Footsteps in the Dark – 1941 – dir Lloyd Bacon
A smart, breezy romp cut from the same cloth as The Thin Man series, Footsteps in the Dark marked a change in the actor Errol Flynn’s career. Until this movie was made, the very popular matinee idol was known primarily for his rousing, period piece swashbucklers and he jumped at the opportunity to trade in his Robin Hood tights and swords for a chance to prove himself as a deft comedian. He more than succeeds.
In this exceptionally clever, satisfyingly amusing story, with a not-uncomplicated plot, Flynn plays two characters: Francis Warren, a successful investment banker (complete with wife, mother-in-law, mansion and plenty of moolah), and his other half, moonlighting as amateur sleuth and mystery book author, F.X. Pettijohn. Unbeknownst to everyone except his trusty chauffeur and right-hand man (his family and friends attribute the lateness of the hours he keeps — he climbs in the bedroom window every night at 3 a.m. to avoid being caught — to womanizing), Pettijohn likes to investigate local crimes and when a murder cum jewelry heist lands on his table, served up with a little blackmail on the side, all sorts of confusions ensue and the sparks begin to fly…
Footsteps in the Dark is a solid example of the typical comedy thrillers that studios produced in the 30s and 40s. What saves it from being just another drop of water in the movie bucket is Flynn himself, impossibly handsome and imbued with the fatal charm he brought to every one of his roles. The British import here seems totally at ease in a dapper three-piece suit and soft hat, and seesaws handily between seriousness and fun. He, like the movie, knows never to take himself too earnestly and he brings wit and weight to a part that seems tailor-made for his particular skills. It is easy to
see why moviegoers loved him for close to two decades until a sleazy lifestyle and loss of his looks led him and his career into ruin. He is supported in this movie by such veteran stalwarts of the silver screen as Ralph Bellamy, Alan Hale, Lucille Watson and the always wonderfully entertaining William Frawley (Fred Mertz of “I Love Lucy” fame).
To see how much Hollywood has changed, witness Warren and his wife sleeping in twin beds, or loose floozie, Blondie White, whose turn as a strip tease artist involves merely sliding one strap of her dress off her shoulder and that was the end of that!!
The plot is full of all kinds of fun — slander lawsuits, witty repartee, a villain named Leopold Fissue (rhymes with “tissue”), the always turbaned Turhan Bey, and some of the dumbest cops in movie history! If you like The Thin Man series and Flynn, and if you like your mysteries tinged with a spirit of laughter, Footsteps in the Dark is well worth a visit. You will be happy you went.