Private Detective 62 is not much of a mystery. Except perhaps the title, which has nothing to do with the film so far as I could tell. Instead, it’s an interesting drama taking place at a detective agency. William Powell plays a diplomatic agent who gets busted by the French while on assignment and gets fired, so he has to find a job. Five minutes later–and a lot of looking in a nice montage–and he’s a private detective. Except the agency owner oscillates between dumb and evil, making things interesting for Powell, who’s trying to run a helpful detective agency… not one trapping wives in precarious situations to help their husbands divorce.
It’s no surprise Powell’s good–the story moves around quite a bit in the first act, giving him more to do than be a moral detective–or Michael Curtiz. Curtiz doesn’t have many jaw-dropping sequences in this one (he had such sequences in the early 1930s, including one in a Philo Vance starring Powell), but he does an excellent job throughout. Unfortunately, Curtiz’s excitement behind the camera isn’t matched by the screenplay, which is disinterested in itself.
Arthur Hohl is pretty good as the villain, James Bell is better as his stooge. Margaret Lindsay is a fine romantic interest for Powell, even if her character gets stupid at times and it’s absolutely unbelievable she ever would.
The film’s not particularly involving–at one point I realized I didn’t even care if Lindsay and Powell got together at the end–but Powell’s performance carries it and it’s really well made by Curtiz.
It’s also very interesting as a social document–the film deals both with the Depression (one prospective employer tells Powell he should have stayed in Europe) and Prohibition. Very interesting to see how people talked about the issues contemporaneously–has got to be the first time I’ve used that word.
The location shooting–not sure if it was on the lot, IMDb reveals no information–is excellent as well. On the technical side, however, there may have been some significant editing defects.
But still… a fine way to spend sixty-seven minutes.
Directed by Michael Curtiz; screenplay by Rian James, based on a story by Raoul Whitfield; director of photography, Tony Gaudio; edited by Harold McLernon; released by Warner Bros.
Starring William Powell (Don Free), Margaret Lindsay (Janet Reynolds), Ruth Donnelly (Amy Moran), Gordon Westcott (Tony Bandor), Arthur Hohl (Dan Hogan), Natalie Moorhead (Mrs. Helen Burns), James Bell (Whitey) and Hobart Cavanaugh (Harcourt S. Burns).