Friday, December 12, 2014

A Cozy for Christmas: Cover Up (1949)


Have your copies of Holmes for the Holidays, Christmas Stalkings, Murder at Christmas and The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries reached the stage of yellowed edges and missing pages?  Are you looking for that light, short story of murder and mayhem perfect for a post-shopping sit down with a cup of cocoa (laced with Kahlua)?  You will find the movie equivalent of something from the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in 1949s Cover Up.


Dennis O'Keefe
(1908 - 1968)

Sam Donovan:  Now look, Sheriff, I can take a joke as well as the next man, but murder is serious, even in a small town.  Either we co-operate or I go at it my own way.  You'd be surprised what I might find out.

Alfred E. Green (Union Depot, The Jolson Story) is our director, with the screen play is by crime novelist Jerome Odlum (Each Dawn I Die, Dust Be My Destiny) and the film's star Dennis O'Keefe under the name of Jonathan Rix.  Mr. O'Keefe rates very highly around these parts.  Appearing as a youngster with his Vaudevillian parents, Bud Flanagan's energy, talent and experience made him a natural for the screen.  However, it wasn't until years of uncredited bits that he finally broke through with a contract and the chance to show his versatility. My sister Paula and I fight over him long winter evenings.  She really goes for his good-natured humourous roles such as in Brewster's Millions or his young, brash leads for MGM in pictues like Hold That Kiss and Burn "Em Up O'Connor.  I lean more toward the noirish O'Keefe of T-Men, Raw Deal and Walk a Crooked Mile.


William Bendix
(1906 - 1964)

Sheriff Larry Best:  Put that gun away.  You don't want to go around killing anybody; not at Christmastime anyway.

In Cover Up O'Keefe is Sam Donovan, Insurance Investigator.  He's arrived in a smallish city during Christmas week to wrap up a suicide case.  A suicide case where there was no weapon at the scene.  A suicide case where no autopsy was performed and the body has already been buried.  A suicide case of the meanest man in town.  The sheriff, played by William Bendix (Blue Dahlia, Lifeboat, TV and radio's The Life of Riley), is of a philosophical frame of mind and disinclined to assist our visiting investigator.  Sam is advised to nose around by his superior.


Art Baker as Stu Weatherby

Sam is more than happy to remain in town.  He's met a pretty resident on the train returning for the holidays and his interest is returned.  Barbara Britton (Champagne for Caesar, The Virginian) plays Anita Weatherby.  She's a pretty and confident big city career girl, except when she's around Sam and her family.  In fact, Anita can be almost juvenile when goaded into "fighting" with younger sister Cathie, played by Ann E. Todd (Margie, Three Daring Daughters) for Sam's attention.  The entire Weatherby family takes Sam in as sort of a lost soul project for Christmas, although Art Baker (Impact, Spellbound) as Stu Weatherby does seem unaccountably distracted at times.


Dennis O'Keefe, Barbara Britton

Anita Weatherby:  Oh Sam, before you came here our town was like a quiet little haven.  There was never a hint of anything terrible like this.  Now everybody's a murder suspect.  Our lives will never be the same.
 
Sam runs into dead ends at every turn.  No one knows anything.  Everyone has an alibi.  There is a great lack of interest in whether the town's hated miser killed himself or was bumped off.  They just seem glad he's gone.  The niece played by Virginia Christine (High Noon, The Killers) was eloping with a man her uncle deemed unsuitable.  The newlywed husband played by Russell Arms (The Man Who Came to Dinner, By the Light of the Silvery Moon) had been at the scene, but for a conveniently short time.  He was vouched for by the nervous jeweller and his tight-lipped wife.


Doro Merande plays Hilda

Perhaps the town's retired doctor could shed some light on matters, but the man unfortunately passes away before Sam can reach him.  Watching over the murder, the romance and the Weatherby family is their opinionated maid played with aplomb by Doro Merande (Our Town, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming).  She may be a help or she may be a hindrance.  Mr. Weatherby says she's not happy unless she's unhappy.  She is a delight to audiences.


Dennis O'Keefe, Barbara Britton and that tree!

Nicely paced at just over 80 minutes, Cover Up is a cozy mystery by benefit of the small town flavour and the Christmas setting.  The decorations, the shopping for gifts, the talk of dinner plans contrast to the evasiveness of witnesses and the stonewalling of the sheriff.  The puzzle has a logically satisfactory conclusion, if a tad predictable.  The romance progresses naturally with a nice sense of the emotions of the characters.

Continuity issue:  on Christmas Eve the family is seen decorating a tree and its purchase is the point of great discussion, however there has been a tree in the living room since we and Sam first came to visit.  Once the puzzle is wrapped up, the movie wraps up as well.  I liked the characters well enough to have enjoyed spending a little more of the holidays with them.  It might have been fun to see Sam tackle the mystery of that Christmas tree.

Did you know?  In 1955 Cover Up was presented as an episode of Lux Video Theatre with William Bendix reprising his role of Sheriff Larry Best and starring Steve Brodie and Jane Howard as Sam and Anita.  I imagine that was a "slap himself on the back" moment for Dennis O'Keefe, writer.





 

16 comments:

  1. Dang, I never saw this. Putting it on my list and checking it twice for the future. Thanks.

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    1. You never know what surprises you'll find hiding under the Christmas tree.

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  2. I don't think I've seen this movie! I think the setting would appeal to me (one of my favorite parts of OUT OF THE PAST is the opening set in the small town where Mitchum has his gas station). Interesting that William Bendix reprised his role for TV, too.

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    1. I caught this a few years ago, coming into it about a quarter in. I wouldn't normally stick with something if I hadn't seen the beginning, but it was Christmas and I couldn't leave. It ran on TCM a few weeks back and it was nice to put the whole thing together.

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  3. You always pick the movies I've never seen - so thanks for the tip on this one as it looks like a winner.

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    1. Thank you so much. It is a little charmer, and perfect for this time of year - we get Christmas without getting CHRISTMAS.

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  4. I recently recorded this but haven't seen it yet (what else is new? LOL). Just caught up with your post and I catch up on December reading now that the holidays are winding down. Must try to catch it early in '15, sure sounds like my kinda movie! Thanks for a great preview.

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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    1. Thanks, Laura. I just bought "The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries" and it arrived on New Year's Eve. I think it will be okay if we prolong the season just a bit.

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  5. I will always treasure Dennis O'Keefe for his appearance in one of my favorite comedies, the hilarious HI DIDDLE DIDDLE. Just a great, wacky movie. He's earned his film immortality in that one for me.

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    1. So many actors have the ONE picture for which they forever part of the family. Dennis is one of those guys.

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  6. Good film. I caught it a few years back on TCM. I am a sucker for Christmas themed mysteries. My favorite O'Keefe film is Raw Deal.

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    1. Aha, so you're on the tough side of Dennis when it comes to the conflict with my sister. Hooray for our side!

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  7. It is a very kind and interesting film. I watched it for first time when I had to write research paper for sale and I had no ideas for this work. So I decided to watch some old cinemas. I liked it.

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    Replies
    1. Lots of treats hidden under the classic movie banner.

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