When the politics of a murder mystery are more interesting than the mystery, there’s a bit of a problem. The Phantom of Crestwood involves a woman of the world (Karen Morley) blackmailing her former lovers so she can get out of the professional mistress life. Why’s it so easy to blackmail them? They’ve all been selling short during the Depression in order to profit off the miseries of the working man.
The film starts much better than it finishes, though Henry W. Gerrard’s photography is fantastic throughout. Director Ruben kind of runs out of interesting things to do in the second half. There’s a technically interesting gimmick for flashbacks, but the whole flashback structure of the murder investigation doesn’t work. Many cast members never become suspects, even though the script frequently casts doubts about them.
There’s a lot of good acting to carry the film–it only really gets tiresome in the last ten minutes or so, when there’s the big race for time sequence. Morley’s wonderful in the lead. Crestwood lionizes the crooks–a suspected murderer (Ricardo Cortez) ends up doing the investigating, with Sam Hardy as his sidekick. Both of them are excellent and play quite well off each other. And Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher. He’s great.
Unfortunately, there are bad performances too. Matty Kemp, Ivan F. Simpson and, especially, Pauline Frederick are awful. Between their weak performances in essential roles and the lackluster finish, Crestwood never gets near what the excellent first twenty minutes promises.
It’s too bad.
Directed by J. Walter Ruben; screenplay by Bartlett Cormack, based on a story by Cormack and Ruben; director of photography, Henry W. Gerrard; edited by Archie Marshek; released by RKO Radio Pictures.
Starring Ricardo Cortez (Gary Curtis), Karen Morley (Jenny Wren), Anita Louise (Esther Wren), Pauline Frederick (Faith Andes), H.B. Warner (Priam Andes), Mary Duncan (Dorothy Mears), Sam Hardy (Pete Harris), Tom Douglas (Allen Herrick), Richard ‘Skeets’ Gallagher (Eddie Mack), Aileen Pringle (Mrs. Walcott), Ivan F. Simpson (Mr. Vayne), George E. Stone (The Cat), Robert McWade (Herbert Walcott), Hilda Vaughn (Carter), Gavin Gordon (Will Jones), Matty Kemp (Frank Andes) and Eddie Sturgis (Bright Eyes).