Lloyd Nolan stars in this quartet of films about Michael Shayne. Less hard-boiled than he was in other media, here he’s an inveterate wisecracker and the films are sometimes more comedies than thrillers. Our boy takes his first bow in <>i>Michael Shayne, Private Detective (1941), where he’s hired to keep an heiress (Marjorie Weaver) out of trouble. But when one of the dubious people she’s been hanging out with turns up killed, apparently by Shayne’s gun, the detective must stay one step …head of the police while he works to solve the crime. Good thing there’s an eccentric, mystery-loving aunt about. Shayne is such a joker and so unflappable that there is no real suspense here, but the entertainment level is high. The box copy implying that these films are noirs is clearly shown up for a lie here.
The flicks may not be noirs, but they do connect to other recognizable genres, and The Man Who Wouldn’t Die (1942) is an Old Dark House caper. Shayne pretends to be the fiancé of the heroine (Weaver again) in order to find out who the “ghost” is who burst into her bedroom and took a shot at her. Bumbling yokels, disappearing corpses, much creeping about and dark and stormy nights are the order of the day.
Sleepers West (1941) moves the action to that other favourite location for a crime story: the passenger train. Shayne, here almost a supporting character in his own movie, is escorting a reluctant witness (Mary Beth Hughes) across the country. Her testimony could free an innocent man, but also threatens some powerful interests, who would stop at nothing to silence her. Much of the focus here is on Hughes and the tentative romance she strikes up with another passenger, himself something of a fugitive.
Old Dark House. Train. That leaves a shipboard setting, and sure enough, that turns up in Blue, White and Perfect (1942). Much to the displeasure of his sweetheart (Hughes), Shayne tracks a ring of crooks smuggling industrial diamonds to Germany onto a ship. Though there is too little sense of actually being aboard a ship, the pace remains as lively as ever.
2.0 stereo and mono options are available. The stereo remix has the usual problems with indiscriminate surround, and the volume level is rather low. Sibilance is noticeable in the first film in particular (as is background static). Overall, the mono is by far the preferable track, with no problems with balance and far less distortion.
The prints are all in terrific shape. Grain is at an absolute minimum, the image is sharp. The black-and-white tones are rich and free of bleaching. The picture jumps rather oddly for about a minute or so in Blue, White and Perfect, but otherwise, these are very handsome looking presentations.
There aren’t many features accompanying each film, but collectively, they add up a decent enough introduction to the character. Restoration comparisons are present for all four movies. The first film offers “The Detective Who Never Dies,” which is a good place to start learning about the character and his creator, Brett Halliday. The other side of the disc has “The Art of Robert McGinnis: Mike Shayne and Beyond” along with a gallery of the pulp cover artist’s works. “Follow that Lead!” (which accompanies Sleepers West) is an “interactive trivia guide,” which means a set of filmographies that is a bit more elaborate than usual. Finally, “Nabbing Crooks the Mike Shayne Way” looks more closely at the film incarnation of the character.
A very fun set of mysteries, bringing back a character who was teetering on the edge of obscurity. Good fun.
Special Features List
- Restoration Comparisons