TIME TO KILL was the last in the series of Twentieth Century- Fox’s Michael Shayne features, after seven of them, Lloyd Nolan had tired of playing the character, and didn’t want to be typed as a B-movie actor any more than Peter Lorre had while doing the Mr. Moto series which Michael Shayne replaced. Fox’s own expectations for Michael Shayne hadn’t been met either, the series hadn’t lit any of the fires that either or their Oriental Detectives had, and with Charlie Chan’s popularity also on the wane, Fox bid adieu to both Chan and Shayne at the end of 1942. Perhaps if they had actually filmed any more of Brent Haliday’s Michael Shayne books, they would have had greater success, for after the first in the series, MICHAEL SHAYNE, DETECTIVE (1941), Fox had seemed to look to everywhere except Haliday’s books for Shayne material.
TIME TO KILL is, in fact, the first film version of Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe novel, THE HIGH WINDOW, which Fox would remake in 1947 as BRASHER DOBLOON, featuring George Montgomery playing easily the dullest incarnation of Marlowe ever put to film. Yet in 1942, Michael Shayne was a more popular character than Chandler’s now more-well-known shamus, so just like RKO’s early filming of FAREWELL MY LOVELY as THE FALCON STRIKES BACK with George Sanders, Fox transposed the action to Michael Shayne.
Actually, Fox does better justice to THE HIGH WINDOW here than they would with BRASHER DOBLOON. In almost exactly an hour, they cram the whole plot into a very enjoyable Mike Shayne adventure while staying somewhat more faithful to the original source, admittedly moving like a bat out of hell while doing so. Lloyd Nolan continues to play Shayne as Lloyd Nolan, nothing like the character as written, but perfectly fine for a snappy Nolan performance like the others that had kept the series interesting. Richard lane seems to have wandered away from the Columbia backlot in the middle of a Boston Blackie picture to keep on playing Inspector Faraday under an assumed name, but he’s always on the money and a delight to watch. Nice to see Dick Tracy Deluxe Ralph Byrd playing a weasel here, and there’s plenty more good character actors like Morris Ankrum and Leroy Mason picking up a paycheck. Heather Angel is a bit of a shell-shocked secretary, possibly still reeling from her long-awaited and very short-lived marriage to Bulldog Drummond.
All in all, if you have the time to kill, TIME TO KILL is a perfect way to do it, a pleasant B-detective hour that sure goes by quick. Fox has continued its shabby treatment of the Shayne series by not even releasing the complete run on DVD, missing both this and the previous JUST OFF BROADWAY. Perhaps the rights to the Chandler novel has kept this and BRASHER DOBLOON out of sight for these last few decades. No loss for DOBLOON, but TIME TO KILL definitely deserves another airing, and was a nice send-off for Michael Shayne, at least until PRC dusted it off again in the late forties and stuck the much-less charismatic Hugh Beaumont in the title role. The Beav’s Dad as a Private Eye-------- natch, but somebody must have thought it was a good idea at the time
RICHARD M ROBERTS
SOUND MOVIE MAIN is the spot to discuss non-comedy SOUND films. Go figure.
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