Wednesday, May 9, 2007

MICHAEL SHAYNE MYSTERIES

I recently watched Fox’s first MICHAEL SHAYNE MYSTERIES box set containing the first batch of films from the popular Forties detective series. I’m guessing there will be a second set in six months or so with the remaining entries. This set contains four great, B-movie mysteries on two double-sided "flipper" discs: MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, THE MAN WHO WOULDN’T DIE, SLEEPERS WEST and BLUE, WHITE AND PERFECT.

MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE (1940) introduces Lloyd Nolan as author Brett Halliday’s wiseass Irish-American private dick, who is hired by a racetrack bigwig to guard his pretty, compulsive gambler daughter. When her boyfriend is murdered, Shayne gets blamed. Fun, breezy and enjoyable stuff, with a decent mystery plot.

THE MAN WHO WOULDN’T DIE (1942) has Shayne impersonating a millionaire’s daughter’s fiance while investigating the strange events around the family mansion. Lot’s of shadowy figures, disappearing corpses, and even a mad scientist for spice. Not bad, but really felt more like a Charlie Chan flick.

SLEEPERS WEST (1941) is the most film noir of the bunch, as Shayne escorts a material witness – a hot blonde, naturally – across the country by train. The confined space of the train adds a lot of tension to the story, and the performances are especially good. Less wisecracking, more suspense, and by far my favorite of the batch.

BLUE, WHITE & PERFECT (1941) involves Shayne in a diamond smuggling plot. Fun stuff, with TV’s Superman, George Reeves, in a supporting role. Fun and engaging, with some great twists.

All four films are presented full-frame, with newly restored transfers and cleaned-up mono sound. They look great, considering the vintage. Each disc includes a "Restoration Comparison," and either a short featurette or a trivia game.

The art on the box and the two slimcases appear to be brand new paintings by the astounding Robert McGinnis (who painted the covers of many of the Shayne paperbacks – although these new paintings feature series star Lloyd Nolan), and there’s a McGinnis featurette on Side B of the first disc.

From the fact that all four sides include the same "Restoration Comparison" feature, I have to wonder if Fox originally intended to put each movie on its own disc, as in their CHARLIE CHAN and MR. MOTO sets, and went with this more economical package because the sales on those considerably more expensive mystery sets were less than expected. While I think I would have preferred separate discs for aesthetic reasons – we might have got another couple McGinnis covers and these discs would have matched my Chans and Motos (not to mention the one previous Shayne film that Fox released a year or so ago), I can’t really complain. After all, I’m all for saving 20 bucks.

For fans of vintage detective films, this set is highly recommended, and you can’t beat the price.

BUY: Michael Shayne Mysteries Vol. 1 (Michael Shayne: Private Detective / The Man Who Wouldn't Die / Sleepers West / Blue, White, and Perfect)