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STAR OF MIDNIGHT, 1935
Starring: William Powell, Ginger Rogers, Paul Kelly, Gene Lockhart, Ralph Morgan, Leslie Fenton
Friend Tim Winthrop asks criminal lawyer and amateur detective Clay Dalzell to find his girl, Alice, who disappeared a year earlier without a trace. When they go to the theater with Clay's would-be fiancée, Donna Mantin, Tim recognizes the star, Mary Smith, as his girl, and yells "Alice," after which she bolts from the stage and disappears once again. Reporter Tommy Tennant knows why she bolted, but before he can tell Clay the reason, he is shot dead and Clay is wounded slightly in Clay's apartment.
The more I watch films with William Powell, the more I like him. His sophisticated and cynical portrayals are engaging. The “Star of Midnight” is a comedic mystery film directed by Stephen Roberts (“Arabian Knights”) and is based on the novel “Star of Midnight” by Arthur Somers Roche. The film comes after the first “Thin Man” film and is a good imitation. Both star William Powell as a witty crime solver. In “Star of Midnight,” Powell plays a lawyer named Clay "Dal" Dalzell who dabbles in solving crimes more than practicing law. His assistant and wannabe wife is Donna Mantin played by Ginger Rogers.
Dal's buddy Tim Winthrop (Leslie Fenton) comes to New York to ask him to find his missing girlfriend, Alice Markham. Winthrop spots Alice later starring in a play “Midnight” under another name, Mary Smith. He stands up in the audience and screams out her name. After the first act, Winthrop runs backstage to find Smith, but she had already left the building. He then goes to Dal’s apartment to tell him the news and is interrupted by a visitor, a reporter Tommy Tennant (Russell Hopton). Winthrop hides as Tennant comes in and as he is about to divulge information about the famous stage actress, an unseen gunman shoots Tennant dead and wounds Dal. Afterwards, Winthrop is nowhere to be found. This opens a web that connects all the crimes. Dal, along with the help of Donna and Horatio Swayne (Gene Lockhart), his butler, is determined to find the killer. At the end, Dal telephones all of the suspects as he traps the killer with the help of Donna and Inspector Doremus (J. Farrell MacDonald). You may guess who the murderer is, but the motive should come as a surprise.
“Star of Midnight” is a typical murder mystery from the 1930s mixing screwball comedy with a few twists and turns. This film does have similarities to "The Thin Man" series. Ginger Rogers & William Powell did not exhibit the amazing chemistry that Powell had with Myrna Loy, but Rogers brought beauty, adolescence, and a fashionable comedic quality to her character with Powell. While she is Powell’s love interest, she seemed more like a troublesome kid sister that follows Dal around. Another similarity is in the “Star of Midnight,” Donna exchanges jabs with Dal while she worms her way into the mystery, just as Loy does in “The Thin Man” series. A funny example of their banter is when Dal suggests to Donna that she should get a spanking; she bends over saying, “Well, this’ll be new” and Dal kicks her in the butt.
There are memorable scenes that take place in Dal’s sizeable bathroom, which has a stand-up shower, a barber’s chair and a toilet seat that plays the song “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Donna brings Dal and a guest some drinks to the bathroom, but makes a humorous U-turn when she hears the musical toilet in use.
Typically Ginger Rogers is known for her singing and dancing in films. She appeared in “Star of Midnight” between musical films, “Roberta” and “Top Hat” with Fred Astaire. If you know Madonna’s song “Vogue,” then you know they “dance on air.” In Rogers’ autobiography, “Ginger: My Story,” she wrote, “I was thankful to be going into a sophisticated comedy instead of rehearsing long hours and hearing the same song five thousand times.”
This film is thoroughly enjoyable with the balance of comedy, intrigue and style that only William Powell is capable of doing. Yes "Star of Midnight" is a film of RKO Radio Pictures adaptation of MGM's "The Thin Man," but so what? "Star of Midnight" is good in its own right.
STAR OF MIDNIGHT