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The Case of the Black Parrot


Polly wanna murder mystery?

Rod Lott April 19th, 2012

Warner Archive's packaging pegs 1941's The Case of the Black Parrot as a “classic crime thriller,” but for such a lofty status, I've never heard it uttered in the same breath as, say, The Bat or And Then There Were None. In fact, I'd never heard of it, period. No matter; the fix was easy.

blackparrot

Aboard an ocean liner depicted by really rough stock footage, intrepid journalist Jim Moore (William Lundigan, The Sea Hawk) and his ukulele-strumming cameraman/war buddy, Tripod (Eddie Foy Jr., The Pajama Game), are on a doozy of an assignment when they're told about an impending strike of The Black Parrot, Europe's master criminal.

Explains old rich white guy Vantine (Charles Waldron, The Big Sleep), the baddie's moniker is well-earned: "Black because he's a criminal, parrot because he imitates things, copies them ... paintings, furniture, signatures."

Vantine is the proud owner of a pricey Black Parrot cabinet that's on the ship. But when he shows Jim, the piece looks to be not a forgery after all, but — gasp! — the original real deal, perhaps even stolen from the Louvre! It's small potatoes compared to the corpses they soon discover, both with strange, bird-bill marks on the body that suggest murder by poison.

In keeping within the constructs of such stories, the villain is seen in one of two ways until his final-scene unmasking: a strip of spotlighted eyes in the darkness, or the requisite cloaked figure who must shop at the Big, Tall & Shadowy Shop. Upon the revelation, which is actually not so predictable as you’d expect, Tripod exclaims earnestly, "Well, fry my hide and serve me on toast!"

That quote should clue you in on the effervescent, easy-does-it level on which the hourlong feature operates. It's handled effortlessly by the prolific Noel M. Smith, whose 124 other films include such similarly fun fluff as Mystery House and Ronald Reagan's Brass Bancroft Secret Service franchise.

In the denouement, Jim receives commendation for his "grade-A detective work." Given the era, I'm inclined to agree. —Rod Lott

 
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