Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: "Nancy Drew – Detective" is a Delight (Remembering Bonita Granville)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 42 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Nancy Drew – Detective (1938)
Running time:  66 minutes (1 hour, six minutes)
DIRECTOR:  William Clemens
WRITER:  Kenneth Gamet (based on the novel “The Password of Larkspur Lane” by Carolyn Keene)
PRODUCER:  Bryan Foy
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  L. William O'Connell
EDITOR:  Frank Magee
COMPOSER:  Heinz Roemheld

MYSTERY with some elements of adventure, drama, and family

Starring:  Bonita Granville, John Litel, James Stephenson, Frankie Thomas, Frank Orth, Helena Phillips Evans, Renie Riano, Charles Trowbridge, Dirk Purcell, Ed Keane, and Mae Busch

The subject of this movie review is Nancy Drew – Detective, a 1939 mystery film.  It was the first of four films based on the Nancy Drew character and originally released by Warner Bros. Pictures in 1938 and 1939.

Nancy Drew – Detective is apparently a loose adaptation the Nancy Drew novel, The Password of Larkspur Lane, which was first published in 1933.  The novel was written by Walter Karig, using the pseudonym, Carolyn Keene, the name used as the author for all Nancy Drew novels.  In Nancy Drew – Detective, the girl detective sets out to solve the mystery of wealthy elderly lady who makes a substantial donation to Nancy’s alma mater and then, suddenly disappears.

When Mary Eldredge (Helena Phillips Evans) announces that she is leaving a quarter of a million dollars to Nancy’s high school, Nancy Drew (Bonita Granville) and her fellow students are excited and heartily announce that they plan to use the money to build a swimming pool.  But when Ms. Eldredge and her attorney, Hollister (Charles Trowbridge), are supposed to visit Nancy’s father, Carson Drew’s (John Litel) law office to legalize the donation, only Hollister appears.  He informs Nancy and her father that Ms. Eldredge has run off to an unknown sanitarium because she’s ill and that her donation to the school is on hold.  So begins the film Nancy Drew – Detective.

Of course, Nancy isn’t buying that her school’s donor has mysteriously run off, and after a chance encounter, when she witnesses the kidnapping of a local doctor, Nancy decides that Ms. Eldredge was spirited away by nefarious means.  She enlists her good-natured friend Theodore “Ted” Nickerson (Frankie Thomas) to assist her in the investigation of the missing donor.  Ted agrees and joins Nancy as they tackle an adventure that features a ruthless gunsel, skeptical cops, carrier pigeons, and an aerial search.  As usual Carson Drew has stern warnings and admonishments for his daughter about her recklessness.

Even after nearly 70 years, the Nancy Drew films retain its sparkling wit, tight plotting, engaging suspense, and find acting.  Nancy Drew – Detective was the first in a series of four films about the girl detective, and though it lacks the intensity of more adult or stronger mystery thrillers, it is still a quite engaging mystery film.  Personally, I like the clear photography (think of the better photographed black and white TV programs of the late 50’s and early 60’s), and the sets capture an idyllic suburban/rural/pastoral sprawl that you’d want to call home.

Sassy and stubborn, Ms.Granville’s Nancy Drew is a hoot, and her co-stars are playful and witty in ways that actors don’t seem to be anymore.  I give this film a hearty recommendation.

7 of 10

Updated:  Friday, October 11, 2013

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