Sleuthathon: Dressed to Kill (1941)

I will be contributing a review of 1941's Dressed to Kill for the Sleuthathon
(Image via Movies Silently)

This post was written for Movies Silently’s Sleuthathon. Be sure to check out the rest of the contributions for plenty of mystery and fun!

Part of a long series of Michael Shayne mysteries, 1941’s Dressed to Kill follows the good detective as he’s forced to miss his own wedding to take on a case.

Just as Shayne (Lloyd Nolan) and his girlfriend are preparing to leave the hotel to get hitched, they hear a scream. Being the dedicated private eye that he is, Shayne naturally runs to the scene to see what’s going on. He meets a screaming maid who has found an elderly woman in one of the hotel’s lavish suites, shot in the head. As it turns out, two people have actually been killed in the suite.

Knowing that he can make a pretty good stack of dough off of this case, especially since the hotel wants to keep the crime quiet (“Tell them not to bring the bodies through the lobby!”), Shayne takes on the case. He’s willing to put love on hold to get a mystery solved.

(Image via Film Affinity)
(Image via Film Affinity)

Eugene Forde directs Dressed to Kill for 20th Century Fox. Starring alongside Nolan are Mary Beth Hughes, Sheila Ryan and William Demarest. The film was written for the screen by Stanley Rauh and Manning O’Connor, from a novel titled “Death Takes No Bows” by Richard Burke. The character of Michael Shayne, who serves as the center of both Burke’s novel and this series of films, was created by Brett Halliday.

Twelve Michael Shayne detective flicks were made in total. Lloyd Nolan filled the lead role in Michael Shayne: Private Detective (1940), Sleepers West (1941), Dressed to Kill (1941), Blue, White and Perfect (1942), The Man Who Wouldn’t Die (1942), Just Off Broadway (1942) and Time to Kill (1942).

Hugh Beaumont took over the role when the series was revived later in the decade, appearing in Murder is My Business (1946), Larceny in Her Heart (1946), Blonde for a Day (1946), Three on a Ticket (1947) and Too Many Winners (1947).

The Michael Shayne character also spawned a short-lived TV series, which ran for one season from 1960 to 1961. Richard Denning starred in that series as Shayne.

I typically like to watch film series in order, so it’s uncharacteristic of me to allow Dressed to Kill to be my first Michael Shayne film. Netflix recommended it to me about a billion times, though, and when I found out about the Sleuthathon, I decided to finally give it a watch. This is the only film in the series that’s available on Netflix, so I put my reservations aside.

(Image via Torrent Butler)
(Image via Torrent Butler)

Luckily, the film stands alone very well. I didn’t feel like I was missing any important information from having not seen the first two films, though I do plan to track down the rest of the series and watch them in order to satisfy my obsessive tendencies.

The film opens with Michael Shayne in a store, trying on a suit. From this opening scene I knew I’d love it. The title of the film is brought up, with shop-owner Smiley telling Michael, “You’re dressed to kill!” What really grabbed me in this scene was Lloyd Nolan’s dry humor. When Smiley tells him that the suit fits him like a glove, Shayne responds with “It should fit like a suit” — a corny quip, but Nolan’s delivery is so perfectly deadpan that it almost makes the joke seem witty.

(Image via Movie Poster Shop)
(Image via Movie Poster Shop)

Since starting this blog I’ve reviewed two other Lloyd Nolan films: Blues in the Night and The House Across the Bay. I enjoyed both of those films, but Nolan hadn’t particularly caught my attention in them. His performances were good, but were overshadowed by other elements of the films.

That’s not he case here. The character is written in an entertaining way, between his snide sense of humor and his tendency to steal things from the crime scene. He even eats celery and salt off of the table where the deceased pair’s bodies were found. He even throws out one of the best insults I’ve ever heard in a mystery flick: “The stork that brought you should have been arrested for peddling dope!”

Nolan fills the lead role incredibly well, carrying the story and making the film a whole lot of fun for the viewer. I really enjoyed watching him in this film and am excited to continue exploring his filmography.

Dressed to Kill falls perfectly into the category of “light mystery.” It’s got an intriguing story of crime and murder, but it’s got some humor, too. It’s not a high-on-suspense mystery, but it’s a good watch… and it even has a hilarious ending with a singing telegram. Fans of B-mysteries will adore this one. The score: 4/5

19 thoughts on “Sleuthathon: Dressed to Kill (1941)

  1. Thanks for the interesting review, Lindsey. It is nice to see Lloyd Nolan get a lead. He was still acting when I was a kid and he was always good. I’d like to see the Michael Shayne movies. Thank you for sharing with all of us.


    1. I believe a couple of these films are in the public domain, so they shouldn’t be too difficult to find if you want to check them out. Based on my enjoyment of this one, I’d say they’re well worth a watch! Thanks for reading. :)


  2. I agree…Nolan was a lot of fun in these Michael Shayne films. I saw the first four, from a set I’d found at Target for just $10! I’ve read a few of the Brett Halliday novels too, and liked those even more. If you can, check out Lloyd in a couple of cool film noir movies, playing the same character in both ‘The House on 92nd Street’ and ‘The Street with No Name’.


    1. I have Dressed to Kill and one other (can’t remember which) as a part of the Mill Creek 50 Mystery Classics set (spoiler alert for the March DVD collection update haha), but I’d like to find them all and watch them in order. I doubt that set will pop up at my local Target considering how terrible their film section has gotten, but I’ll keep an eye out! And I will add those other two titles to the watch list!


      1. Here’s a very minor, minor spoiler for the Michael Shayne series that bugged me to no end: Mary Beth Hughes appeared in three of those films…and had a different character name in each! Argh! Just give her the same name, and let her character carry over!

        And you’re right about Target and their lame DVD section…I’ve stopped going there, actually, knowing their selection will be exactly the same (and dwindling) every time I go.


          1. And what’s sad is, the character she played in all three films could’ve kept the same name, and not affected the logistics of any of the stories in any way! Oh well…as long as everybody had fun, who are we to complain, right?


  3. “Dressed to Kill” is one of those movies that I intend to see but haven’t been able to do so yet. I see by your review that I’m really missing out on something – I mean, a singing telegram at the end?! What could be better?


  4. Nice to see Mike Shayne get some love in the Sleuthathon! While I haven’t seen DRESSED TO KILL, I’ve seen the four films in the Michael Shayne Mystery Collection, Vol. 1 (whatever happened to Vol. 2?). They were a lot of fun, a bit more emphasis on the comedy than I expected (Brett Halliday’s character in the novels is more hardboiled and competent than Nolan’s take). Like many screen adaptations, it’s better to take them on their own terms. Glad you enjoyed Lloyd Nolan here; he’s one of the all-time great scene stealing supporting players, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s nice to see him given the lead for a change. Enjoyed your post!


    1. I haven’t read any of the novels, but they sound like I’d enjoy them! I’m a fan of both comedic and hardboiled detective stories. Can’t go wrong with mystery of any type. :) Thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed the review!


  5. This one of my favourite Nolan roles (in all honesty I haven’t seen that many!), and I think he’s excellent as Shayne, a great balance humour and ‘detection’. I’ll have to look out for some more now you’ve reminded me about them!


  6. Too bad I could only find the 1946 Sherlock Holmes movie with the same title… This one does seems interesting! Recently I enjoyed Lloyd Nolan in The House in 92nd Street, so this is anotheer reason to give it a try.
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)


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