I have really been enjoying the B-movies that Warner Archives has been bringing to DVD. I loved the Nick Carter series, had a great time with The Bowery Boys, and laughed through the Mexican Spitfire series. They have really been releasing more hits than misses… but there are a few films that are less than stellar. Case in point the Fast Triple Feature: Fast Company, Fast and Loose, and Fast and Furious. These husband and wife detective films have a lot of the right elements, but there are too many missteps to make them memorable entertainment.
With the success of the Thin Man series staring William Powell and Myrna Loy as the husband and wife high-society sleuths Nick and Nora Charles, it's only natural that imitators would pop up. The three films in this collection revolve around Joel Sloane and his wife Garda, a pair of rare book dealers who are always short on cash even though they live in a sumptuous apartment in
Fast Company (1938): In this first adventure we're introduced to the Joel (Melvyn Douglas) and Garda (Florence Rice) Sloane and discover Joel's passion for books and mysteries and Garda's love of shopping for clothes, even when they don't have any money for them. Joel sells rare books out of his office, or at least he tries to. The only way they're able to make any sales is when Garda flirts with the customers. Luckily Joel has a deal with an insurance company… he gets 10% of the value of any stolen books that he can recover so they don't have to pay out a claim. That's the only way the keep body and soul together.
When a rival dealer, Otto Brockler (George Zucco) is murdered Joel gets curious. He's suspected that Otto was a fence for stolen books (there was apparently quite a market in expensive books during the Great Depression) for years but never had the proof. Could it have been a deal gone wrong, or did the kid that Otto framed for theft five years ago, Ned Morgan (Shepperd Strudwick) get his revenge after getting out of jail? Joel leaves his wife at home and starts to turn on the charm with Otto's attractive secretary Julia Thorne (Claire Dodd) to find out.
I love detective shows with a lot of witty banter and a light and breezy style which is what this film is trying for. Unfortunately it misses the mark. The banter is not clever or humorous in the least, and the whole plot seems to drag from the beginning. The story is convoluted and full of holes (the police arrest a man because he is found with $5000 of the murdered man's money, but they never explain how they determined that the cash was from the victim) too. To make matters worse, the two leads (who are separate more than they are together for some strange reason) have absolutely no chemistry on screen. Melvyn Douglas seems more natural when talking to Claire Dodd than he did with Florence Rice. That made what was supposed to be fun moments with the couple feel awkward and forced. All in all, this was a misfire.
Fast and Loose (1939): The murders involving rare books continue in the second film in the series, but with a cast change. After their stilted performance in the first installment the powers that be decided to replace Douglas and Rice with two new actors: Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell.
It looks like Joel is finally going to make a big sale. He's buying a part of a Shakespeare manuscript for his client, Christopher Oates, from a wealthy collector who has fallen on hard times, Nick Torrent. When Torrent turns up dead and the manuscript disappears, Joel ends up on the list of suspects for the crime. Add to that a mysterious first edition copy of Paradise Lost and a body count that keeps growing and this should have been a better mystery than it was.
This is the best film in the series, mainly due to the presence of Montgomery and Russell. They shine on screen and make the best of the poor script that they have to work with. The story is very convoluted and filled with red herrings and twist, a lot of which don't really make sense if you think about it afterwards. The supporting cast seems like they're just going through the motions too.
Fast and Furious (1939): Once again, two new actors are chosen to play Joel and Garda Sloane for their final outing. This time it's Franchot Tone and Ann Southern who step into the lead roles.
Garda wants a vacation so Joel decides to take her to the shore… where there's a beauty contest that he's going to judge (after all, he Mike Stevens, the organizer, $5000). When they arrive however, Mike's boss turns up dead and Stevens is the prime suspect. If Joel ever wants to see his money again, he'll just have to clear his friend's name.
After the solid job that Montgomery and Russell did in the middle film, I was a bit surprised and disappointed that they were replaced. While the new leads aren't a good as the previous pair, they do an adequate job. Though it shouldn't make much difference, they distance the Sloanes from the book trade this time and that helps a lot. The constant literary references in the previous two films always sounded forced and they aren't missed.
The film was directed by Busby Berkley and while there aren't any of the big production numbers that he's known for, he does an adequate job. The problem, once again, is the script. All three films were penned by Harry Kurnitz, who would go on to bigger and better things including a couple of the Thin Man films which obviously inspired him, but these were his first screenplays and they're clunky and awkward. The dialog isn't nearly as witty as it should be, and the mysteries are convoluted and messy. I never really got caught up in either the mysteries or the fun atmosphere of the films and it's a bit surprising that three were made.
All three films (running a little more than an hour each) arrive on a single DVD-R in a keepcase.
The mono audio track is very good. The dialog is clean and clear and the background noise is minimal at worst. Fans will be pleased.
Warner Archives did a great job with this disc. I was a little worried when I discovered that there were three films on one DVD, but these are so short that there weren't any compression artifacts worth noting. The image was clean and the detail was very good. These films looked excellent.
In addition to the three movies there are trailers to each film which are great. They make the movies look more action-packed than they are, but that's the point, isn't it?
I like the Thin Man movies and I was expecting to have a decent time with these three films with the Nick and Nora imitators, but I could never get into any of the movies. They seemed to drag and the dialog was too forced to be funny. The mysteries were average at best, and too convoluted and confusing at worst. You know that a series is in trouble when they change the lead actor three times over the course of three movies. While these aren't horrible films and I don't regret watching them, I doubt that I'll be rewatching them any time soon. If you're curious, make this a rental.