From Headquarters (1933) Review, with George Brent and Margaret Lindsay

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George Brent Margaret Lindsay Eugene Pallette
Released by Warner Bros. | Directed by William Dietrle
Run time: 63 minutes

Proof That It’s a Pre-Code Film

  • “No, we can’t send a policeman around for that. Try the lonely hearts bureau.”
  • A woman gets the offer of marriage rescinded for one of shackin’ up.
  • “Our readers are thinkin’ people and they like legs!”
  • Dorothy Burgess gets a punch right in the snoot.
  • A lady is insulted because she thinks she’s been called a ‘red light’.
  • A man rushes into the restroom and an officer chases him:
    “What are you running from?!”
    “I’m not running from, I’m running to!”
  • The killer is caught, but, aw, he seems like a decent enough guy. The detective promises him he’ll get away with it.

From Headquarters: Odd Steps

“What a lovely murder! The girl’s fingerprints are on the gun!”

From Headquarters is a delightfully morbid procedural, a step-by-step murder investigation with a bevy of character actors who each get the chance to be suspicious or suspected. It’s another breathless Warner Bros. entry with plenty of winks, jabs and death to go around.

Edward Ellis is having a bit too much fun in this one.

The film is set in police headquarters shortly after the body of rich playboy Gordon Bates (Kenneth Thomson) is discovered; it doesn’t take long for the verdict of murder to pop up. Assigned to the case are Lt. Stevens (Brent) and Sgt. Boggs (Pallette), a mix of smooth smarts and gruff bluntness that keeps suspects on their toes. The suspects come in and tell their story, including chorus beauty (and Stevens’ ex) Lou Winton (Lindsay), her hot-head brother Jack (Theodore Newton), the butler Horton (Murray Kinnell), Anderzian (Robert Barrat) and a safe cracker named Muggs (Hobart Cavanaugh). Also on the fringes are Inspector Donnelly (Henry O’Neill), pathetic bondsman Manny Wales (Hugh Herbert), wry journalist Mac (Ken Murray), and the rather gleefully morbid medical examiner Dr. Van de Water (Edward Ellis).

Yes, like half of that last paragraph is just listing characters and actors, but much of the film is dynamic interplay as suspects are roasted and wisecracks tossed. Director William Dietrle (of the similarly breakneck Fog Over Frisco and pre-Code gems like Jewel Robbery and Man Wanted) almost has two or more characters in frame at the same time, tossing in techniques like first person shots, multiple planes of action, and an eagerly roaming camera to absolutely drill the pace of the film.

Not really

The other big point of interest in the film is how much then-cutting edge police technology is showcased. File folders, catalogs, ballistics tests, post-mortem explorations, and even IBM punch cards are showcased as the evidence builds while the detectives tear apart the stories.

From Headquarters is a good blend of murder mystery and procedural, filled with good character bits, smart humor, and a tidy mystery with a few surprises along the way. Margaret Lindsay in particular gets a few moments to glower with the best of them, and Edward Ellis shines as a coroner who enjoys the thought of murder a bit too much. I hesitate to say much more because I don’t want to ruin anything, but if you see this one pop up, catch it.

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Other Reviews, Trivia, and Links

At first Sergeant Eugene Pallette thinks it is an open and shut case of suicide. But after Lieutenant George Brent has been on the case for fifteen minutes or so it develops that the victim had been beaten up by one of the suspects, slammed on the head by another and shot through the eye by still another. Gordon Bates, you will find out, was not only a notorious playboy but a blackmailer, narcotic addict, double-crosser and crook in the bargain. The wonder is not that he was killed but that he managed to survive as long as he did.

Awards, Accolades & Availability

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