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The Panther's Claw

The Panther's Claw(1942)

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Wigmaker Everett P. Digberry is arrested on suspicion of robbery by policeman Murphy after he emerges from a cemetery late at night. When he is questioned by police commissioner Thatcher Colt and Colt's assistant, Anthony Abbot, Everett shows them a blackmail letter signed by the "Black Panther" and marked with a panther's claw pawprint, demanding that he leave $1,000 in the cemetery. Everett is joined by five other members of the opera company he works for, all of whom have received similar letters but have not paid. Everyone suspects tenor Enrico Lombardi is behind the plot because he has an erratic and violent personality. Later, Lombardi tries to force his affection on opera star Nina Politza, but she throws him out of her room and leaves for a vacation in Buenos Aires. Everett, who is living in a small apartment while his wife and five daughters are out of town, is visited by Murphy, who asks him for his bank book to prove he withdrew the money, and obtains a receipt that Everett types up on his own typewriter. That night, Everett leaves his apartment after receiving an anonymous phone call asking him to go to a specific street corner. Although the elevator man sees Everett come and go several times, Everett later finds Murphy waiting for him in his apartment and claims he only just returned. To prove that Everett is the blackmailer, Colt demonstrates that Everett's cat provided the pawprint for the letters, and his typewriter was used for all of them. Everett admits to writing the blackmail letters to cover up a $1,000 loan to a friend. However, while he is being questioned, Captain Flynn calls Colt with news that one of Everett's neighbors has been murdered. When Colt and Abbot investigate the scene of the crime, Colt discovers that Everett's neighbor is actually Nina wearing a grey wig, and they find a torn photograph of Everett in her room. Later, Everett admits to having seen Nina that night before he went out to meet his anonymous caller, who never showed up at the street corner. Everett is distraught by the news of her death, and reveals that both Lombardi and her ex-husband had made threats against her. When Colt shows him a piece of a wig found in Nina's hand, Everett identifies it as having been made by his rival, Samuel Wilkins. Colt and Abbot go to see Wilkins, who verifies that the wig is one of two he sold to either Lombardi or a man named Frank Galloway. Colt later is pressured by campaigning district attorney Bill Dougherty to arrest Everett for Nina's murder, but Colt assures him that while the evidence rests heavily against Everett, he is sure that he is innocent. Shortly after, Flynn reports that Frank Galloway does not exist, and that Nina's ex-husband has been picked up. Lombardi is also picked up and interrogated, but he is too drunk to make any sense. Nina's manager, Edgar Walters, comes to see Colt about the investigation, and gets Colt's permission to search her apartment for an insurance policy Nina recently purchased. Colt then calls Wilkins, who agrees to come in the next morning to identify the buyer of the wig. Wilkins is murdered that night, however, and police find a portion of a photo of Everett's head in his shop. At Dougherty's insistence, Everett's apartment is searched, and the murder weapon and Nina's insurance policy are found. Everett is arrested, and Colt asks him to bring one of his suits with him. Although Everett denies that the gun belongs to him, he reveals that he had loaned the $1,000 to Nina because she was bankrupt, and she signed over her insurance policy to him, and secretly moved into his apartment building, as security. Although all the evidence points to Everett as both Nina and Wilkins' killer, he proves that the suit from his closet is not actually his. Colt then accuses Walters, who is present, of killing both Wilkins and Nina, and proves his case by showing that Walters purchased the same suit and gun, and that he wore the grey wig to impersonate Everett. Colt postulates that Walters killed Nina because he stole her money and knew that she was in town having him investigated, and then killed Wilkins because he could identify him as "Frank Galloway." Walters is arrested and Colt drops the blackmail charges against Everett. Everett also receives the $1,000 reward that Walters put up for Nina's murderer, and Colt provides Everett with a police escort so he can pick up his wife and five daughters from the train station.