Among the Missing
Cast & Crew
The Abbott family becomes concerned when they discover that their Aunt Martha is missing. As they call in the police to find her, the old woman is asleep on a park bench. Jewel thieves Gordon and Tommy come across the old woman, and knowing that the police are following them, slip their latest stolen gems into her coat pocket. They then take her back to Gordon's antique store, where they sell their stolen merchandise. Gordon offers Aunt Martha a job as his cook, and she moves into Tommy's old room. She becomes an immediate hit with the young thief when she compliments the photograph of his girl friend, Judy. When Aunt Martha learns the two men's true profession, she impresses upon Tommy that he change his ways for Judy's sake. Tommy agrees, but Gordon has already planned the robbery of the Gilbert Jewelry Company for the next night, so Tommy consents to go along "for the last time." Aunt Martha overhears their plans and follows them to the crime scene. Inside the jewelry company, a scrub woman accidentally sets off the burglar alarm. Gordon escapes by the elevator, while Tommy makes his hasty retreat to the fire escape. Aunt Martha stops Tommy at the fire escape and insists that he first return the jewels. When he refuses, Aunt Martha takes the gems herself, and the young man makes his getaway. Aunt Martha then pretends to be a scrub woman and puts the jewels in a bucket of dirty water. Her ruse is discovered when the real scrub woman arrives, and Aunt Martha is arrested. As his confederates make their escape from town, Tommy becomes conscience-stricken and goes to the police. Aunt Martha soon is released, and Tommy is given a long jail sentence, which is suspended when he agrees to name his accomplices. Tommy is put on probation under the custody of Aunt Martha, and looks forward to a new, honest life with Judy.
Harry C. Bradley
Claire Du Brey
Katherine Clare Ward
John Maurice Sullivan
A. R. Haysel
A. S. "pop" Byron
C. L. Sherwood
John Paul Jones
Fred Niblo Jr.
Jerry Franklin Wright
Among the Missing
The forgotten melodrama Among the Missing is an exception to conventional film history, because the film makes ample use of outdoor locations. Not only do these scenes include sync sound, but they were also shot at night, which is another technique historians would describe as rare for the era.
The sentimental story about choosing the correct moral path in life revolves around the relationship between a matronly woman and a young man who has fallen under the influence of a sophisticated thief. The film opens when Aunt Martha, played by Henrietta Crosman, leaves home, presumably because her nephew and his wife are more interested in selling her house for the money than they are in her well-being. Sitting alone in the park at night, Aunt Martha is pleased when a young man named Tommy strikes up a conversation. She doesn't know that Tommy, played by Richard Cromwell, has just taken part in a jewel robbery with Gordon, a master thief who uses his fashionable antique store as a front. When Gordon finds the two chatting away on the park bench, he decides to offer Martha a job as their cook and housekeeper to enhance the illusion of propriety.
Aunt Martha, who is more savvy than the men realize, figures out that Gordon runs a theft ring and that poor Tommy is a part of it. Her maternal wisdom tells her that Tommy, an orphan who had been taken in by Gordon, is really good at heart and needs only the unconditional love of a mother to turn his life around. At first, the young man resents her interference; later, he appreciates her maternal devotion when she makes a sacrifice for him.
The first image in Among the Missing is a long shot of the actual Los Angeles police department in bright daylight, revealing the naturalistic cinematography by Joseph August. Shortly thereafter, Aunt Martha meets Tommy in the park in a night sequence that begins with an exciting action scene and concludes with a sync-sound conversation that sets up the story. August, a well-respected cameraman who co-founded the American Society of Cinematographers, did not let the limitations of early sound deter him. The sequence opens with a police searchlight panning across an empty park at night. The camera tracks with the panning light until it reaches a patch of thick shrubbery. The bright beam of the searchlight continues to the right, while the camera stops and tracks forward into the shrub to reveal Tommy and Gordon. They are lit well enough for the audience to see them, but the lighting is nuanced to look natural. Despite the cumbersome sound equipment of the era, Tommy and Gordon begin a conversation in sync sound. Later Tommy hurries across the park to elude police; the camera tracks in front of him, with the panicky young man hurtling toward us. The shots seem spontaneous, giving the chase scene a sense of urgency. The forward and backward tracking of the camera take advantage of the depth inherent in photography. This is atypical for early sound films, which were so focused on capturing audible dialogue that directors tended to set their cameras in front of the characters and not move it.
In another shot in this sequence, a police officer patrols the streets around the park. The camera seems to be inside the car, as though the audience is riding alongside the policeman--a modern-looking shot that stands out in a film from 1934.
Later, Tommy, Aunt Martha, and Judy, who is literally the girl next door, picnic in Echo Park, where the foliage, bridges, and streams add a picturesque quality that looks almost painterly. The climactic robbery was shot on location in a downtown building, with long corridors, interior office spaces, and an Art Deco pattern adorning the elevator doors. At one point, a character pulls a burglar alarm, which triggers the alarm system at a centrally located station. Director Albert Rogell chose to depict each stage of the alarm as it went off, showing the sophisticated system and how it worked.
In addition to the skilled location photography, August did not neglect the expressive possibilities of lighting to add suspense and mood. The interiors of the antique shop are often bathed in low-key lighting to create a sinister atmosphere, while another robbery scene is memorable for the oversized shadows of Tommy, Gordon, and their henchman as the trio sneak alongside a building.
Joseph August began his career working for Thomas Ince as the cinematographer on William S. Hart's westerns, which were touted for their realism and authenticity. However, by the 1920s, August proved to be a versatile cameraman, tackling a variety of genres that called for creative lighting effects and deliberate, formal compositions. He relished devising unusual shots and experimenting with the camera. In Fig Leaves (1926), he tried his hand at the two-color Technicolor process; in Big Dan (1923), he turned the camera upside down for an unusual effect. August found sound technology challenging but not daunting. He had worked for John Ford on a few silent films, and he and Ford re-teamed in the 1930s to produce some of the great director's most memorable work, including The Informer in 1935. Elaborate tracking shots, underwater photography, and chiaroscuro lighting highlight his work for Ford and other legendary directors of Golden Age Hollywood. August was at the peak of his career when he was assigned to Among the Missing; his stellar camerawork elevates the sentimental material.
Among the Missing is not well known, even among film buffs and classic-movie lovers. Part of the reason for the film's obscurity is the cast, which includes no major stars or familiar character actors. Boyish actor Richard Cromwell, who stars as Tommy, enjoyed a measure of success as a supporting or secondary character during the early 1930s. His biggest film proved to be The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, released the next year after Among the Missing. After he returned from the armed services in the 1940s, he appeared in a few films, but his career fizzled out. Long after stardom eluded him, he still enjoyed a Hollywood lifestyle, throwing parties for the stars and industry figures.
Henrietta Crosman, who played Aunt Martha, belonged to the same generation of stage actresses as Ethel Barrymore, Maude Adams, Julia Marlowe, and Minnie Maddern Fiske (aka Mrs. Fiske). Crosman garnered acclaim and stardom in 1900 for her performance as Nell Gwynne in Mistress Nell. She never achieved the same level of stardom as Barrymore or Adams, probably because her forte was comedy, but she was successful for several decades. She dabbled in silent films in the mid-1910s, signing with Adolph Zukor's Famous Players, then joining Universal's stable of stage players. But, her best film work occurred in the early sound era, particularly her moving performance as the main character in John Ford's Pilgrimage (1933). Casting older actresses in starring roles was in vogue during the early 1930s. Crosman joined Marie Dressler, May Robson, and Mary Boland, among others, playing matrons, grandmothers, and mothers on the big screen. In Among the Missing, Crosman's decades of experience as an actress resulted in a restrained, natural performance that gave weight to her sentimental character.
Among the Missing definitely benefitted from the participation of experienced veterans in front of and behind the camera.
By Susan Doll
Producer: Sid Rogell for Columbia Pictures
Director: Albert Rogell
Screenplay: Herbert Asbury and Fred Niblo, Jr., based on the story "Men of the Night" by Florence Wagner
Cinematography: Joseph August
Editor: John Rawlins
Cast: Tommy (Richard Cromwell), Aunt Martha (Henrietta Crosman), Judy (Billie Seward), Gordon (Arthur Hohl), Smeed (Ivan Simpson), Police Officer Flannagan (Ben Taggart), Police Captain Connors (Paul Hurst), Alvin Abbot (Harry C. Bradley), Mrs. Alvin Abbot (Claire Du Brey), Detective Rogers (Wade Boteler)
1934 Black & White 62 mins.
Among the Missing
The working title for this film was Men of the Night, which was also the release title of another 1934 Columbia picture (see below). According to Screen Achievements Bulletin, the title of Florence Wagner's unpublished story was also Men of the Night.