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Craig's Movie Club
Movie Reviews

Spotlight on: Boston Blackie (starring Chester Morris)

Films Reviewed:
Meet Boston Blackie (1941)
Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941)
Alias Boston Blackie (1942)
Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942)

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Chester Morris as Horatio Black (a.k.a. "Boston Blackie") in:
Meet Boston Blackie (1941)
Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941)
Alias Boston Blackie (1942)
Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942)

We here at Craig's Movie Club are also big fans of old-time radio, and one of our favorite shows is Boston Blackie. The "enemy to those who make him an enemy, friend to those who have no friend" was a popular mainstay of the airwaves throughout the late 1940s, with Richard Kollmar in the title role. Before watching these films, that was all I knew about the character. I quickly learned more.

After a series of films in the 1920s, the character originally created by Jack Boyle was brought back in 1941 with actor Chester Morris (Academy Award–nominated for 1929's Alibi) at the lead. He played Boston Blackie in over a dozen short features (usually about an hour in length), and then originated the role on radio as a summer replacement for Amos and Andy in 1944. Kollmar took over the role the following year, leaving Morris free to fill out the decade with the remainder of the Blackie movies. (Morris would return to radio during the last season of Rogue's Gallery, and he was a fixture on television through the 1950s and '60s until his death in 1970.)

Morris gives Blackie a dapper presence with a dark undercurrent that is ideal for the role, as it shows how the character could have easily been involved in confidence games and perhaps even more dastardly deeds before turning his talents to the other side of the law.

Meet Boston Blackie (1941)

In the first film, Meet Boston Blackie, Blackie gets involved with a mysterious blonde who leaves the body of a dead ma in Blackie's stateroom. Following her off the cruise ship results in a chase through a circus, hijacking the car of a clever brunette, and another murder. The sequence of events makes it look to Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane, who was also in the summer series) like Blackie did the killings.

This is a common thread in their relationship. Often the impetus for Blackie solving a particular crime is clearing his own name. Here, he does so by disguising himself as a blind man and sending and receiving Morse code transmissions (something that would carry through into other films in the series).

Morris's charisma (which was also showcased to great effect in Public Hero No. 1 with Jean Arthur and Lionel Barrymore) goes a long way toward carrying what is essentially a standard detective drama. Rochelle Hudson gives a solid turn (not to mention a welcome dose of eye candy) as the aforementioned clever brunette, Cecelia.

Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941)

Meet Boston Blackie was followed up the same year with Confessions of Boston Blackie, which is given a retrospective double-dose of class by being directed by Edward Dmytryk (Murder, My Sweet, The Caine Mutiny) and starring Harriet Hilliard (of Ozzie and Harriet fame). Once again, Blackie is framed for a murder he didn't commit so he has to clear his own name. Hilliard plays Diane Parrish, who gets grazed by the deadly bullet. Morris again carries the film with his charm, and a more comic tone makes this an improvement over its predecessor. Art fraud and woman trouble add to the proceedings, as does a brawl and a climactic gun battle.

Alias Boston Blackie (1942)

Christmas Eve finds Blackie at a circus performance for prisoners, where one of the inmates, out for revenge, switches places with a clown and escapes. Look out for a young Lloyd Bridges as the bus driver.

By this time, Blackie is purely good, with a criminal past but no present crime activity other than occasionally using his old skills to solve a case. He apparently also forgot how to fight since Confessions of Boston Blackie, because the blows thrown here are sad, indeed.

And in Alias Boston Blackie, Blackie and Inspector Farraday are more like pals than antagonists (especially since Blackie saved Farraday's bacon in the last film), but a couple of clever twists make sure Blackie is always at least two steps ahead of the inspector (who arrives in time to save Blackie's neck this time around).

Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood (1942)

The weakest entry of these four starts out with poor dialogue and a predictable "surprise." En route to a Florida vacation, Boston Blackie and his valet, Runt, are sidetracked to Califonia to help a friend out of a jam. Inspector Farraday pursues, thinking Blackie is up to his old tricks. (Does he never learn?)

Even silly disguises (which keep Morris incognito for a good portion of the film) and a heightened sense of cruelty can't keep Boston Blackie Goes Hollywood from being one too many trips to the same well — and there were ten more after this one! Engaging and still fun, but about twenty minutes too long.

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