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Footsteps in the Dark is a light-hearted 1941 mystery film starring Errol Flynn as an amateur detective investigating a murder.

Plot

Francis Warren (Errol Flynn) appears to have a normal life handling investments, but secretly he writes lurid detective novels under the pseudonym F.X. Pettijohn. His other career is unknown to wife Rita (Brenda Marshall) or to anyone but Inspector Mason (Alan Hale), who mocks the books, insisting that true crime is much more difficult to solve. A man named Leopold Fissue (Noel Madison) turns up, wanting Francis to help him turn uncut diamonds into cash. Fissue's body is then found murdered on a yacht. The trail leads Francis to burlesque dancer Blondie White (Lee Patrick), who becomes his prime suspect. But her dentist, Dr. Davis (Ralph Bellamy), gives her a solid alibi. Rita becomes sure that Francis is having an affair. Blondie turns up dead, though, after asking Francis to retrieve a satchel from a locker. Rita thinks Francis must have killed Blondie, while her husband believes just the opposite to be true. The diamonds are in the suitcase. Francis concludes that only one man could be behind all this—Davis, the dentist, who promptly tries to kill Francis before the police can figure things out.

Cast

  • Errol Flynn as Francis Monroe Warren II
  • Brenda Marshall as Rita Warren
  • Ralph Bellamy as Dr. R.L. Davis
  • Alan Hale as Police Inspector Charles M. Mason
  • Lee Patrick as Blondie White
  • Allen Jenkins as Mr. Wilfred
  • Lucile Watson as Mrs. Agatha Archer
  • William Frawley as Detective 'Hoppy' Hopkins
  • Roscoe Karns as Monahan
  • Grant Mitchell as Wellington Carruthers
  • Maris Wrixon as June Brewster
  • Noel Madison as Leopold Fissue
  • Jack La Rue as Ace Vernon
  • Turhan Bey as Ahmed

Production

Original Plays

The material was taken from two plays, "Footsteps in the Dark' and "Blondie White"[1]

Warner Bros bought the rights to "Footsteps in the Dark" in 1937.[2]

"Blondie White" was about the adventures of Frank Warren, a writer of detective novels who gets involved in a real life murder, along with his wife. It made its debut in London in 1937 starring Basil Sydney and Joan Marion.[3][4] The Scotsman called it "a dexterous and ingenuously contrived little piece."[5] Warner Bros bought the film rights in October, with a view to possibly filming it at their British studios. (On the same trip Jack L. Warner also bought the rights to The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse and George and Margaret.)[6][7]

Development

In December 1937 Warners announced they would make "Blondie White" as "Footsteps in the Dark".[8] Frank Cavett was assigned to write the script[9] and Joan Blondell and Claude Rains were mentioned as possible stars.[10][11]

John Huston and John Wexley were then reported as working on the script.[12] In late 1938 Edward G. Robinson was announced as star and Anatole Litvak director.[13] Lya Lys was to be the female star and in May 1939 it was announced the film would still go ahead.[14] But it did not happen and by November Norman Reilly Raine was still working on the script.[15] In July 1940 Lester Cole had taken over as writer and Robinson had to drop out due to a commitment to make The Sea Wolf.[16]

Errol Flynn had just done seven period films in a row and was pestering Warner's for a change of pace so he was cast instead of Robinson.[17] Once Flynn came on board, Olivia de Havilland was announced as his co star.[18] She was replaced by Brenda Marshall.[19]

Shooting

Filming started in October 1940.[20]

Ralph Bellamy said Flynn was "a darling. Couldn't or wouldn't take himself seriously. And he drank like there was no tomorrow. Had a bum ticker from the malaria he'd picked up in Australia. Also a spot of TB. Tried to enlist but flunked his medical, so he drank some more. Knew he wouldn't live into old age. He really had a ball in Footsteps in the Dark. He was so glad to be out of swashbucklers."[21]

Reception

Box Office

The film was one of Flynn's less successful movies at the box office around this time.[22]

Critical

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote: "A few spots are faintly amusing, thanks to Allen Jenkins as a chauffeur-valet and William Frawley as a thick-headed cop. But most of it is painfully dull and obvious, the pace is incredibly slow and Mr. Flynn, playing the detective, acts like a puzzled schoolboy."[23]

Variety wrote that Flynn did "well enough" but called the script "routine, going in for too much dialog and too many absurdities."[24]

The Los Angeles Times wrote that "Errol Flynn becomes a modern for a change in a whodunit film and the excursion proves eminently worth-while... an exceptionally clever and amusing exhibit - a little lagging now and then in the action but nothing to bother about in that regard".[25]

Film Daily reported: "Basis for a first-rate mystery meller with plenty of laughs is contained in the plot for this yarn, but the development of the script falls short of the story possibilities. The screenplay lacks any real punch drama and it does not have any hilariously amusing comedy, and it is also slightly incredible at times. On the whole, this picture is moderately entertaining screenfare for the average audience."[26]

Harrison's Reports called the film "fairly good," though the killer's identity was "pretty obvious."[27]

The Wall Street Journal called it "an amusing if not too subtle mystery."[28]

John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote that while the burlesque performer added a "bright note", the film was otherwise a "commonplace mystery picture."[29]

Proposed Sequel

John Wexley and Lester Cole were reported as working on a sequel, Ghosts Don't Leave Footprints.[30] This was to reteam Marshall and Flynn and revolve around spiritualists.[31] However no sequel resulted.

Other Versions

The BBC made a TV adaptation of Blondie White called The Strange Case of Blondie White in 1947.[32]

References

  1. "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: WARNERS AND METRO IN STORY ROW OVER 'CALAMITY JANE'--MAURICE EVANS ARRIVING 'SAFARI' IS OPENING TODAY FAIRBANKS JR. AND MISS CARROLL STARRED IN FILM--REVIVALS AT 55TH ST. PLAYHOUSE", Churchill, Douglas; The New York Times. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 19 June 1940: 27.
  2. NEWS OF THE STAGE: 'Wise Tomorrow' Closes After Three Performances--'I'd Rather Be Right' May Open at Alvin New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 18 Oct 1937: 14.
  3. Dramatis Personae The Observer (1901- 2003) [London (UK)] 25 July 1937: 11.
  4. NEW PLAYS BUT NO THEATRES: LONDON AUTUMN PROBLEM PROSPEROUS SEASON MANY LONG RUNS Our Theatre Correspondent. The Observer (1901- 2003) [London (UK)] 19 Sep 1937: 11.
  5. LONDON THEATRES: "Blondie White" The Scotsman (1921-1950) [Edinburgh, Scotland] 14 Oct 1937: 12.
  6. STUDIO AND SCREEN: Directors Wanted--A Comic Colman--Health and Beauty Films The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959) [Manchester (UK)] 28 Oct 1937: 12.
  7. NEWS OF THE STAGE: Chappell Will Offer 'Father Malachy's Miracle'New Broadway School for Actors Is Planned Connelly to Finish Fantasy New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 28 Oct 1937: 28.
  8. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Paramount Buys Deval's 'Soubrette' for Franceska Gaal-Stars Plan New York Holiday Visits Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 21 Dec 1937: 28.
  9. "THE SEA WOLF" AND "VICTOR HUGO" LINED UP AS MUNI FILM STORIES: Sid Silvers to Glorify Stooge in Screen Play Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 13 Jan 1938: 10.
  10. "HOLLYWOOD Merry- Go- Round.", National Library of Australia (6 October 1938), p. 7 Edition: HOME EDITION. Retrieved on 26 October 2015. 
  11. "Lady Hamilton" to Be Frank Lloyd Feature: Freddie, Judy Teamed Morris, Olivia Cast Houston in "Waltz" Ellison Gets Contract Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 May 1938: 10.
  12. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Louis Hayward to Play Lead in 'Man in the Iron Mask' for United Artists OPENING AT CONTINENTAL ' The Singing Blacksmith,' New Yiddish Picture, Will Begin Engagement Today Casting for "Hotel Imperial" Coast Scripts Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 01 Nov 1938: 27.
  13. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: 'Footsteps in the Dark' to Be Edward G. Robinson's Next Picture at Warners MISS LAMOUR GETS ROLE She and George Raft Will Be Stars in Crime Melodrama, 'Two-Time Loser' Coast Scripts Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 18 Nov 1938: 25.
  14. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Wanger Signs Loretta Young for Lead in 'Whose Wife?' --Tay Garnett to Direct JOLSON FILM HERE TODAY Alice Faye-Tyrone Power Also in Feature at the Roxy-- 'Fixer Dugan' at Rialto James Stewart Gets Role Coast Scripts Of Local Origin Offers 'Mikado' Without Swing Stars in Brooklyn Opening Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 05 May 1939: 32.
  15. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Olivia de Havilland Suspended by Warners--Out of 'Married, Pretty and Poor' Cast ACTRESS WANTS VACATION 'Tevya,' Yiddish Film, Opens Today at the Continental-- 'Laugh It Off' at Palace Mary Martin in Benny Film Of Local Origin Premiere to Be a Benefit By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 21 Dec 1939: 28
  16. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Merle Oberon and Melvyn Douglas Will Co-Star-- 'Those Were the Days' Opens Saturday Universal Assigns Directors Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 09 July 1940: 25.
  17. Tony Thomas, Rudy Behlmer * Clifford McCarty, The Films of Errol Flynn, Citadel Press, 1969 p 102
  18. "Lubitsch, Universal Both Sign Meredith", Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 21 Sep 1940: A7.
  19. Buddy Rogers to Lead Band in 'Broadcast': Fitzgerald in 'Sea Wolf' Rogers' Budget Upped Mary Lee in 'Sierra Sue' Bob Crosby Film Looms Dennis Morgan Lead Set Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 17 Oct 1940: A11.
  20. "Screen News Here and In Hollywood" (26 August 1940), p. 11. 
  21. (4 March 2016) Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood's Golden Era. University Press of Kentucky, page 36. 
  22. Glancy, H. Mark. "Warner Bros film grosses, 1921-51." Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. March 1995
  23. Bosley Crowther (March 15, 1941). "Movie Review - Footsteps in the Dark". The New York Times. Retrieved on December 14, 2015.
  24. Script error
  25. Footsteps in the Dark' Engaging Mystery-Comedy Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 27 Feb 1941: 12.
  26. Script error
  27. Script error
  28. The THEATRE: Mirthful Mystery Wall Street Journal (1923 - Current file) [New York, N.Y] 18 Mar 1941: 9.
  29. Script error
  30. "News in Hollywood" Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 19 Feb 1941: 25.
  31. "TODAY'S FILM NEWS.", National Library of Australia (9 April 1941), p. 10. Retrieved on 26 October 2015. 
  32. The Strange Case of Blondie White at IMDB


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