|Nancy Steele Is Missing! (1937)
Run time: Approved | 84 min | Drama
Director: George Marshall, Otto Preminger
Writers: Charles Francis Coe, Gene Fowler
Stars: Victor McLaglen, Walter Connolly, Peter Lorre
A neat caper story has crook McLaglen passing off his adopted daughter as a long-lost heiress. A good mystery, with plot twists that will keep you guessing.
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Designed to showcase McLaghlen in another dumb-brute-Irishman role similar to the one he played in "The Informer," this little crime story is as clever and snappy as "The Informer" is pretentious, and McLaghlen’s very good in it. Even better is Peter Lorre as a devilish little jailbird who tries to get the better of the big guy.
Another pleasant surprise in weekend of good dramas. The plot may have been convoluted at times but strong performances by the leads carried it through. Victor McLaglen (Variety called it his best performance since The Informer) plays a club waiter who is so against the entry of the United States into World War I that he kidnaps the baby of munitions manufacturer Walter Connolly. His plans are foiled when, after arranging to have the child watched by innocent friends, he is arrested and jailed for another, lesser crime. The friends believe McLaglen is a widowed sailor and raise the child as if it were truly his. McLaglen spends 20 years in prison trying to keep his secret from cellmate, creepy Peter Lorre. When finally released, McLaglen locates the girl and still plans to get money from Connolly. But before he can set up the pay off, Connolly recognizes McLaglen from his former job at the gentleman’s club and offers him a job as caretaker of his estate. And to complicate matters the girl, now grown up, believes McLaglen to be her long lost father and loves him as such. McLaglen chooses to go straight as he begins to care for the would-be daughter he has never known. Lorre, now released from prison, reveals that McLaglen talked in his sleep and now he intends to collect the reward for turning in the kidnapper Thank god for film festivals like this one that make rare films like this available and the folks who provide comments to IMDB for others to share. Please support the IMDB and early film festivals!
Despite its fairly routine, convoluted and at times difficult to follow plot, Nancy Steele Is Missing! is a grand example of studio moviemaking at its best. The script is no great shakes, but the cast,–Victor McLaglen, Peter Lorre, Walter Connolly–is, and the art direction and shadowy photography are first rate, at times more suggestive pictorially of gothic horror than a realistic crime story. That the movie recounts the story of the kidnapping of a child also gives it, for me anyway, a horrifying aspect, albeit a real life rather than supernatural one.
1937's "Nancy Steele is Missing!" features its title as a screaming newspaper headline, the infant daughter of munitions manufacturer Michael Steele (Walter Connolly), in the days leading up to America joining in the First World War. The kidnapper is Dannie O'Neill (Victor McLaglen), a Steele employee so dedicated to pacifism that he resorts to this drastic step just to keep his nation out of battle. Leaving the baby with friends who believe him to be away working aboard ship, O'Neill foolishly attacks two cops sent to arrest him for assault, turning a two year prison term into 20 by taking the blame for a failed jailbreak orchestrated by taunting Cockney convict Harry Wilkins (John Carradine). O'Neill has a cellmate, the bespectacled killer Professor Sturm (Peter Lorre), foolishly caught because he attended his victim's funeral, 'curious to see what they could do about that hole in his head!' Once O'Neill is released, he intends to continue his long delayed blackmail scheme, unaware of the lurking presence of the dangerous Sturm, who has also bided his time, like a cobra waiting to strike. It's an oddly sympathetic portrait of a kidnapper, not generally allowed by the Hays Code, intended for Wallace Beery (who balked at working for director Otto Preminger, replaced by George Marshall), but a much better fit for Victor McLaglen, whose pacifist never convinces, forever looking for a fight, and usually finding it. Still new to Hollywood, and just before beginning his Mr. Moto series at Fox, the quiet and amusing Peter Lorre makes off with the whole picture, his diminutive appearance belied by his overpowering stature in the prison, the other inmates keeping their distance out of respect…or fear. The clean shaven John Carradine, sporting a truly dreadful Cockney accent, only gets a couple of scenes to taunt Dannie, calling him 'a dirty spy' as he goads him into starting the jail break, in at the 18 minute mark, out at 33, still smirking at O'Neill's misfortune. Lorre and Carradine would do seven more pictures together- "Thank You, Mr. Moto," "I'll Give a Million," "Mr. Moto's Last Warning," "Around the World in Eighty Days," "The Story of Mankind," "Hell Ship Mutiny," and "The Patsy" (Lorre's last film).