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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Just Off Broadway (Fox Cinema Archives)
Just Off Broadway (Fox Cinema Archives)
Fox Cinema Archives // Unrated // October 28, 2014
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted December 13, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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Fast, funny--and completely unbelievable--B detective outing. 20th Century-Fox's Cinema Archives line of hard-to-find library and cult titles has released Just Off Broadway, the 1942 comedy-mystery from Fox starring Lloyd Nolan as author Brett Halliday's wise-crackin' two-fisted fictional private dick, Michael Shayne. Also starring Marjorie Weaver, Phil Silvers, Janis Carter, Richard Derr, Joan Valerie, and Don Costello, Just Off Broadway was the next-to-last Shayne movie in Fox's seven-entry series, and while fans claim it's one of the weakest entries, it got the job done for me: lots of laughs peppered throughout its spiffy, silly mystery. No extras for this good fullscreen black and white transfer.

New York City society dame Lillian Hubbard (Janis Carter) is on trial for the murder of her fiance, Harley Forsythe. Good thing she somehow managed to get private detective Michael Shayne (Lloyd Nolan) assigned to her jury. You see, the minute a disguised man entered the courtroom and knifed butler Henry Randolph (Leyland Hodgson), who lived next door to Forsyth and who was testifying as to where Hubbard was at what time before the murder, Shayne jumped into action, hiding the murder weapon and eventually sneaking out of the hotel where he was sequestered. Teaming up with reporter (and ex-girlfriend) Judy Taylor (Marjorie Weaver), Shayne hits the town, getting beat up and knocked around as he wisecracks his way into solving the crime--a solution, by the way, that he himself delivers...in the courtroom!

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on Just Off Broadway--not because it isn't any good, but rather the opposite: it's a snappy little B programmer that delivers on its small goals. No more, and no less. I haven't read a Michael Shayne mystery in years and years, but whenever I do see the name crop up in some context, I'm always surprised at how the character now seems largely left behind in pop culture (except to hard-core mystery fans, of course). Considering the extensive and once-popular pedigree this fictional private dick from author Davis "Brett Halliday" Dresser had back in the first half of the 20th century--including 77 novels (some with the aid of collaborators), 300 short stories, 12 motion pictures, a radio series, a long-running mystery magazine, and a one-off TV series--it's strange that the Michael Shayne character hasn't lived on in some new incarnation. As for the Fox series, if I saw any of these Lloyd Nolan programmers when I was a kid, they didn't stick with me. According to the general consensus of these movies' more dedicated fans, Just Off Broadway is one of the least distinguished of the seven produced by Fox, before the series was dumped and subsequently picked up by el cheapo Producers Releasing Corporation, with Hugh Beaumont plugged into Shayne's role. If that's true...then I'm seeking out the other six pronto.

Just so we're clear, though: Just Off Broadway doesn't make a lick of sense. Its basic premise is comically, even ridiculously flawed. You could stretch things quite a bit, I suppose, and say that even if everyone in New York City seems to know private investigator Michael Shayne--from bell hops and stage managers and cops to knife throwers--that he could still somehow get put on a jury for a famous murder trial without someone objecting. However, the notion that this known quantity could then run around the city at night, with nobody spotting him or putting two and two together that he's skipping out on a sequestered jury (in a trial that's headline news), is ludicrous. Even more surreal is the wrap-up, where Shayne in the jury box lets out a polite, "Would ya excuse me, ya Honor?" and then proceeds to Clarence Darrow witnesses and suspects with a vengeance--in the process outing himself to having committed numerous crimes--while attorneys from both sides, as well as the judge, silently look on (even the more undiscriminating fans of these Bs back in '42 had to have groaned at that whopper).

In a programmer without a sense of humor about it, or without the proper pacing and speed, these central story flaws would have doomed it. Just Off Broadway, however, just blithely carries on, its tone determinedly jaunty and carefree and nicely smart-assed, as if to say to the viewers, "Of course we know it's silly...so why not just enjoy it?" Scripted by Arnaud D'Usseau (The Man Who Wouldn't Die, Tomorrow, the World!, Horror Express), and directed by Herbert I. Leeds (Mr. Moto in Danger Island, The Cisco Kid and the Lady, Manila Calling), Just Off Broadway's framework has a lot of dash, with Mike's illegal midnight snooping automatically giving the mystery some compressed timeline suspense (and if events happen that don't make a lot of sense--how did Mike find that dolphin pin jeweler so fast?--the next set-up comes quick enough that you don't have time to question anything). A wise-ass, mocking humor runs throughout, from Mike doping his jury roommate and whistling Rock-a-Bye Baby to seal the deal (milquetoast Chester Clute is wonderfully funny here), and Nolan's knockabout, unsentimental, just mean-enough bantering with Weaver (they're good together), to Phil Silvers popping up every so often to belt out one of his trademarks ("Gladtaseeya!"). Best of all, there's a real "New York at night" feel to the nonsensically-titled Just Off Broadway, where everything and anything seems to be happening no matter what the hour, where one can find Tim Ryan as a Chinatown tour guide cracking jokes about the war ("It's always open season!" he delivers, when he spots a "Jap hunting license,"), while Mike Shayne, master navigator of the city's nightlife underbelly, is able to find not one, not two, but fourteen viable knife throwing acts in the Big Apple, inside of an hour. This is the kind of breezy, confident B daftness that somehow wears even better today.

The Video:
The fullframe, 1.33:1 black and white transfer for Just Off Broadway looks quite good, with decent blacks, solid contrast, a creamy gray scale, and not too many imperfections. Nice.

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital English mono audio track may be a tad squelchy at times, but that's the original source material. Otherwise, hiss is low, and no subtitles or closed-captions are available.

The Extras:
No extras for Just Off Broadway.

Final Thoughts:
Dopey, cheery B fun. With a programmer like Just Off Broadway, I don't care if it makes any sense in terms of story logic. All something like this Mike Shayne mystery has to do for me is entertain me with a fast-moving plotline and a steady stream of wisecracks, which Just Off Broadway does quite nicely. The kooky "anything goes in NYC" nighttime atmosphere, and the knowingly flip performances, are just icing on the cake. Just Off Broadway, B or not, comes recommended.


Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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