Ralph Bellamy gets top billing here, but he doesn’t deserve it. I’m always stunned when, with a reasonably early feature motion picture like Before Midnight, the filmmakers are clearly exhausted with the genre.
Midnight‘s a big house mystery (enclosed setting, certain number of suspects) but the opening establishes the majority of the film is set sometime in the past. Bellamy’s character could have died of old age for all the audience knows, as there’s one guy telling another a story about this great mystery, which we then see.
The mystery seems like it might be an interesting one for a while, as Bellamy interrogates each suspect, one by one; it seems like he’s going to solve the case out based on the interviews, a unique film approach.
Instead, Bellamy amiably investigates in the standard mystery fashion, giving some of the supporting cast a little time to themselves. Unfortunately, the supporting cast is boring and–even at only an hour–the film feels way too long. Because of the structure, the suspects don’t have any subplots not related directly to the murder and, because he’s not really a character, Bellamy doesn’t get a love interest. It’s all about the mystery.
And the mystery isn’t bad, just not good enough to carry the entire hour.
Hillyer’s a rather indistinct director. I don’t remember a single well-directed moment in the film (but no badly directed ones either).
Good performances from June Collyer, Claude Gillingwater, Betty Blythe and Otto Yamaoka help a lot.
Directed by Lambert Hillyer; written by Robert Quigley; director of photography, John Stumar; edited by Otto Meyer; released by Columbia Pictures.
Starring Ralph Bellamy (Inspector Steve Trent), June Collyer (Janet Holt), Claude Gillingwater (John Fry), Bradley Page (Howard B. Smith), Betty Blythe (Mavis Fry), Arthur Pierson (Doctor David R. Marsh), George Cooper (Stubby), William Jeffrey (Edward Arnold), Joseph Crehan (Captain Frank Flynn) and Otto Yamaoka (Kono).