Meet Boston Blackie
Cast & Crew
Reformed safecracker Boston Blackie and his sidekick The Runt are docking at New York harbor upon their return from Europe when Blackie witnesses Marilyn Howard, an attractive fellow passenger, being threatened by a sinister looking man. After coming to Marilyn's rescue, Blackie is greeted by Inspector Faraday of the New York police department who believes that the former thief has stolen the Mansfield pearls, which disappeared shortly before Blackie left for Europe. To obtain a set of Blackie's fingerprints, Faraday places him under arrest and confiscates his landing pass to prevent him from leaving the ship. When Blackie returns to his stateroom to finish packing, he discovers the body of the menacing man, whose name is Martin Vestrick. Knowing that Faraday will accuse him of Vestrick's murder, Blackie pockets the dead man's landing pass, finds The Runt and leaves the boat and Faraday behind. Suspecting that Marilyn is involved in the murder, Blackie follows her to a Coney Island carnival freak show. After instructing The Runt to summon Faraday to his apartment, Blackie joins Marilyn on her ride through the tunnel of love. When Blackie accuses her of murdering Vestrick, Marilyn claims that she killed him in self-defense. Marilyn is about to describe the nefarious organization to which Vestrick belonged when she is stabbed by two men wielding darts. With her dying breath, Marilyn mutters something about the show's mechanical man and warns Blackie to watch the carnival signs. After killing Marilyn, the two men chase Blackie, who runs into the mechanical man's dressing room. When the killers knock on the dressing room door, Blackie slugs the mechanical man and jumps out the window onto the street. Hunted by Marilyn's killers, Blackie hijacks a car driven by Cecelia Bradley and loses his pursuers by driving the car onto a railroad boxcar. Later, when the train stops, Blackie drives out of the boxcar and hears a radio broadcast announcing that Marilyn Howard, an international spy, has been murdered in the tunnel of love. Blackie then introduces himself to Cecelia, who insists on helping him solve the murder. When Cecelia and Blackie arrive at Blackie's apartment, Faraday is waiting to question him about the murders, and Blackie gives him a set of fingerprints to prove that the prints on the gun that shot Vestrick are not his. Satisfied, Faraday leaves and Cecelia and Blackie return to the carnival to investigate. Blackie's alibi backfires, however, when the police lab verifies that although Blackie's prints do not match those found on the gun, they do match prints found on the darts that killed Marilyn. Meanwhile, at the carnival, Blackie is looking through a telescope to investigate some blinking lights emanating from an offshore boat when the mechanical man's thugs spot him. After slugging the thugs with the telescope, Blackie calls his apartment to ask The Runt for help. Faraday is waiting there, however, and after intercepting the message, he ties up The Runt and goes to the carnival to find Blackie. Meanwhile, Blackie disguises himself as a blind man in a wheelchair and watches as the weight guesser misjudges a man's weight by thirty pounds. Realizing that the number must be a signal, Blackie looks up and sees a neon sign flashing in code, and at that moment, Faraday arrives to arrest Blackie. When Faraday refuses Blackie's plea for time to solve the case, Blackie knocks the inspector unconscious, steals his badge and calls the police, claiming that his unconscious friend is Boston Blackie. Blackie and Cecelia then run into the freak show and overhear the spies discuss stealing the plans to a Navy bomb site. Blackie then returns to his apartment just as a police officer and Faraday, who has convinced the carnival police that he is an inspector, enter the building's elevator. After trapping Faraday and his companion in the elevator by turning off the power, Blackie offers to free them if they promise to suspend their chase for one night. They agree but upon releasing The Runt, Blackie locks the policemen in the bedroom and drives with The Runt and Cecelia to her apartment. After deciphering the license plate number on Cecelia's car, Faraday and the officer break out of the bedroom and put a trace on the plate. The next morning, The Runt awakens in Cecelia's apartment to find that Blackie is missing and goes to the boardwallk to find him. There, he is knocked unconscious by the spies. When Blackie returns to Cecelia's with news that he has broken the code and discovered that the spies plan to deliver the stolen plans at seven that night, she insists on accompanying him back to the carnival, so he locks her in the Murphy bed. After Blackie leaves, Faraday, who has traced Cecelia's address through her license plate, arrives and frees her. She then takes Faraday and his police officers to the boardwalk, where he arrests Blackie. When Faraday refuses to believe Blackie's story about the mechanical man and the spies, Blackie throws a ball at the mechanical man, and the barker shoots at them from the stage. Blackie and the police then rush backstage, find the stolen plans and arrest the spies. After Blackie tells the police about the offshore spy boat, he finds The Runt locked in a case used to saw people in half.
Meet Boston Blackie
When a corpse is found in Blackie's stateroom, Faraday focuses his investigation on our hero even though Blackie is innocent. In order to clear his blackened name, he follows his only lead, Marilyn Howard (Constance Worth), to a Coney Island freak show exhibit. (One of the attractions is Schlitze the pinhead, who appeared in Tod Browning's notorious 1932 film, Freaks.) Marilyn meets her end, fittingly on a Tunnel of Horrors ride, and the same killers go after our hero. Blackie forces a ride with Cecelia Bradley (the aforementioned Rochelle Hudson), an innocent bystander, and the two, along with Blackie's sidekick, The Runt (played for the only time by Charles Wagenheim; the character would subsequently be played by George E. Stone), unravel a mystery that goes beyond two homicides and into the world of espionage.
Boston Blackie was created by pulp writer Donald Boyle. He appeared in Boyle's 1920 novel Boston Blackie, which was a compilation of his short stories "Boston Blackie's Mary" and "Fred the Count," published in Red Book Magazine in Nov. 1917 and Jan. 1918, respectively. Blackie then got film treatments in the late teens and early twenties by the time Columbia launched its Boston Blackie series in 1941, under the working title The Return of Boston Blackie. Meet Boston Blackie became the first film in Columbia's profitable 14 film series, with Chester Morris providing an amiable, charming hero in all episodes. Morris "brought to the role a delightful offhand manner and sense of humour that kept the films fresh even when the scripts weren't," according to critic Leonard Maltin.
The inventive and talented Robert Florey directed the picture and kept the hour-long film tight and quick, with an added dash of moodiness with interesting camera angles and excellent photography by Franz Planer, particularly some convincing day-for-night sequences during a car chase. However, the New York Times dismissed Meet Boston Blackie as "third-rate" fluff. Despite Chester Morris' appealing performance, the reviewer only noted that his "spotted career is too notorious for any dependence upon him." But the Boston Blackie character has proven to have an enduring popularity. In 2002, Moonstone Books unveiled a Boston Blackie graphic novel as part of their ambitious "Moonstone Noir" crime comic series.
Producer: Ralph Cohn, Irving Briskin
Director: Robert Florey
Screenplay: Jay Dratler
Cinematography: Franz Planer
Film Editing: James Sweeney
Music: Sidney Cutner
Cast: Chester Morris (Horatio 'Boston Blackie' Black), Rochelle Hudson (Cecelia Bradley), Richard Lane (Insp. Faraday), Charles Wagenheim (The Runt), Constance Worth (Marilyn Howard), Jack O'Malley (Monk).
by Scott McGee
Meet Boston Blackie
This film marked the screen debut of "Boston Blackie," and was sufficiently popular to spawn 13 more hour-long "Blackie" pictures.
The working title of this film was The Return of Boston Blackie. Although Richard Lane's character name is spelled "Faraday" in this picture, it is spelled "Farraday" in subsequent "Boston Blackie" films. Although a Hollywood Reporter production chart places George E. Stone in the cast, he did not appear in this film. In the next twelve later films in the series, however, Stone replaced Charles Wagenheim as "The Runt."
This picture was the first in Columbia's "Boston Blackie" series. The series, consisting of fourteen films, ran from 1941-1949 and starred Chester Morris as "Blackie," a reformed safecracker and amateur magician. Also featured in the series was Richard Lane as "Inspector Farraday," the police officer who doubts Blackie's reformation; George E. Stone as "The Runt," Blackie's sidekick; and Lloyd Corrigan as Blackie's eccentric millionaire friend "Arthur Manleder." The last film in the series was the 1949 picture Boston Blackie's Chinese Adventure (see entry above).
The character of Blackie was taken from Jack Boyle's 1920 novel Boston Blackie, which was a compilation of Boyle's short stories "Boston Blackie's Mary" and "Fred the Count." The stories appeared in Red Book Magazine in November 1917 and January 1918, respectively. Morris originated the role of Blackie on the radio, while Lane was one of the actors who portrayed Farraday on the same program.
Other films based on Boyle's character were the 1918 Metro picture Boston Blackie's Little Pal, directed by E. Mason Hopper and starring Bert Lytell; the 1919 Metro film Blackie's Redemption, starring Lytell and directed by John Ince (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.0440 and F1.0368); and the 1923 Fox film Boston Blackie, directed by Scott Dunlap (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.0549). In addition to radio and films, the character of Blackie spawned an NBC television series, which ran from 1951-1958 and starred Kent Taylor as the reformed safecracker and Frank Other as Farraday. For additional information on the series, please consult the Series Index.