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.
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.
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.
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