Movies and Film

Heralding Death – The Black Doll (1938)

C. Henry Gordon plays Nicholas Rood, a miser of a man who once upon a time, murdered one of his business partners. When he receives a black doll upon his desk one day, he knows he is not long for this world and that his past actions are about to catch up with him. As it is, Rood dies with a knife in his back and everyone on the premises is a suspect. Entering the picture is Nick Halstead, a former private eye as played by Donald Woods and the fiancé of Rood’s daughter Marian, brought to life by Nan Grey. Soon the bodies start to pile up and while the local sheriff does his best to make a mess of things, Halstead manages to solve the case, though not without a little consternation and surprisingly, humour.

The Black Doll is a nice little bit of fluff, something one would most likely see at five in the morning on a Saturday on a local cable channel, highly forgettable but not unenjoyable. In fact, the film’s sixty-six minute run-time flies by at a fairly brisk pace, no doubt in part thanks to the fairly light atmosphere that abounds within the picture despite its darker subject. A lot of that levity comes from Edgar Kennedy’s sheriff who is a fool of a policeman and has absolutely no idea how to solve a crime, much less find the person responsible for Rood’s murder. There is a little bit of darkness present, but the humour overshadows it by a fairly large margin which was ultimately for the best as the situation and plot was a clichéd one and doing so set it apart from others of its ilk.

Woods is great as the star of the film and Grey is perfectly cast opposite him as both daughter, fiancée and of course, leading lady. The two make a good on-screen pairing and play off of each other well, though Woods would get more time in the picture than Grey. Kennedy is funny and not in an overbearing way which can sometimes happen when trying to add comedy to a serious movie. The rest of the cast would do a fine job of it as well, though not in the film long enough to make too much of an impact.

Altogether, The Black Doll is a fine little mystery from Universal, a solid B film that will entertain, though not a movie that anyone would remember an hour after it is finished.

3 out of 5

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