The Phantom of 42nd Street

The Phantom of 42nd Street.
Producers Releasing Corp. 1945.

Before watching the movie:

Sometimes I just want a pulpy mystery. And it doesn’t hurt if it’s closer to one hour than one and a half or two because I’m busy.

I know I’ve seen the name Alan Mowbray around, but I couldn’t place him to anything specific. Seems like someone I should know.

I wonder if audiences outside New York are supposed to get the reference to 42nd street being a cross street with Broadway (something I only know because of the poster) and presumably a place where there are theaters. My initial guess would be that 42nd street would be far enough out of town that it’s not a very nice theater, but New York is gigantic next to the cities I’ve gotten a feel for, so maybe it’s in the heart of the theater district. I don’t know. I’m not a New Yorker, much like most of the people who would be watching this.

After watching the movie:

Theater critic Tony Woolrich gets browbeaten by his editor for not turning in a story about the murder that happened at the opening performance he attended. Over his objections of not being a crime reporter, Tony uses his relationship with the Moore theatrical dynasty to talk to Claudia Moore, the actress that was starring in the play, and her father Cecil, the actor-director who owns the theater it happened in. As more murders happen, Tony gets more involved in puzzling out this string of madman murders that seem to be targeting the Moores.

This is much more about the comedy, romance, and tension than about the mystery. The key to the whole problem is in one scene in the middle of the movie, and everything else seems like set dressing. Once the story gets going it’s hard to see Tony as a theater critic, and not a detective or crime reporter who happens to know the theater scene. Him being a critic thrust into investigation could have been an interesting angle, but for most of the movie it might as well have been a hobby.

Maybe it’s explained and I missed it, but I don’t really get why Tony’s wisecracking sidekick Romeo the cabby has all this time to just drive him around and hang out with him. Are they just buddies and he’s off shift? Is Tony paying him a retainer? Ultimately he’s there because they wanted Tony to have a sidekick.

This may be a bit more procedural than pulpy. It’s very lightly procedural, but it’s a relatively cut and dry progression Tony carries us through. There are character relationships we’re supposed to care about, but they seemed too tacked on to matter, and the plot was otherwise very simple. A low return on the invested time, but at least there was not much time invested.

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