I Love a Mystery
Cast & Crew
In San Francisco, the corspe of Jefferson Monk, which was beheaded in an automobile accident, is delivered to the morgue. Meanwhile, at the Silver Samovar Club, acclaimed detectives Jack Packard and Doc Long recall how they learned about the prophesy of Monk's death: Three days prior, the detectives meet Monk at a nightclub as he is menaced by an argumentative woman and a flaming dessert. After the dessert explodes and nearly chars Monk, the detectives extinguish the flames and Monk confides that someone is trying to kill him. Explaining that he has been condemned to die in three days, Monk claims that a man with a large black valise just large enough for a man's head has been following him, intending to decapitate him. Intrigued, Jack agrees to follow Monk and his bickering companion, Jean Anderson, as they leave the club. On a foggy sidestreet, Monk hears the footsteps of a man trailing him, and when Jean accuses him of hallucinating, he becomes agitated and attacks her. From the shadows, a peg-legged man with a deformed face appears, but Jack and Doc chase away the figure and then escort Monk home. On the way, Monk relates that he has just met Jean and that this wife Ellen is an invalid whose paralysis was predicted along with his death. At the house, Monk tells Jack and Doc about the mysterious oriental city to which he and Ellen journeyed one year earlier: Throughout the city's labyrinthine streets, Monk is haunted by an eerie melody played by a street musician. Upon returning to San Francisco, Monk hears the tune again, and when he questions the blind beggar who is playing it, the man leads him to an unfamiliar section of the city. In a deserted temple, Monk meets a man who calls himself "Mr. G" and claims that he is the High Priest of the Barokan, a Tibetian sacred society. After telling Monk that he has been trailing him for months, Mr. G reveals the mummified body of the group's founder, who bears a striking resemblace to Monk. Explaining that the founder's head is deteriorating, Mr. G offers Monk $10,000 for his head as a replacement and warns him that he has but one year to live. One month later, Monk decides to take Mr. G's prophesy seriously after a letter arrives at the house predicting his wife's paralysis and three days later, Ellen finds she cannot walk. Upon finishing his story, Monk leaves the room and Ellen confides to the detectives that she fears her husband is suicidal, feeling desperately guilty for her condition. The detectives then bid Ellen goodnight, and once alone in her room, Ellen stands and walks to the telephone to call her doctor. In the living room, Jack, meanwhile, asks to see the letter, and when Monk approaches his desk, he notices a new message, predicting his death in two days. Soon after, Ellen's physician, Dr. Han, enters the room and becomes apprehensive when Jack begins to question him. After Han exits, Jack surmises that the doctor is not Russian, as he claims, but a Eurasian who is involved in the miasma enveloping the Monks. Later, at the Samovar Club, Jack tells Doc that he has examined Monk's will and has learned that Monk's inheritance, valued at two million dollars, will be revoked if he ever divorces. Speculating that someone is trying to drive Monk to suicide in order to inherit his fortune, Jack proposes to use Monk as bait to trap his stalker. As Doc and Jack follow Monk that night, the peg-legged man lurks in the shadows until a woman's scream drives the man away. When the detectives hail a taxi to search for him, Jean steps out of the vehicle and admits to being the screamer. The peg-legged man, meanwhile, returns to his flat, and after he removes his hideous mask, a man steps from the shadows and slits his throat. The next day, Doc and Jack locate Monk at Dr. Han's office, and Monk claims that he walked the streets alone after the detectives disappeared the previous evening. Jack then shows him a newspaper story recounting the pegged-leg man's death and identifying him as Jean's father. From Han's office, Jack goes to visit Justin Reeves, a specialist in oriental artifacts. After questioning Reeves about his relationship with Ellen, Jack accuses him of being Mr. G and cautions him that there is no honor among thieves. Jack's warning proves accurate after Jean is murdered. Offering himself as bait to trap the killer, Jack proposes that the police issue a statement declaring that Jack knows the murderer's identity and then arrest him as a material witness. After the story appears in the newspapers, Jack escapes from jail and takes refuge in a warehouse owned by Monk. There, he instructs Doc to send telegrams to Han, Reeves, Ellen and her nurse, Miss Osgood, instructing them to assemble at the warehouse at midnight, and the anxious group meets later in Ellen's room. Reassuring them that Jack is bluffing, Ellen reminds them that they will soon be two million dollars richer and exhorts them to carry out their plans the next day. Everyone but Reeves then leaves the room, and Monk knocks at the door, sending Reeves scurrying behind the curtains for cover. Upon entering his wife's room, Monk claims to have heard a man's voice and insinuates that she is entertaining a lover. After Monk departs, Reeves, panicked, tries to flee the grounds, but is felled by an unseen assailant. Returning to Ellen's room, Monk boasts that he has just slit Reeves's throat and vows to make her suffer before killing her as well. Monk then hurries to the warehouse and informs Jack that he is the next to die. After Monk discloses that he learned about his wife's treachery by bribing Han, Jack smashes a piano lid on his hand and escapes. When Doc arrives soon after, Monk takes him hostage, but Jack overpowers him, and Monk then speeds away in a stolen car. Careening out of control, Monk smashes the car into a lamp post and loses his head. Returning to the present, Jack wonders out loud about what happened to Monk's missing head.
I Love a Mystery (1945) - I Love a Mystery
Radio shows like The Whistler had been adapted to film and so in 1945, I Love a Mystery was brought to the screen as a series. The first film starred Nina Foch, George Macready, and former Earl Carroll's Follies dancer Carole Mathews. Directed by Henry Levin, with a screenplay by Morse and Charles O'Neal, the film has the subtitle The Decapitation of Jefferson Monk. Told in flashback, as was done on the radio show, the story revolves around Jefferson Monk (Macready), a socialite who receives strange messages from an Asian secret society, threatening his life. He comes to believe that he will be decapitated in three days and Packard and Long have to scramble to prevent his death.
Jim Bannon wrote letters to his parents during the production of I Love a Mystery, which were later self-published as the autobiographical The Son That Rose in the West. In these letters, he talks about his disappointment over how the film was coming along. "[A]fter all the conversation about it and all of the waiting for the script to be finished so we could get the series started, it was not really a very outstanding production at all. It will do business, I'm sure, simply because of the title and the number of people who have listened to the show on radio for so long. As a truly good movie, however, it limps a little [. . .] One of the things we objected to was the way they had us just sort of stumble into the situation. In most of the detective series - Boston Blackie, The Lone Wolf, The Thin Man, etc. - the story is set up to revolve around the main characters. That wasn't the case with us, and I felt that the result was a weakened product. Carlton Morse, the author of the radio series, was on the set much of the time and since he didn't make too much of a howl about the way it was being done, Bart [Yarborough] and I kept quiet. It's sort of sad because they could very well kill off what has a chance of turning into a good continuing thing."
Unfortunately, Bannon's instincts were right and the series only lasted for two more films, The Devil's Mask and The Unknown, both in 1946. Part of the problem was the acting, as noted by film critic Milton Sosin for The Miami News "The moviegoer who is an inveterate 'whodunnit' fan (and this reviewer definitely falls into that category) usually isn't too critical of acting or direction just so long as the plot is slightly plausible and the raveling of the mystery is accomplished with the proper use of what Hercule Poirot calls 'the little gray cells'. From that viewpoint I Love a Mystery [...] is eminently satisfactory even though the acting of some of the principals is unconvincing at time and the direction could be stronger."
Producer: Wallace MacDonald
Director: Henry Levin
Screenplay: Charles O'Neal; Carlton E. Morse (radio series)
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Art Direction: George Brooks
Music: Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (uncredited)
Film Editing: Aaron Stell
Cast: Jim Bannon (Jack Packard), Nina Foch (Ellen Monk), George Macready (Jefferson Monk), Barton Yarborough (Doc Long), Carole Mathews (Jean Anderson), Lester Matthews (Justin Reeves/Mr. G).
BW-69m. Closed Captioning.
by Lorraine LoBianco
Bannon, Jim The Son That Rose in the West
"'Between Two Weeks' Held Over at the Capital" The Montreal Gazette 14 Apr 45
Sosin, Milton "'Whodunnit' Fans Like Columbia's Series Opener" The Miami News 11 Apr 45
I Love a Mystery (1945) - I Love a Mystery
The film opens with a narrator's voice speaking over the image of a man strolling a darkened street. The voice intones that the audience is watching, "I Love a Mystery, featuring the adventures of Jack Packard and Doc Long in the Decapitation of Jefferson Monk." This was the first entry in Columbia's "I Love a Mystery" series. The series was based on the radio program of the same name, and this particular entry was based on a radio episode titled "The Head of Jonathan Monk." According to a news item in Variety, Columbia bought the rights to the radio series, intending to produce two films annually over a period of five years. Only three films were produced for the series, however. The third and final entry was the 1946 film The Unknown (see below). All three films were directed by Henry Levin, produced by Wallace MacDonald and starred Jim Bannon and Barton Yarborough as detectives "Jack Packard" and "Doc Long". Barton and Yarborough also played the detectives in the radio series, but in the radio version, they were joined by an English character named "Reggie York".
The radio show, written and directed by Carlton Morse, began on the NBC network in 1939 and ran for five years, first as a serial and then as a series. In 1949, the Mutual Broadcasting Network revived the series, which continued for three more years. In 1967, Universal produced a pilot for a proposed I Love a Mystery television series, to star Les Crane and David Hartman. The pilot was not telecast until February 27, 1973, however, and was not picked up as a series. A 1994 Touchstone film of the same name is unrelated to the Morse stories.