Monday, April 2, 2018

'Ticket to a Crime' starts strong, but falters

Ticket to a Crime (1934)
Starring: Ralph Graves, Lola Lane, James Burke, Charles Ray, Lois Wilson, John Elliot, and Hy Hoover
Director: Lewis Collins
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

When a financially troubled jeweler (Elliot) is murdered before he even has a chance to fully explain why he's hiring P.I. Clay Holt (Graves), Holt and his secretary (Lane) must not only find the killer, but try to learn what their job was supposed to be.

"Ticket to a Crime" is one of those films I started out liking, but which fell in my estimation as it progressed. It benefits from a pair of charismatic leads (Graves and Lane) that played well off each other, and the mystery at the center of the film is more complex that what is often the case with these low-budget films, with multiple possible motivations for the murder, as well as a slate of several likely suspects.

Unfortunately, the interesting plot and its relative complexities get derailed as the pace of the film accelerates during its second act and then rushes toward its conclusion with such a breakneck pace that the solution to the case feels lazy (and the criminal behind the action appears to be complete moron). But even before that, the character of Clay Holt (Ralph Graves) who started out as a charming, if somewhat self-absorbed rogue, has turned into a detestable and unlikable jackass.

First, there was the way he treated his secretary--she barely rated a kind word from him when she was wearing glasses and frumpy business clothing, but once she was in a party dress and without her "cheaters", he was head-over-heels in love. Was this really an amusing or endearing trait to movie-goers in the 1930s? From the moment Penny (played by Lola Lane) appeared on screen, I thought, "Wow... that's a pretty woman" and the fact that Clay Holt couldn't see that made me think he was either gay or stupid.

And, speaking of stupid, the second thing drags the character of Clay Holt down is his persistent pranking/tormenting of his former partner from his days on the police force, the slow-on-the-uptake Lt. McGinnis (James Burke, in a role he played many times over his career). Not only does he thoroughly obstruct McGinnis's investigation by withholding, and even planting fake, evidence, but he identifies a completely innocent bystander to McGinnis as a person he is seeking. Early in the film, a police official threatens to pull Holt's investigator license... given his behavior over the course of "Ticket to a Crime", not only should that license be pulled but Holt desperately needs to be prosecuted and locked up, since his behavior not only obstructed justice but it endangered both police officers and civilians.

Even if the writers hadn't completely botched the character of Holt, the rushed ending in and of itself ruins what began as a nice mystery picture. The solution to the crime is so simple that the criminal never had a chance of getting away with it in the first place: If Holt hadn't concealed evidence, even McGinnis would have identified the killer well before the disappointing Big Reveal. What's worse, the ending--the entire second half of the movie, actually, is so sloppy and rushed that we don't even find out the reason for why Clay and Penny were hired in the first place.

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