For Reel

Miss Pinkerton (1932)
September 6, 2012, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Lloyd Bacon

While Lloyd Bacon worked in virtually every genre, his light-hearted comedies and musicals (most notably 42nd Street) have eclipsed in reputation the more serious-minded films that were made under his direction. Miss Pinkerton, then, comes as a surprise – it is an eccentric creaky old house horror thriller, shot using odd angles that establish even the innocent as utterly grotesque and terrifying. The picture was adapted from a novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart, who is credited with inventing the “Had-I-But-Known” narrative strategy in mysteries (in which the principal character unknowingly prolongs the case due to a series of wrong assumptions), and has been dubbed the American Agatha Christie. It is not surprising, then, that it feels like a prototype of the genre – shadowy figures creep through hallways, secret pacts are revealed, and, most specifically, every character appears to have a clear motivation to kill. As the titular character, a nurse who is enlisted by a detective to assist in his investigation, Joan Blondell is predictably sassy, although the script too often reduces her to helpless damsel. Star George Brent, on the other hand, is an utter bore – there is nothing dynamic to either his physicality or vocal range, rendering his character as robotic and embarrassingly uncharismatic. Blondell has a great line at the end of the picture in which, commenting on Brent’s incompetence as a detective, she breaks the fourth wall and observes, “come to think of it, you’ve arrested practically everyone in this cast except me!” The visual elements, clearly inspired by Universal’s monster movies (Blondell even name-checks Frankenstein), save the production and make for a suitably atmospheric and tense ride. In the most arresting image, cinematographer Barney McGill predates Psycho by chasing a falling victim down a set of stairs.

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