Cinema Retro is very proud to welcome the lovely and talented actress Ingrid Pitt to our ranks of regular columnists. If you're a retro movie lover, Ingrid needs no introduction, thanks to her iconic appearances in films like The Wicker Man, The Vampire Lovers, Countess Dracula, Where Eagles Dare and The House That Dripped Blood. Ingrid will be sharing her stories about the making of her films, as well as essays about movies she loves. In her debut column, Ingrid puts the spotlight on the long-neglected Boston Blackie series.
By Ingrid Pitt
to those who make him an enemy, friend to those who have no friend’
With a strap like that it is a
wonder that anyone turned out in the middle of World War 2 to watch the antics
of the leading man, Chester Morris, in the Boston Blackie series of films
produced between 1942 and 1949. The films were short, dark and in yer face.
Subtlety wasn’t a requirement.Nor was
variety. The story lines were simple and repetitive. A crime is committed.
Naturally the police blame Boston Blackie. Inspector Farraday is forced to
arrest Blackie. Blackie wins his freedom in some slick way or other and solves
In spite of the narrow scope of
succeeding plot lines there was still something that drew me to the films and I
think I can claim to have seen all those with Chester Morris playing the lead.
Perhaps that was the secret. Chester Morris! He wasn’t exactly the prototype
leading man. To be honest he was a bit on the tubby side. He couldn’t even lay
claim to an aquiline nose and a strong determined jaw. And that slicked back
Brylcreemed hair may have look sexy on Denis Compton but it was lost on
Chester. But he did have a cute smile and knowing eyes and that ticked the
boxes with the fifteen year old me. Sitting there in the fusty old cinema that
hadn’t seen a lick of paint or had a thorough clean since Hitler retired to his
bunker and relieved the world of a tyrant, it was easy to escape into Blackie’s
world of excitement in the virtual New York projected onto the screen in grainy
While Europe erupted in a holocaust
of shrapnel, mud and blood, in 1914, Jack Boyle penned his first Boston Blackie
story for The American Magazine. It was called The Price of Principle and featured a jewel thief with a heart of
gold. He followed this up in Cosmopolitan and published a novelette, Boston
Blackie’s Mary, in 1917. He soon had a strong reader base and was able to bring
out the collected stories based on the leading character, Boston Blackie, in
1919. The film business at this time was still very much hit and miss but the
Boyle stories were good enough to find a producer willing to run some film
stock between the sprockets and there were, (arguably), nine Blackie silent
films produced between 1918 and 1927. It is amazing that a character could be
waltzed by so many companies in the silent era of movie making. Boston Blackie’s Little Pal was the
first, made by Metro in 1918. Universal took on The Silk-Lined Burglar in 1919 and the Famous Players-Lasky,
Cosmopolitan, Fox and others carried the name through until the Talkies caught
up with them in 1927 when Chadwick Productions bowed out with the misplace hope
of The Return of Boston Blackie.
Chester Morris never had any doubts
that some day he would make it big-time. At 17 he billed himself as the
“youngest leading man in the country”. 17 was his lucky number. In 1917 he
landed a part in An Amateur Orphan and
only rarely looked back. By the time he was offered the lead in the ‘B’ movie
series, Boston Blackie, he was a well known face even if few people could put a
name to it.It was Columbia that put the
rug back under his feet. Meet Boston
Blackie (1941) was just supposed to be an amusing aside to Columbia’s
regular output. At 58 minutes it was hardly long enough to be a second feature
in a flea-pit. Columbia did well by it. They gave it a halfway decent budget
and a director, Robert Florey, who knew how to frame a scene and the production
company suddenly found it had a minor success on its hands. So the directors of
the company did what any self-respecting producer would do in the circumstances
and whistled up another story and later that year brought out Confessions of Boston Blackie.
Already the spadework was beginning
to turn up some truffles. Blackie’s character had migrated a little from Boyles
original concept. Blackie now had a regular mate called Runt (George E Stone)
and he had developed an intriguing hot and cold running relationship with
Inspector Farraday played by Richard Lane. The plays had an easy flowing character
with snappy one liners and comedy mixed in with the intrigue.The foil for the comedy was often Sgt.
Matthews, Farraday’s slap-happy assistant, played with increasingly comedic
virtuosity by a succession of actors including Walter Sande and Lyle Latell.
Finally the role went to a comedian, Frank Sully, but by this time Sgt.
Matthews was a boil on the face of the screenplay. Fortunately Blackie’s
character developed in a more acceptable way. Although still having his
jewel-thief CV propping up his back story he developed into a Private Eye in
all but name. He wore snappy suits, seemed to live in a bubble of people only
interested, for good or evil, in what he was doing and had a ‘broad’ for every