Movie Critique - Cover-Up

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: A cheerful and intelligent murder mystery set during the holidays, with very odd way of plotting the mystery. 

Cover-Up is a 1949 American mystery film noir starring Dennis O'Keefe, William Bendix and Barbara Britton. Directed by Alfred E. Green, Produced by Ted Nasser, the film plot is set during Christmas season. It was distributed by United Artists.

Insurance investigator Sam Donovan (portrayed by Dennis O'Keefe) arrives in a midwestern town, to investigate an apparent suicide of one Roger Philips, which he thinks is a murder. He doesn’t get help from anyone including the Sheriff Larry Best (portrayed by William Bendix). Sam gets attracted to a local girl, Anita Weatherby (portrayed by Barbara Britton), whom he meets in the process of investigation. And things only become more complicated.

When I read the synopsis of the film on the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) guide on TV, it reminded me of the old time radio show Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar which opened with the statement "the transcribed adventures of the man with the action-packed expense account – America's fabulous freelance insurance investigator". I wondered if it resembled the show and so I elected to watch it. Almost similar theme is seen in the movie as well.

Screenplay was written by Jerome Odlum and the lead actor Dennis O'Keefe credited as Jonathan Rix. Additional dialogues were provided by Francis Swann and Lawrence Kimble. This was also the first film production of O'Keefe's production company, Strand Productions.

Even though it was O'Keefe's production company that made the film, Bendix got the top billing in the movie. The opening credits are rolled out on a curtain like wall with the shadow of a man holding a gun in his hand. A disclaimer also is seen at the bottom of one of the opening credits' card.

Barbara Britton was famed for her role as Pam North on the television and radio series Mr. and Mrs. North, involving the fictional amateur detectives Gerry and Pam North, a husband-and-wife pair. She makes a pretty Anita Weatherby in the film. 

Recently I watched the 1942 American comedy mystery Mr. and Mrs. North based on the TV and radio series. I did not like either Gracie Allen as Pam North or William Post Jr. as Gerry North in the film. After watching Britton in this film, I can see why she was most successful as Pam North. 

Dennis O'Keefe makes a charming and suave insurance investigator Sam Donovan in the film. I don’t know if any of the episodes of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar radio series were made for TV or film. But if they would, I can say O'Keefe would have made a splendid Jonny Dollar too. O'Keefe also reminded me a little of Dana Andrews from the 1944 American film noir, Laura.

William Bendix portrays the role of Sheriff Larry Best in the film. In the past I saw two films that had Bendix in the cast - in the 1952 American adventure film noir Macao, he forms the third wheel in the plot as a sweet and affable traveling sales man Lawrence Trumble; and in the 1948 American baseball film biography The Babe Ruth Story, he plays the part of Babe Ruth himself. Bendix is still the same affable type as Larry Best in the film but with a slight streak of larceny in him. 

This is the second film I am seeing consecutively where the gun in question keeps appearing in between scenes and in possession of several characters. The other film was the 1947 American film noir Lady in the Lake.

I love this old film noir that are not more than 80 mins at the maximum run time. They pack so much in the plot that I rarely see happening in the current films. There's mystery, murder, comic relief, romance and emotions. 

A cheerful and intelligent murder mystery set during the holidays, with very odd way of plotting the mystery. I must say it's an unconventional thriller that delights you and keeps you interested to the end. A very decent watch.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Dennis O'Keefe's production company, Strand Productions made two other films - 1949 American film noir Without Honor and 1949 American comedy film A Kiss for Corliss.

b. Check out Gabe, the guy on the left, the deputy in the Sheriff's Department in the film, portrayed by Dan White. He doesn’t have a single word in the film but speaks volumes with his actions. 

c. Note another frequent actor on the original Perry Mason TV show, Russel Arms. He appeared in three episodes - the 1960 The Case of the Credulous Quarry, the 1963 The Case of Greek Goddess and the 1966 The Case of the Vanishing Victim.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. The sign in front of Sheriff's office reads as "No Parking. Police Dept." Shouldn’t it be "Sheriff's Dept." instead?

b. In the long shot we can see Cathie already turned back to Sam, close to the lowest step of the stair and says "I am taking advanced mathematics". And in the immediate close-up shot, we see her walking to that step with herself half-turned back to Sam again. 

c. Equipment seen in the background - shadow of boom mike on the porch post when Sam and Larry are leaving Roger's home; boom mic appears on Sam's forehead when he is talking about the newspaper article with Anita.

d. Sam hears for the first time at the lighting ceremony that Dr. Gerrow is dead. But immediately after the ceremony Sam calls his boss and tells him that by the time he got to Dr. Gerrow's home he was already dead. Sam doesn’t go to Gerrow's home until the next day.

e. Sam and Anita reach Dr. Gerrow's home at the same time even though Anita came in her car while Sam walked 5 miles to the place.

f. Sam talks to the editor of the local paper at 3pm in the afternoon according to the clock on the wall as well as the day light we see when he walks into the newspaper office. However the evening newspaper article says Sam made the announcement in the morning.


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