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The Missing Juror

The Missing Juror(1944)

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The Missing Juror (1944) is a routine B mystery, a film that would likely be even more forgotten today than it already is were it not the work of a director -- Oscar Boetticher, Jr. -- who would go on to become, as Budd Boetticher, one of the finest and most influential directors of 1950s westerns. This little programmer was only Boetticher's second directing credit, and while there is little stylistically to tie the film to his later, more personal pictures, it does show a young filmmaker figuring things out and using the camera and lighting to create atmosphere that at some points elevates the all-too-obvious script -- not to the level of film noir, but at least up a few notches. Most of all, Boetticher's penchant for humor is on display as he emphasizes the comedy in several scenes and plays out bits of comic business, especially with the character played by Joseph Crehan, well beyond what is required. These little moments are quite enjoyable in much the same way that comic interludes steal the show in otherwise dramatic Boetticher westerns like Seven Men From Now (1956) or The Tall T (1957).

The Missing Juror casts Jim Bannon as a reporter who uncovers the existence of a serial killer. Several members of a jury that wrongfully convicted George Macready to death (a sentence that was overturned but still led Macready to insanity and presumably to his demise) have died in recent weeks, and for some reason that police haven't yet concluded that there's something fishy going on. Bannon gets a hunch, more jurors die, and soon enough the cops are on board and lovely blonde juror Janis Carter is next in line...

Boetticher first worked with Janis Carter on The Girl in the Case (1944), when Boetticher was assistant to director William Berke. While he had already worked as AD on other films, including The More the Merrier (1943) and Cover Girl (1944), the assignment of The Girl in the Case was meant by Columbia chief Harry Cohn to specifically prepare Boetticher to start directing his own features. Boetticher later wrote in his memoir that working with Berke was "a dream -- [he was] absolutely sensational with me. He didn't mind my nosing around on the set. And, he went out of his way to help me learn the art of making a full-length film in two short weeks. Believe me, it's not easy! But, a dreadful thing happened on that set. I developed a real crush on the leading lady."

That leading lady was Janis Carter, whom Boetticher described as "my first true love in the picture business. I'd never seen anyone that beautiful up close, not even Rita [Hayworth] or Linda [Darnell] from Blood and Sand. But, heck, almost everyone in Hollywood can fake looking great. It was more than that. She was just so darn nice and so much fun. And the fact that her legs made Betty Grable's legs look... Well, Miss Grable's legs just weren't as pretty."

It was an innocent infatuation -- Carter was married, and the two simply became good friends. In the meantime, Boetticher was assigned some uncredited directing work on Submarine Raider (1942) and U-Boat Prisoner (1944) before he finally got to direct his first full feature, One Mysterious Night (1944), and then The Missing Juror, both of which starred Janis Carter. Boetticher treated all these films simply as training. "Everything involved with my first five films at Columbia was a learning experience," he wrote. "These little black-and-white pictures were made in twelve days for one hundred thousand dollars. They were called 'fillers.' They filled the bill consisting of a major motion picture and a second feature... I suspect folks bought a lot of popcorn when my pictures came on.

"I really faked those first five [pictures] with a bundle of phony confidence," he added. Soon enough, the confidence would be genuine, and the movies would be much better. But The Missing Juror is not bad, and for fans of Boetticher, it's well worth a look. Sony's DVD-R, produced on demand, is a zero-frills but good-looking transfer.

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by Jeremy Arnold