Movie Critique – Star of Midnight

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: William Powell and Ginger Rogers make an excellent pair of amateur detectives - Dalzell and Martin - giving Nick and Nora Charles run for their money; only we don’t see any more of Dalzell and Martin movies, sadly.

Star of Midnight is a 1935 American mystery-comedy starring William Powell and Ginger Rogers. Directed by Stephen Roberts and James Anderson, this was released by RKO pictures. The plot involves a missing persons case that soon turns into much more. 

Clay "Dal" Dalzell (portrayed by William Powell) is approached by an old friend Tim Winthrop (portrayed by Leslie Fenton) to find his missing girl friend, Alice Markham (portrayed by Bess Flowers). A New York lawyer and playboy, Dalzell sets about to find her with his romantic interest, Donna Martin (portrayed by Ginger Rogers). What follows is a stumbling and bumbling humorous parade that takes Dalzell and Martin on quite a ride of romance, mystery and intrigue. 

Powell again plays a debonair amateur detective, almost having a close resemblance to his other parts that he did as Nick Charles in The Thin Man Series or as Philo Vance. Powell's character Dalzell describes himself as "Charlie Chan, Philo Vance and the Sphinx, all rolled in one".

Incidentally Powell did play Vance in five movies including the 1933 The Kennel Murder Case which I had posted about last month. And so did Ralph Morgan as Raymond Wrede, the Secretary, in that film; while he plays the role of Roger Classon in this film. 

Although Powell's Dalzell resembles a lot like his Nick Charles in this film. His affinity towards martinis and drinks in general carry across both the characters. Perhaps because he was doing the Thin Man Series around the same time this film was being picturized.

This is the only collaboration between Powell and Rogers, despite them being a successful pair and the film becoming popular. The bad girl persona Rogers' Donna Martin is quite contrast to the honorable and aristocratic role of Powell's Dalzell. The more she puts herself in his life, even going to the extreme of trying to publish about their supposedly upcoming wedding in the newspaper, the more Powell is determined to get her on the right track, but not lead up to the altar. 

The bickering that goes between Powell and Rogers has perfect timing of comedy. The chemistry in the romance department is pretty good. I wonder why they didn’t make more movies together. The third wheel in their comedy is Gene Lockhart as Horace Swayne, Dal's butler. His dry tone, with a perpetually nervous mixed with surprise look on his face makes it all the more believable to the audience when he plays an innocent. 

Surprisingly the titular role played by Bess Flowers (uncredited) has one dialogue in the beginning of the film, although we don't see her, and she remains invisible all through the film. With no screen space at all, wonder why The Queen of Extras didn’t concede to act thus.

Familiar cast from other Powell detective movies, it is just as good as any of his Philo Vance or Nick Charles movies. Although Powell dominated, Rogers matched him equally. For all of those Nick and Nora Charles fans, this would be a very exciting film to watch.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Gowns worn by Ginger Rogers were designed by Bernard Newman. They were a particular favorites of her with the most favorite of all being the one with white mink blouse and black velvet skirt she wore in the opening scene. It comes with an elaborate coat made of the same material as the dress. 

Every single outfit comes with a coat of it's own too. No wonder Newman went on to design for Rogers for eight more films. 


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