Private Detective (1939)

A custody battle is raging between Millard Lannon (John Eldredge) and his ex-wife Mona (Gloria Dickson). In attempt to discredit his ex-wife, Millard has called upon the Nation-Wide Detective Agency.

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(Image via zap2it)

Agency head Simmy Sanger (Selmar Jackson) tells top detective Myrna “Jinx” Winslow (Jane Wyman) that she must testify against Mona. Firm in her belief that Mr. Lannon only wants custody in order to have access to the child’s trust fund, Jinx refuses and leaves the agency, deciding to finally marry her longtime police force beau Jim Rickey (Dick Foran).

But Jinx has trouble staying away from the case as she learns more about Lannon and his sleazy lawyer, Nat Flavin (Morgan Conway), through overheard conversations at the police station.

Private Detective was directed by Noel Smith, penned by Earle Snell and Raymond Schrock.

Mrs. Lannon’s plight makes for a very interesting plot in this quick-paced mystery flick. Long story short, the custody case becomes complicated by a potentially related murder, and Mona becomes suspect number one. The action that follows is somewhat formulaic but with a few little touches that keep the viewer gripped — such as the lawyer who once tried to take Mona down offering to defend her in the murder case.

Though the plot is of sufficient interest, much of the film’s appeal comes thanks to Jane Wyman and her spunky character. Jinx is a woman of principle, willing to give up her job rather than ruin an innocent woman’s life. She’s outspoken, and she’s an ace detective — observant, dedicated, truly driven by the truth, and quite fearless.

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The film’s original trailer calls Wyman “the screen’s cutest clue-chaser!” (Screen capture by Lindsey for TMP)

Wyman and the woman at the center of the case, Gloria Dickson, give stand-out performances, Dickson serving up strong emotion and motherly authenticity as she fights for her son. Dick Foran is also fine in his role, sharing some fun banter and arguments with Wyman.

Private Detective builds high tension in the final ten minutes or so, capped off by an underwhelming ending in which the brilliant Jinx decides that she’s finally going to give up her detective work and wed Jim. Still, for the most part, the film offers up an enjoyable, light mystery. Worth a watch.

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