MEET BOSTON BLACKIE met audiences in 1941, the title’s crime fighter joining the raft of series characters filling the era’s theaters. Actually it was a re-introduction, as the jewel thief-turned-detective had featured in 11 silent films. With affable Chester Morris in the lead, over the next nine years 14 breezy adventures resulted. Jewel thieves often get a break from writers; Blackie’s main competition in the gem-fancier/case cracker field was ‘The Lone Wolf’. *
Good-natured Blackie (Morris) gets blamed for a killing on an ocean liner, and sets out to find the dame who may have caused it. Then she meets a quick demise, via poisoned dart—“Quick get a cop! We got a dead doll on our hands.” Fast acting by Blackie turns up an espionage ring, but not before he’s befriended another gal (who falls for him even though he’s technically kidnapped her), foiled the cops who are convinced he’s guilty of the killings and letting audiences enjoy a quick 61 minutes to take their minds off Hitler.
Directed apace by Robert Florey (Murders In The Rue Morgue, The Face Behind The Mask, Rogues’ Regiment), with a quippy script from Jay Dratler (Laura, Call Northside 777), this item was given decent production values by Columbia studios. It set the pattern for those that followed, always keeping them around the one-hour running time. The series revitalized Morris’ career (and allowed him to show off his skills as a magician to boot). Running characters included Blackie’s friendly nemesis ‘Inspector Faraday’ (played throughout by Richard Lane in rat-a-tat style) and Blackie’s faithful buddy ‘Runt’, played in this initial effort by Charles Wagenheim, then in all but one subsequent entries by George E. Stone (a better choice). This one features a pretty good car chase, and is well-shot by cameraman Flanz Planer. Rochelle Hudson trades patter as the good toots who helps our hero keep “the navy’s bombsite” out of the wrong mitts. **
With Constance Worth, Jack O’Malley, Byron Foulger, Walter Sande, Schlitize (Freaks), Nestor Paiva.
* Boston Blackie was born in stir—newspaperman Jack Boyle had an opium addiction that pulled him into crime, eventually serving a robbery sentence in San Quentin. He passed part of his time creating the character, under the pen name ‘No. 6066’. Boyle’s Blackie stories first hit magazines in 1914. By 1920, they’d been adapted for the flicks.
** Besides acting, Rochelle Hudson had adventure in her blood: on her father’s side she was a direct descendant of explorer Henry Hudson. The same year this lark was released she aided her husband doing espionage work in Mexico, posing as a vacationing couple to detect German activity south of the border. In Baja, they did uncover a supply of high test aviation fuel stashed by Nazi agents. Her best-known film role was in Rebel Without A Cause, playing the mom of Natalie Wood’s alienated teen.
Jack Boyle’s 1920 novel ”
When Boston Blackie began to find success on the screen, Boyle edited the Red Book magazine stories into a book, Boston Blackie (1919).