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Missing Witnesses

Missing Witnesses(1937)

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teaser Missing Witnesses (1937)

As a supervising producer in the Warner factory system, Bryan Foy produced or associate produced over thirty features in 1937 alone, mostly shorter 'program' pictures fashioned to fill out double bills in the studio-owned theater chains. Typical of the lesser-known product is director William Clemens' Missing Witnesses (1937), a racket-busting melodrama that has no stars and gives top billing to minor character actor John Litel. Co-screenwriter Kenneth Gamet toiled in the studio trenches as well, re-writing older pictures and scripting the entire Nancy Drew series. Both Gamet and co-writer Don Ryan were ex-newspapermen, which helped them frame this story inspired by prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, who had made headlines fighting organized crime in New York City. In this simplified version, Inspector Lane (John Litel) enlists the aid of 'Bull' Regan (Dick Purcell) to convince terrorized shopkeepers to testify against the protection rackets. Purcell's cop is played partly for laughs as a blundering flatfoot, who needs to learn to use his brains instead of his fists. Variety tagged the film as a Crime Does Not Pay story, but with laughs. The big break in the case comes after secretary Mary Norton (Jean Dale) falls in love with Bull. Realizing that her stockbroker boss Ward Sturgis (Harland Tucker) is the secret mob boss, Mary uses a Dictaphone to secure the needed evidence. The film's large cast includes Raymond Hatton as a thug, and Veda Ann Borg and a young Carole Landis in bit parts. Speaking of missing witnesses, this is the only film of leading lady Jean Dale, who is usually listed only as 'a newcomer.' Missing Witnesses is given a sharp look by cinematographer Sid Hickox, who went on to shoot many of the studio's biggest pictures for stars like Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.

By Glenn Erickson

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