Those who know the Warner Archive Podcast will also know the name Allen Jenkins. You will also have heard of the Jenkins Awards. This is an award designed by DW Ferranti on the Warner Archive Podcast to celebrate great actors who have been forgotten by popular culture, such as namesake Allen Jenkins. Listeners are invited to write in and nominate their favorite actors or actresses for a chance at the Jenkins Award, which I also encourage you all to do. My personal nominee is one Aline MacMahone, a fabulous actress who is most well-known for playing good-hearted wives and mothers but who is sadly mostly forgotten today. So imagine my delight when I found a movie that not only stars Aline MacMahone as a crime solving nurse, but that also features Allen Jenkins! Being that this movie is pretty short, only sixty-five minutes long, and is also a whodunit mystery in an effort to not spoil anything my recap will be briefer than usual.
One stormy night Richard Federie receives a telegram. The message is brief but the contents are shocking enough to give Mr. Federie a stroke, just as he was reaching for his green model elephant above the fireplace. He falls to the floor and drops the elephant, and this is where his family finds him. His clan is full of the usual suspicious characters, a devoted granddaughter (Patricia Ellis) and her lover (Lyle Talbot), a bitter niece (Dorothy Tee), a spiteful daughter-in-law (Helen Flint), an insufferable cousin (Hobart Cavanaugh), a lawyer (Henry O’Neill) and a greedy son (Robert Barrat). In fact it is the son that will cause the most trouble, as we will soon see.
Through the stormy night comes a car bearing nurse Sarah Keate (Aline MacMahone). She has been sent for to care for the ailing Mr. Federie and that is just what she intends to do. Before settling in for the night Federie’s granddaughter, March, comes in to check on her beloved grandfather and his nurse. After asking if Sarah needs anything else, March requests to be summoned first if her grandfather should awaken as she is certain that he will want to speak to her first before anyone. She then leaves and is soon followed by Mr. Federie’s son, Adolf. Adolf also requests to be summoned first if his father wakes up as he is also certain that his father will wish to speak with him first. In rapid succesion Sarah is accosted by the rest of the Federie clan, all of whom believe that they are the one that will be asked for first when the old man awakens. By the time that cousin Eustace appears Sarah has had enough, and shoos him from the room after she assures him his name will be placed on the list!
Later that night, while everyone sleeps, March slips through her boyfriend’s room to check on her grandfather. Her boyfriend, Ross, sees her go through but says nothing and lies back down. After assuring herself that everything is as it should be, March leaves the room just moments before another visitor enters. Adolf checks on the sleeping form of nurse Sarah and then hurries to the fireplace to retrieve the green elephant left there by his father. He takes the elephant and begins to climb the stairs towards Ross’ room when suddenly a shot rings out. Adolf falls and rolls down the stairs where he is discovered by Sarah. Awakened by her cries the rest of the family converges on her room where they find Adolf, lying dead. The family decides to call the police and it is at this moment that Adolf’s wife Isobel, now widow, appears asking what has happened. When they tell her, Isobel seems slightly surprised but not as upset as you might expect her to be.
Policeman Lance O’Leary (Guy Kibbee) is on the case, along with his right hand man Jackson (Allen Jenkins)! O’Leary and Jackson have worked with Sarah before, and O’Leary is pleased to be alongside her again. With a love light in his eye, O’Leary sets about questioning the house staff and various family members. Each seems more guilty than the next, but Sarah believes that March is the only family member who is above suspicion. At that moment though, March is out in the rain talking with a mysterious man. He pleads with her to do as he asks and she agrees before hurrying back inside. She enters through the kitchen where she runs into Sarah and the cook. She has also been spotted by the police who are in hot pursuit, and so she quickly slips out of the room. Sarah, noticing the trail of water on the floor, hurriedly mops the floor just before the two policeman enter the kitchen. When they ask if anyone has passed through Sarah answers, quite truthfully, that it doesn’t look like anyone has.
O’Leary bemoans to Sarah his surplus of suspects, and the fact that they are all lying so hard to make themselves look innocent that it makes them all look guilty. At this point, the ballistics expert has arrived and delivers his findings to the detectives. He believes that Adolf was shot from the balcony above, but Sarah remembers seeing movement behind the curtains just below the stairs. In fact, she wonders, if Adolf was leaning over the railing at the time when he was shot could it not appear that he was shot from above? It could! And Sarah has now remembered something more! When she discovered the body the little green elephant was lying nearby, the very same little elephant that she returned to the mantelpiece before the rest of the family arrived. This elephant must be the key to the entire case! But when Sarah and O’Leary go to retrieve it, they find that it has disappeared! Where could it have gotten to? Sarah soon learns that the butler has taken it, but he quickly returns it to her saying that he has felt eyes on him ever since he took it. O’Leary now believes that the butler is the most likely suspect but he is forced to reconsider when the butler is also found dead at the hands of the unknown assailant.
This is such a fun film, I really enjoyed it! It is based on a character created by American author, Mignon G. Eberhart, who was thought to be the equivalent of Agatha Christie. Sarah Keates was featured in several novels, two more of which have been made into feature films from the Warner Archive. They each feature Ann Sheridan as Sarah Keates, and I am definitely planning on checking them out. But I will say that I am sad that this is the only time that Aline MacMahone took on the role.
Aline MacMahone is really an underrated actress, and not one that many people know today. My first time seeing her was alongside Ann Dvorak in HEAT LIGHTNING and I was blown away immediately. After seeing her in other films, such as HEROES FOR SALE, I was convinced that this was a great actress. Some have called her homely or plain, but I think she is beautiful and real. Her acting is always a wonderful combination of sharp wit, humor, pathos, and intelligence. Her banter with O’Leary is quite funny and you get a good sense of what the relationship between these two characters is. The supporting cast is also terrific with Guy Kibbee putting on a great performance as the quick talking detective, Robert Barrat (reuniting with Aline MacMahone from HEROES FOR SALE) as the duplicitous son, and Allen Jenkins at his Allen Jenkins-iest as the right hand man who just wants to make captain! This preview clip gives a good sense of what this movie is:
If you get a chance to see this film I highly suggest you do! If you like Agatha Christie you will most likely be charmed by Sarah Keate and Detective O’Leary, I know that I was!