Miss Pinkerton (1932) Review

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Proof That It’s Pre-Code

  • Well, you know, there’s a scene where Joan Blondell is having a conversation with her coworkers about how bored she is in her job… and she slowly strips throughout her diatribe. I guess that’s one way to introduce the character…
  • Our main character, a nurse, accidentally murders someone and isn’t punished. That’s pretty cool, right? Right?

Particulars of the Picture

Miss Pinkerton Joan Blondell Lloyd Bacon
Nurse Adams…
Joan Blondell
George Brent
Directed by
Lloyd Bacon

“So this is romance.”

Miss Pinkerton can be quickly boiled down this: a film full of great looking shots desperately in search of a story. I don’t blame the actors or the director, who all try their best, but the creaky script that has more red herrings than your average major river.

These herrings pop up in the form of people simply acting suspicious. After a while you may as well start taking a shot every time a door is opened and we someone back up, as they were obviously listening in on the conversation. Why are they doing this? Everyone has their own motives which the movie keeps carefully away from us.

You see, Nurse Adams (Blondell) is doing some home nursing at a creepy dark house the night after a murder has been committed. The house’s young sire has been murdered and/or committed suicide. The suspects include the dying old matriarch, a maid, a butler, a doctor, a lawyer, and various other shady characters lurking about.

Police Sargent Patten (Brent) decides to unravel everything by having Adams do all the work. He nicknames her Miss Pinkerton because, you know, dames are adorable when they try and do stuff.

If you find that outmoded and/or patronizing, pack it in, this movie won’t win you over. Blondell mostly gets terrorized, and whenever she does any detecting it doesn’t go much of anywhere. She saves the day by screaming so loud that Patten hears her from outside the house and rushes to defeat the killer after she’s almost been choked to death.

Director Lloyd Bacon tries to spice up the messy plotting with plenty of shadows and atmosphere, but even that can’t do all the work. There are long extended silences, which would be fine if there were an ounce of tension. As it is, though, they’re just amicable conversation breaks.

Blondell also gives it a shot, playing Adams with verve and gusto. Brent may as well just sleepwalk through the entire thing, since his role is pretty much to be the daring man who shows up. The two do get a couple of nice moments at least, including one, after a tender embrace, they very quickly exchange some important information:

“Wait, are you married?”
“No. You?”

Otherwise, unless you’re some kind of sick pathetic Pre-Code completionist (guilty), Miss Pinkerton is worth skipping.

Shadows and Lurking

Here’s some screenshots I took. Click for big!

Miss Pinkerton Lurking Shadow   Miss Pinkerton Lurking

Miss Pinkerton coffin

Trivia & Links

  • There’s a good biography of Joan Blondell by Susan Kelly over at Immortal Ephemera that you should check out!
  • Andre Sennwald from The New York Times (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite critics) also shared my views on this one:

Even so staple a dramatic commodity as homicide should keep up with the times; terror may be expected to change its mask occasionally, and mystery to wear a new camouflage. In “Miss Pinkerton,” which was revealed at the Strand yesterday, the aging handmaidens of the murder melodrama perform their grisly dance in the gloomy mansion of old Juliet Mitchell, but the sound and the fury have gone out of them. There were heretics in the audience who laughed.

  • If you do end up seeing this movie, you really have to marvel at just how many plot strands come up and vanish. For all its failings, this would make a pretty good drinking game.


  • Miss Pinkerton is on DVD as part of the Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume 5. You can buy it from Amazon or Warner Archive or rent it from Classicflix.

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Danny lives outside Tokyo, Japan, with his lovely wife, adorable daughter, and two yappy dogs. He blogs bi-weekly at pre-code.com, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934, and can be found on Twitter @PreCodeDotCom.

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