Comedy · Mystery

Ginger Rogers, Ace Detective

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 Ginger Rogers can’t believe her luck sometimes. Image: What Ginger Wore

Tell us this is not one of the best opening scenes ever:

It is night on a deserted street in New York. The camera is positioned as though you were leaning out a window of an apartment building, looking down at the sidewalk.

There is a scream and a man’s body falls, from above you, onto the pavement.

This, in our opinion, is the best kind of introduction to a movie. No chit chat, no how-do-you-do nonsense. Let’s just get down to business of murder.

Such is our introduction to A Shriek in the Night (1933), a clunky but charming pre-code murder mystery/comedy. The premise is something that wasn’t new then and is still familiar today: a rich man who may have shady dealings with criminals meets an unexpected end.

Fortunately for the police (and for the deceased), a newspaper reporter (Ginger Rogers) is On The Case. She had been investigating the man’s ties to the underworld but, now that he’s dead, she realizes she’s got a Bigger Story.

Except.

Her ex-boyfriend (Lyle Talbot) works for a rival newspaper. Talbot may not be as smart as Rogers but he has an audacious charm – and scoops her front page story to publish it in his own newspaper!

Despite this treachery (or because of), Rogers is determined to solve the mystery while trying to out-maneuver Talbot. BUT! Sinister forces discover Rogers is snooping around and, naturally, they feel they must dispose of her.

This movie was made in 1933 and, frankly, you can tell. Some of the dialogue is stilted and the scenes aren’t staged as smoothly as we’d like. However, A Shriek in the Night is still a barrel o’ fun. It winks at famous detectives (e.g. Philo Vance) and pays tribute to the popular detective magazines of the day.

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Lilian Harmer loves to read about grisly murders before going to sleep. Image: Old Films in Pictures

A good movie detective, like any detective, needs brains and guts. Rogers has both, and is très amusing in a smart-alec kind of way. In one scene, the lights suddenly go out in the rich man’s apartment. The maid (Lilian Harmer) shrieks.

Harmer: “There’s a man in the apartment!”

Rogers: “He’s a friend of mine. Keep your hands off him.”

There’s also fantastic Gangster Speak in the script. Look at this note sent to one of the characters:

“You don’t know me but I know you – and you and the mob that pinned the rap on Denny Fagan are going to get what he got – the juice.”

(Getting “the juice” means going to the electric chair. Fantastic stuff, no?)

Rogers and her nemesis, Talbot, have great chemistry; an entire movie could be made from their banter alone. One evening, Talbot arrives at the rich man’s apartment with plans to stay the night so he can protect Rogers and Harmer. An amused Rogers asks him not to wake her if he needs saving, then tells him not to drink all the scotch.

However, the movie soon gets tense as Rogers finds herself alone with the murderer – and it’s not anyone we suspected. We, as the audience, are genuinely fearful for Rogers. How will she escape?!

A Shriek in the Night may not be the slickest mystery ever produced, but it’s still a terrific film – and an excellent showcase for both Ginger Rogers’ and Lyle Talbot’s comedic talents.

A Shriek in the Night: starring Ginger Rogers, Lyle Talbot, Harvey Clark. Directed by Albert Ray. Screenplay by Frances Hyland. Allied Pictures Corp., 1933, B&W, 70 mins.

This post is part of the Sleuthathon hosted by Movies, Silently. Be sure to read all the other fabulous contributions in this Celebration of the Big-Screen Detective.

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34 thoughts on “Ginger Rogers, Ace Detective

  1. I’ve just watched this – thanks so much for recommending it! Some of the acting is a bit wooden at the start, but it really gets going once Ginger and Lyle turn up, and I enjoyed them as a couple a lot. As you say, their banter is great. Must say I wasn’t too keen on Lillian Harmer’s acting, but you make a great point about the detective magazines and how this spoofs some other films in the genre, while at the same time building up to an exciting climax in its own right.

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    1. Yes, Lilian was a bit annoying with her over-the-top fearfulness. Fortunately, those scenes were kept to a minimum.

      Once the opening scene is done, the movie does become awkward but, as you say, it really builds momentum once Ginger and Lyle appear.

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      1. I meant to add that I had to laugh when ace detective Ginger gets a letter addressed to her under Pat’s assumed name… “Miss Terry”! Very appropriate!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like a fun one in spite of its flaws. I have always had a soft spot for romantically involved rival reporters. (What an incredibly specific soft spot!) Plus, I am quite intrigued that the murderer was quite unexpected. That is always a huge plus!

    Great review!

    Oh, and I love the new blog design!

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    1. Ha ha! That IS an incredibly specific soft spot.

      The murderer here is one that I NEVER guessed, but it made perfect sense.

      And thanks for your support of the new design. Had been thinking of it for a while, and your new design inspired me to spruce things up a bit.

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  3. Love your review (as always). This sounds like so much fun (you had me at the first sentence like the movie had you at the first scene!). And Ginger makes such a swell sleuth!

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    1. Thanks for dropping by. 🙂 Really – what’s not to love about Ginger Rogers?

      Admittedly, I know very little about Lyle Talbot but I’m sussing out more of his films based on his performance here.

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  4. I never thought much about Ginger Rogers until she piggybacked in on my love for Shirley Temple in “I’ll be Seeing You”. After that I soaked in as many of her pictures as I could find. I really enjoyed A Shriek in the Night; it was highly entertaining, much like your review. Good work, thanks!

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  5. Whoa, Ruth – I didn’t know you had given your site a visual remix – looks good! And so does SHRIEK IN THE NIGHT. Never heard of this one before, but hope to catch it sometime. I like Ginger Rogers quite a bit and it’s always fun seeing classic movie reporters trying to one-up each other on a story. Great post!

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    1. Thanks, Jeff. Yes, I decided to spruce things up a bit around here…

      If you like Ginger Rogers, you’ll like her in this flick. She has her trademark smart-alec-ness but does a great dramatic turn when the script calls for it. It’s not a polished film, but well worth the time.

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  6. Ruth, nice job with your new look for SILVER SCREENINGS! I’d never heard of A SHRIEK IN THE NIGHT before, but it’s fun to see Ginger Rogers and Lyle Talbot teaming up for the Sleuthathon! 😀

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  7. I have seen this, and liked it (I’ll always reach for the crime/mystery before any other movie); I agree that the rival reporter setup makes for a prickly romantic, cool, supercompetitive dynamic which livens this up. of course with good casting that’s made even better. Nice review and NICE new theme! I likeit, ilikeitalot.

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  8. Sounds like a winner to me. I do love a good comedy/mystery, partially because these films so often seem to be witty, while still having a good story. I look forward to checking this one out.

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  9. Isn’t this just the perfect part for Ginger? Smart, sassy and bold. I agree that this is a little clunky, but I’ll forgive her almost anything – and she’s the best part of it anyway! As you rightly observed, her banter with Talbot is spot on. Thanks for reminding me of how much I love this!

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  10. Every time thre is a blogathon, I discover new films… I watched A Shriek in the Night before coming here to read your piece. Yet it wasn’t great all the time I really liked some of Ginger’s witty lines. My favorite line, although, was “Because I am an Inspector I can say anything I want”.
    Thanks for the kind comment! I highly recommend The Greene Murder Case. Witth the Philo Vance article you linked to here, my piece would havee been much better!
    Kisses!

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  11. Hi Ruth, I love the new look of your blog! Glad you kept the old picture of you, though. It’s such a fun one. This movie piques my interest as do all mysteries, especially when the ending is a surprise. I’ve not seen a movie with Ginger Rogers (I really need to get out more)!:) I love your descriptions of her, and will be looking for this movie to watch in the future. Thanks for the recommendation!

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    1. Thanks, Shari. I wanted to change things up a bit.

      Yes, the ending of this movie is a total surprise! I did not see it coming at all! The beginning of the movie is a bit rough, though, but hang in there. It will be worth it.

      Like

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