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Jury service proves downright deadly in the 1944 B film noir The Missing Juror. You can tell it's from Columbia because of the on-screen presence of Janis Carter and George Macready, two studio mainstays during the '40s. But the film's chief point of interest is as the second directing credit for Budd Boetticher, best known for the Westerns he made with Randolph Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown in the '50s. Even this early in his career, he shows the economy and sense of pacing that would mark such classics as The Tall T (1957) and Buchanan Rides Alone (1958). As a journeyman director, however, it's doubtful he had much input on the script, which lacks the psychological subtlety of his later works.
Jim Bannon stars as a reporter whose coverage of a murder leads him to discover the victim had served on the jury for a notorious murder case, and that four other jurors have died under mysterious circumstances. Coincidentally, he had earlier discovered that a key witness' perjury had led to the convicted man's release from death row to an insane asylum, where he was driven mad waiting to be hanged for a crime he hadn't committed. As more victims turn up, he befriends a female juror (Carter), who has struck up an acquaintance with the jury's foreman (Macready). In the course of 66 minutes, the noose tightens, quite literally, with Bannon racing to save Carter from becoming another victim.
Boetticher had only recently entered the movies after a peripatetic career that included jobs as a cowboy and a bullfighter, both of which led to his first movie credits. In 1939, he served as a horse wrangler for Of Mice and Men, then two years later signed on as technical advisor for the bullfighting drama Blood and Sand (1941), starring Tyrone Power and Rita Hayworth. During the latter film, he watched director Rouben Mamoulian carefully and also sat in with 20th Century-Fox editor Barbara McLean. That convinced him to pursue a Hollywood career, and before long he landed a job at Columbia. There he started as an assistant director before moving into directing B films, starting with One Mysterious Night (1944), which also starred Carter. Although he would later deride his earlier low-budget films, scholars have begun noting elements of his style in them.
Leading man Bannon was the star of radio's I Love a Mystery. He made three films based on the series at Columbia and then went on to play Red Ryder at Eagle-Lion. Carter was an aspiring opera singer whose nervousness ruined her Metropolitan Opera audition. Instead, she wound up on Broadway, where Darryl F. Zanuck spotted her. He signed her for 20th Century-Fox, where she lasted two years before moving to Columbia for most of the '40s.
The real star of The Missing Juror, however, was Macready, though for reasons that can't be revealed without giving away the ending. The Missing Juror was only his third film at Columbia, the studio where he would play his most famous roles, most of them villainous. Macready was born to be an actor; in fact he was a descendant of the legendary British Shakespearean actor William Charles Macready. After a Broadway career in which he appeared with such stars as Katharine Cornell and Helen Hayes, he turned to Hollywood in his forties, making his film debut at Columbia in 1942's Commandos Strike at Dawn. He would become a studio mainstay, playing everything from Nina Foch's deranged spouse in My Name Is Julia Ross (1945) to French writer Alfred DeMusset in A Song to Remember the same year. His most famous role, however, was the maniacal casino owner involved with Rita Hayworth and, possibly, Glenn Ford in Gilda (1946). Cultured villains were his stock in trade, partly because of his mellifluous, deep voice but also because of the scar on his cheek from a car wreck when he was 20. Off-screen, the only thing he shared with those roles was his sense of culture. A longtime art collector, he and good friend Vincent Price ran a Hollywood gallery whose clients included Katharine Hepburn and Greta Garbo. Macready was always philosophical about his typecasting as a villain, claiming that it often brought him better roles than the leads. "I like heavies," he once said, "I think there's a little bit of evil in all of us."
As with many B movies, The Missing Juror offered bit roles to actors who would become more famous later in their careers. Quick-eyed viewers will spot Mike Mazurki as a masseur the same year he scored his breakthrough role as Moose Malloy in Murder, My Sweet (1944), and Ray Teal, best-known as Sheriff Roy Coffee on the TV series Bonanza, as a police detective.
Producer: Wallace MacDonald
Director: Budd Boetticher
Screenplay: Charles O'Neal
Based on a story by Leon Abrams and Richard Hill Wilkinson
Cinematography: L. William O'Connell
Art Director: George Brooks
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Cast: Jim Bannon (Joe Keats), Janis Carter (Alice Hill), George Macready (Harry Wharton/Jerome K. Bentley), Jean Stevens (Tex Tuttle), Joseph Crehan (Willard Apple aka Falstaff), Milton Kibbee (Joe), Mike Mazurki (Cullie), Ray Teal (Chief of Detectives at Line-Up).
by Frank Miller