|Among the Missing (1934)
Run time: Approved | 62 min | Drama
Director: Albert S. Rogell
Writers: Herbert Asbury, Fred Niblo Jr.
Stars: Richard Cromwell, Henrietta Crosman, Billie Seward
An elderly woman, alienated from her family, becomes involved with a pair of crooks. Used as a “front” the oldster is smarter than they giver her credit for. Beautifully photographed around Los Angeles.
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… because in spite of being released on DVD via Sony's MOD program, hardly anyone ever reviews the film and I've never seen it on TV, not even on Turner Classic Movies.
This was a blind buy for me, and it is among the best of the early production code films, which often got ridiculously sentimental in attempts to not violate the code. This one is a little sentimental, but it's interesting and a bit different too. In spite of having everything going for it – good quality script, acting, and production values, it does have a near anonymous cast, even for classic film fans, and that may be the reason it is overlooked.
A 65 year old woman (Henrietta Crosman as Martha Abbott) walks out on her family after basically being made to feel old and unwanted. She leaves a home she owns outright and shares with her difficult nephew and nephew's wife. We never see the argument that drove her out, but we do get to meet the nephew and his wife when they go to the police in a panic about missing aunt Martha. You see, it turns out they probably don't want Aunt Martha back as much as they need her to close on the house – after all she holds title, and they can't sell without her.
Meanwhile a trio of jewel thieves are about to get pinched for their latest robbery. The youngest among them walks into the park where he sees Martha, sitting there looking lost and forlorn He starts a conversation, and stuffs the stolen jewels into her things. The police come up and question them, search the boy, and eventually figure these are not the thieves and leave. The jewel thieves take Martha home with them, at first planning to turn her out the next day. But then a cop sees the back door open, starts wandering around, and is instantly disarmed by Martha's demeanor since she seems like everyone's grandmother. The thieves now see the usefulness of Martha as an apparently harmless front to their operations, and they hire her as a cook and housekeeper.
Martha is not as clueless as you'd think though, and she soon figures out what the three are up to. But she also figures out that Tommy is not a hardened criminal like the other two, although outwardly he is very gruff and pretty disrespectful of Martha. She can see that the other two thieves plan to use Tommy to take the real risks in their operation, all the while acting like they are teaching him some kind of trade. She hangs around to try to make Tommy see the error of his ways and to act as a bit of a matchmaker between Tommy and "the girl next door" – literally – Judy.
Ivan F. Simpson plays Smeed, the most outwardly tough of the two hardened thieves, and that's an interesting bit of casting since I'm used to seeing him play gentleman's gentleman types. Arthur Hoyl plays the other thief, which is not an unusual turn for him since he usually played back-stabbing underhanded types. Of the three thieves he is the most slippery and very good at controlling Tommy, making him think he is always thinking of him.
I'd recommend it to anybody who likes films from the 1930's.
Henrietta Crosman (born the year the Civil War started!) was a grand lady of the old American theater, and graced a number of 1930s movies as a character actress. Today if she's remembered at all by film buffs it's for her role as the feisty war mother in Ford's Pilgrimage. Among The Missing is a good vehicle with ( instead of the trope, common to screwball comedy in this time, of the runaway bride or heiress) a runaway well to do matriarch. A glimpse of her unappealing, grasping nephew and his wife explains why she escaped. She lands up moving in with a group of thieves who use an antique shop (and her reassuring presence) as a front. When she catches on to their con, she stays to help the youngest,most innocent member of the gang,played by Richard Cromwell (the nominal lead) even to the point of pretending to be a cleaning woman when they're on a job! Albert Rogell, the workmanlike director, specialized in what can be called bread and butter pictures. But this one also benefits from the appearance, though late in the story, of another great supporting player with lots of history, Paul Hurst, whose notorious cop character's tough methods grilling suspects are played for laughs. And last but not least, the cinematographer, Joe August, who was a favorite of Ford, reminds us of a time when even a little programmer like this (almost a B movie) was carefully lit for black and white chiaroscuro. The stock shots of the police cars tearing out of their garages stand out in contrast for their graininess (A savvy Variety reviewer noticed though the film is set in L.A., these shots come from New York City!)
A city's busy "Bureau of Missing Persons" receives word that someone's gray-haired old aunt has disappeared. In reality, elderly Henrietta Crosman (as Martha Abbott) left home because her ungrateful relatives decided to sell the house. On her way to the YWCA, Ms. Crossman stops to rest on a park bench. Meanwhile, boyish thief Richard Cromwell (as Tommy) has just participated in a burglary. Pursued by the police, Mr. Cromwell joins Crosman and stashes some stolen jewels in her coat pocket. The police search Cromwell, but not Crosman. Cromwell and gang leader Arthur Hohl (as Gordon) invite Crosman to Mr. Hohl's "Gordon Inc Antiques" shop, which is really a front for crime…
Cromwell as the charming but disagreeable "kid" and Crosman as the eccentric but wise "old lady" are wonderful in this film. Their scenes together are so natural and nicely played, they seem "connected" even when they are not sharing the screen. The producer/director duo Sid and Albert Rogell (brothers) were wise and/or lucky to sign them. Film editing by John Rawlins is outstanding; a "jack of all trades," Mr. Rawlins was a regular part of the Rogell team. Added to the mix, photographer Joseph August does an extraordinary job with locations and lighting. While his camera refuses to pause while passing from one room to another, it's only part of the art. This sentimental story is a visual treat.
******** Among the Missing (1934-09-25) Albert Rogell ~ Richard Cromwell, Henrietta Crosman, Billie Seward, Arthur Hohl
Just watched this movie for the first time on tcm. Missing old lady gets mixed up with jewel thieves while escaping her own annoying family, it's a cute story. No amazing plot twists, or performances, but it's interesting to watch a movie released so close to censorship becoming more strict. Its only a few months later. There is a strong moral tone throughout the movie, but some how it doesn't really spoil it. When the host of tcm said this movie has just been pulled off the shelf and had never been aired before I had to look it up, when I saw the mostly empty page here I had to post a review. I'm glad someone plucked this one off the shelf. Like the host said it's not an amazing movie, but it's definitely one more people should see.