Cast & Crew
Dr. Ernest Tindal murders his wife Ruth, who has been having an affair, then goes out for the evening. In the hallway he meets his friend, and they can hear what sounds like his wife playing the piano, thus Tindal has created a perfect alibi. On the night of the murder, Ruth's lover Frank Marlan, who had a rendezvous with Ruth, finds her body lying on the floor of her apartment. At the sound of approaching voices, Frank panics and runs, after leaving his fingerprints on a doorknob. The case is investigated by Captain McKinley and his reporter friend, Russell Kirk, who are always in competition for the same woman. Kirk instantly determines that the murder involves infidelity, and the fingerprints lead them to the Marlan home. Kirk meets Frank's sister Vera, and immediately falls in love with her. She is unable to provide her brother with an alibi when Kirk remembers seeing her leave a nightclub alone the night of the murder. Julia and Jack Reed, notorious gangsters, also try to vouch for Frank, but botch their alibi, after which Frank is convicted and sentenced to execution. Kirk's attraction to Vera leads him to help her try to get an appeal, but the governor refuses. During a fight with McKinley, in which McKinley tries to strangle him, Kirk realizes Frank must be innocent, because Ruth would have grabbed her assailant's wrists, just as he grabbed McKinley's wrists during the struggle. Frank was arrested because his watch charm was found in Ruth's hand and was used as evidence against him, however, watch charms rest on the midriff, not the wrists. They immediately suspect the Reeds, but Tindal tips the Reeds off and they escape. Jack is shot by McKinley, however, and Julia calls Tindal to their hideout to save him. Knowing that Jack is the only witness to the murder because Jack stole the watch charm for him, Tindal kills Jack, then tells Vera that he died from his injury. Distraught, Julia attempts to kill McKinley at headquarters, but fails. A coroner reports that Jack died at the hands of his surgeon, and all realize that Tindal must be guilty. They stop Tindal, who was nonchalantly dressing to attend Frank's execution, and Kirk reveals that his investigation proves that Tindal bought a player piano shortly before his wife's death. He used this to form his alibi that Ruth was alive when he left on the eve of her murder. By attaching a length of paper to the music sheet, the piano had a delay before it began playing. A stay of execution is granted for Frank, and Tindal is arrested. Vera expresses her thanks to Kirk for his assistance, but to his dismay, she is already engaged to someone else.
J. Carrol Naish
George Offerman Jr.
A. E. Freudeman
Phil G. Wisdom
Night Club Scandal -
Lillie Hayward adapted the Daniel Nathan Rubin play for the Night Club Scandal script, which opens, Columbo-style, with a depiction of the murder that the cops and reporters will have to solve. So it is no spoiler to say that Dr. Ernest Tindal (Barrymore) strangles his wife and attempts to frame her lover Frank (Harvey Stephens) for the crime. It is up to stone-faced detective McKinley (Charles Bickford, in the McLaglen role) and motormouthed journalist Russell Kirk (Lynne Overman - taking over for Lowe) to unwind Tindal's devious plot.
McKinley is happy to close the case when all the clues point to Frank, but Kirk keeps churning through the clues, convinced of Frank's innocence (in no small part because of his crush on Frank's sister Vera (Louise Campbell)). Bickford and Overman work out an appealing odd couple routine, with Bickford's bulldog playing nicely with Overman's yapping Pomeranian. This is one of nine features Overman made in 1937, and it's remarkable he doesn't pass out at the pace he talks. It's a love-it-or-hate it spin on spitfire journo template established by Lee Tracy, steamrolling witnesses and stealing photographs off of desk tops. He starts off so cynical it's hard to swallow the tonal shift that occurs when Kirk starts seriously investigating the case.
The workmanlike direction is by Ralph Murphy, who does nothing to hide the films' stage origins but keeps things moving swiftly in the 70-minute runtime. This skill would serve him well when John Ford asked him to direct a star-studded charity stage production of What Price Glory in 1949 - which included roles for everyone from John Wayne to Oliver Hardy.
Though it's a supporting role, Barrymore is billed as the lead, and though there are reports of his failing memory in this period, he still brings a bombastic gravitas to the role of the devious doctor, whose effortlessly suave demeanor remains intact until the very end. He had received a series of public relations hits in the mid-1930s, none worse than the "Caliban and Ariel" affair, so dubbed by the press when the 53-year-old started courting the 19-year-old Elaine Jacobs. This along with his frequent stays at hospitals and sanitariums to battle his drinking changed his public image irrevocably from a "hell-raiser, a manly drinker" to an "aging satyr, the has-been alcoholic, the much-married ham" (Michael A. Morrison, John Barrymore, Shakespearean Actor). Film work started drying up for him, so he pivoted to radio, where NBC hired him for an eight-episode run of Shakespeare adaptations, to combat a similar series of the Bard announced by CBS.
This was enough to convince Paramount to give him more roles in their B division, including the Bulldog Drummond series and Night Club Scandal. The reaction from the press was muted but positive, The New York Times' Frank Nugent writing that "The role is merely a quotidian chore for John, but he brings to it a Barrymore-ish dignity, authority and presence which add immeasurably to its dramatic effectiveness. Though not especially 'ambitious' in a productional sense, the film itself - largely in consequences - may be counted among the more tolerable of recent corpse operas."
Barrymore's movie career would be over by 1941, and he would pass away in 1942, his body unable to hold up after so many years of alcohol abuse. But Night Club Scandal was a brief respite from his troubles, allowing him to thrust that great profile onto the big screen and project that innate magnetic Barrymore presence for a few more reels until the director said cut.
By R. Emmet Sweeney
Night Club Scandal -
The working title of the film was City Hall Scandal. A contemporary news item in Box Office gives Harold Hurley producing credit, however, the Screen Achievements Bulletin credits William Lackey as producer. This is a remake of Paramount's 1932 film, Guilty as Hell.