage, industrial diamonds, murder and a nice near-drowning in a flooding ship's compartment. The story is as complicated as the other three were, but it holds up for the length of the movie. The ruthless Mr. Big is cleverly disguised until the end. Shayne's escape from marriage this time is cleverly handled by a corpse with a knife in its back.
Don't blame yourself if you get confused over some of the characters in these films. Mary Beth Hughes appears in three of them, Helene Reynolds in two and Marjorie Weaver in two. They're all in leading roles and never play the same characters twice. Lloyd Nolan must have been as confused as Mike Shayne sometimes appears to be. And let's hear it for double-breasted suits. That's what Shayne always wears, and they look good on him.
All four movies in the package have excellent DVD transfers, crisp and clear. There are some extras on each disc which I didn't sample.