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Synopsis: Diane Parrish sells a family heirloom, a statue of Augustus Caesar, to a pair of unscrupulous art dealers in order to raise money to treat her brother, who has been diagnosed with tuberculosis. They create a replica to sell in its place while they keep the original. Boston Blackie, the reformed safecracker and detective, gets involved with solving the mystery when Diane spots the fake at the auction.
Confessions of Boston Blackie (1941) was one of a number of "B" pictures that Edward Dmytryk directed early in his career; it was his only entry in this particular series. This film offers good examples of both the constraints and opportunities that directors faced working on "B" programmers. The script is an absurd--but undeniably entertaining--mishmash of tubercular relatives, hidden panels in walls, ice cream vendors and showgirls, all crammed into an hour's running time. By the same token, films like this gave young directors practical experience in working quickly and professionally with a minimal budget, telling stories in a concise manner--since many of these films were only an hour long--and wherever possible, demonstrating a stylistic flair that might attract the attention of studio heads. While the Boston Blackie films certainly appealed to audiences of the day and still have something of a cult following, they were never favorites of the critics. For instance, the reviewer for the New York Times wrote on this film: "In more ways than one Confessions of Boston Blackie [...] resembles nothing so much as a chase in a nightmare. There is a lot of furious motion, but it doesn't get anywhere."
Biographical information for Jack Boyle, the author of the original Boston Blackie stories, is fairly scarce. Edward D. Koch, in his introduction to the 1979 reprint of the Boston Blackie stories, doesn't provide an exact birth date ("sometime prior to 1880"), but he mentions that Boyle grew up in Chicago and moved to San Francisco, where he covered Chinatown as a reporter. Boyle was present in the city during the great earthquake of 1906. He also became addicted to opium and was sentenced to prison more than once--first for bad checks, and later for armed robbery. Following the classic injunction to "write what you know," in 1914 he developed the character of the opium-addicted safecracker Boston Blackie for a series of stories in The American Magazine illustrated by the famed N. C. Wyeth. Boyle subsequently published fiction for Redbook and Cosmopolitan, and refashioned some of the Boston Blackie stories into a novel, which was published in 1919.
Film adaptations of the Boston Blackie stories date almost as far back as the stories themselves. In 1918, Metro Pictures released Boston Blackie's Little Pal, followed the subsequent year by Blackie's Redemption. Boyle himself collaborated on the script for the 1922 Boston Blackie film entitled The Face in the Fog, starring Lionel Barrymore. During the Twenties, Boyle wrote scripts for further Boston Blackie films, but his most interesting project appears to have been The Whipping Boss, a Monogram picture about harsh conditions at a prison lumber camp. Boyle later relocated to New York and is said to have passed away around 1928.
The character was resurrected in 1941 with Meet Boston Blackie, starring Chester Morris, who would play the character throughout the Forties. Morris (1901-1970) previously starred in the Roland West films Alibi (1929) and The Bat Whispers (1930). George E. Stone appears here for the first time as Boston Blackie's recurring sidekick "The Runt." A few years later, NBC built a radio show around the Boston Blackie character; a television series, starring Kent Taylor, aired starting in 1951.
Producer: William Berke
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Script: Paul Yawitz (story and script); Jay Dratler (story)
Based on the characters by Jack BoylePhotography: Philip Tannura
Art Direction: Lionel Banks
Film Editor: Gene Milford
Music: M. W. Stoloff
Principal cast: Chester Morris (Boston Blackie), Harriet Hilliard (Diane Parrish), Richard Lane (Inspector Farraday), George E. Stone (The Runt), Lloyd Corrigan (Arthur Manleder), Joan Woodbury (Mona), Walter Sande (Detective Mathews), Ralph Theodore (Buchanan), Kenneth MacDonald (Caulder), Walter Soderling (Eric Allison), Billy Benedict (Ice Cream Man).
by James Steffen