I hope Robert Armstrong got paid well for The Mystery Man, because it doesn’t do him any other good. While it’s nice to see Armstrong in a lead role, the film’s so incompetently produced, it’s sometimes painful. Armstrong acts well but director McCarey doesn’t know how to compose shots. You’ll get what should be a close-up as a medium shot. Of course, the script’s bad too so Armstrong’s working against it too.
The plot isn’t terrible—Armstrong’s a newspaper reporter with more ego than sense who finds himself broke after a week-long bender. He meets Maxine Doyle, who’s in similar financial straits. The problem with the film is mostly Doyle. If she were any good, the film might be charming, regardless of technical merits and writing. But she’s awful—just painfully bad.
But so’s the rest of the supporting cast. Armstrong’s sidekicks, played by James P. Burtis, Monte Collins and Sam Lufkin, all awful. His bosses—Henry Kolker and James Burke—awful. Guy Usher turns in the closest thing to a decent performance, but he’s not good by any stretch.
Meanwhile, there’s Armstrong moving through these inept actors, trying to do what he can with the bad dialogue, on the incredibly cheap sets (the hotel suite appears to be the newspaper editor’s office too, based on the wall design)… and he maintains some dignity.
The concept isn’t bad; it could have been a good leading man vehicle for Armstrong… instead of an unfortunate, disappointing entry in his filmography.