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Dressed to Kill (1941)

For all the current talk of franchise filmmaking, it's interesting to note that Spider-Man and X-Men aren't terribly new — 60 years ago, a different sort of detectives were just as sequel-heavy. Amidst fellow sleuthers Nick and Nora Charles, Charlie Chan, and Mr. Moto, the Brett Halliday-created "Michael Shayne" mysteries developed into a franchise in the 1940s, with actor Lloyd Nolan taking the role from 1940 through 1943 for a six-picture run. The series took a break for three years and returned in 1946, with Nolan replaced by Hugh Beaumont (best known as Ward Cleaver on "Leave it to Beaver") for five titles, until the series retired in 1947. Halliday wrote steadily from 1939 to 1976 (a year before his death), and his work has recently returned to the big screen with Shane Black's 2005 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Dressed to Kill (1941) was the third Shayne film, and it plays exactly like an episode of a TV drama — not exactly boring, but never so interesting to suggest a complete narrative. Mike Shayne (Nolan) is about to marry his sweetheart, but he's distracted when he hears screams on the floor above his girlfriend's apartment and investigates. It turns out two theater cronies have been killed, and the top suspects are the people they've worked with on a production entitled "Sweethearts of Paris." Shayne takes the case, but mostly for the money, which offers at least $500 if solved. A rather routine film by director Eugene Forde, Dressed to Kill is successful as an entertainment mostly because it never outstays its welcome, but with a running time of 74 minutes it also never manages to put its main players in enough stress to make it exciting. It's good then that the film keeps itself light — it couldn't sustain any heavy lifting anyway. Nolan makes some amusing wisecracks, and he has a good foil in William Demarest (a Preston Sturges stock player), who plays Police Inspector Pierson. Unfortunately, the picture is mired in some racial stereotyping endemic of its era, especially in a scene where Shayne recreates the scene of the crime with two stagehands (one being Mantan Moreland). Fox presents Dressed to Kill in its original aspect ratio (1.33:1) from a print that looks good for its age with the monaural audio remastered in Dolby 2.0. Bonus trailers, keep-case.

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