The Hat Box Mystery is a fun, little, noir-ish mystery. When I say little, it runs only 44 minutes and the first three or four minutes are taken up introducing, not just the characters, but the actual actors. This is strictly a low-budget B-quickie, but The Hat Box Mystery overcomes some of its budget limitations (static camera, stage-bound sets, uninspired lighting), and delivers a reasonably entertaining story. Tom Neal and Pamela Blake give very nice performances. Allen Jenkins and Virginia Sale provide the comic relief that, unfortunately, misses more than it hits. The supporting cast is adequate. The movie flows fairly nicely, only interrupted by one of Jenkins' gags. Overall, not a bad way to spend 3/4 of an hour. At UNDER 44 minutes, you wonder if this movie was severely edited down to this length. After all, B-movies ran from 55-65 minutes on average and 44 is amazingly short...too short.
"The Hat Box Mystery" is from Lippert Productions. When I saw that, I knew that the film couldn't be very good as all the Lippert movies I've seen have been simply terrible. Perhaps being short is a blessing!!
Surprisingly, the story does start off very well. During the opening credits, the film suddenly switches to the four leading characters who have broken character! Tom Neal introduces himself and the others and then talks to the audience...and then the credits continue. This is pretty clever. The story that follows isn't.
Russ (Nea)l and his sidekick, Harvard (Allan Jenkins), run a failing detective agency. When they are out of the office, their dopey secretary takes a case all on her own...an incredibly suspicious case where a man in obvious disguise gives her a camera hidden in a hatbox and instructs her on how to use it to take a picture of his cheating wife. Not surprisingly, he then rigged it up to a gun and when the dopey lady snaps the picture, she appears to shoot the lady in question. Oops. So, it's up to Russ and Harvard to figure out what really happened.
As I already said, since the production is by Lippert it was practically guaranteed to be sub-par...which it was. Fortunately, being short and having a few good moments, it's an inoffensive time-passer...albeit a seriously silly one considering the plot and occasionally bad writing.
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