Proof That It’s Pre-Code:
- Well, sometimes you can’t just expect someone to be having an affair, so you just have to go out and drug them and make them have an affair yourself!
- Gambling and booze like it ain’t no thang.
- A woman gets a vicarious thrill at the thought of helping to get her ex-employer hanged. “They figure you could help hang him.” “It’d be a pleasure!”
- A held shot of a woman’s leg? Yep.
- Sent in by alert reader J.D.:
In your “Proof That It’s Pre-Code” section for “Private Detective 62” (1933), I was a little surprised you didn’t mention the blatant cocaine references. “Dan Hogan” hires “Whitey” (nudge, nudge) to kill “Tony Bandor.” “Whitey” is both described as nervous and acts like he’s tweaking out of his gourd. Whitey is referred to as a “snowbird.” Hogan tells him to “lay off that snow ’til this gets cold.”
Okay, so I just finished this movie like two hours ago, and the most pressing question I’m left with is precisely this: why is William Powell ‘Private Detective 62’? There are not 61 other private eyes in this film.
In fact, there is only one other one. Maybe that guy was Private Detective 61? God, I don’t know.
William Powell is effortlessly charming once again, but has less to do than in either High Pressure or For the Defense. It starts promising enough with him as a secret agent sent to France to recover some stolen documents only to return home in disgrace. Imagine William Powell in “Mission: Impossible” and what fun that would be. Then remember that this is just a setup to establish his character, like we needed something to prove that Powell was cunning and quick witted. What a waste.
The next step on his journey is where he attempts to find a job, and, lo and behold, he ends up at a schlep’s PI firm. The schlep is played by Arthur Hohl, a character actor who made 80 films between 1931 and 41, including stuff like Man’s Castle and Wild Boys of the Road. He was solid in those and pretty great here as well as the proverbial flip side to Powell’s wiseacre. He’s callow, cheap and not above using any method’s to get a buck.
And this includes murder. Just one, mind you, no need for grand dramatics here. It’s also tied in with the girl that Powell happens to be in love with, Margaret Lindsay, who hasn’t been in any movies I’ve reviewed before, sparing you guys a couple of links.
Speaking of a couple of links, I think I’ve mentioned before when I do this series I usually try to poke around a bit at other people’s reviews for older films, hoping to glean something interesting to bounce off of. Besides discovering I’m not the first person to open with a joke about this film’s non sequitur title, I’ve also learned one apparent thing: this is a film that William Powell fans track down and watch because they love William Powell.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love the guy too, but as vote #131 for this movie on IMDB, I won’t pretend that this film escapes the dullness of its premise. Powell and Lindsay’s romance is about as tepid as such a thing can get; their first meeting involves him holding an umbrella for her while she gets out of a car because she thinks he’s a doorman. The film retains that level of romantic attachment throughout.
Even the movie’s ideas aren’t compelling. What’s the problem? Crooks in dirty businesses making it tough for the rest of us. How do we fix it? If we can’t make the business a clean one, nail the crooks. There’s a cheap double cross that seals up any moral uncertainty of this tenant in the end, and Powell’s character was too damn nice for us to ever buy into him as an equal with the rest of the PIs. For this movie to have worked, his hands would have had to get dirty, he would have had to grow and change. No luck there.
Despite some good actors and good direction from Michael Curtiz, Private Eye 62 doesn’t do anything special to stand out from the pack. Like its title, it’s generic sounding, uninteresting, and it exists; that’s the nicest I can be.
justjack · March 19, 2014 at 1:04 am
Watched this last night. Your review is spot on. Not a bad movie, but what was the point? Plus, it needed a lot more Ruth Donnelly.
Danny · March 20, 2014 at 8:22 am
Agreed. And every movie needs more Ruth Donnelly.
cc · April 11, 2016 at 9:29 am
I did track this down because of William Powell and I liked it because of William Powell. He makes anything he is in watchable. One of the best Hollywood personalities I’ve read about.
Danny · April 13, 2016 at 3:08 pm
Dave Campbell · April 3, 2020 at 5:41 pm
A cheerful dissent here, as a zippy-paced 66 minute precode with an obvious out-of-control drug addict, an attractive Margaret Lindsay with some weird continental accent pasted on, not quite enough but several excellent Ruth Donnelly zingers–all this plus Natalie Moorhead and Star William Powell all cruising along thanks to snappy direction by Michael Curtiz make this a perfect popcorn movie; it never flags and frequently surprises.
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