|The Walls Came Tumbling Down (1946)
Run time: Approved | 82 min | Action, Adventure, Crime
Director: Lothar Mendes
Writers: Jo Eisinger, Wilfred H. Petitt
Stars: Lee Bowman, Marguerite Chapman, Edgar Buchanan
A Broadway columnist is stunned to find that his friend, a local priest, has been found dead. Suicide or murder? A new girl in town and a lost Da Vinci painting are just parts of this tense thriller.
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Several shady characters in pursuit of an elusive but fabulous treasure, à la The Maltese Falcon, is an all but sure-fire formula for success (sure, sometimes it misfires: See The Argyle Secrets). When The Walls Came Tumbling Down is no black bird, but neither is it an unpaired old sock. It’s an entertainingly cheesy, semi-hard-boiled mystery with Humphrey Bogart’s gumshoe replaced by ace reporter Lee Bowman, who apes the long-in-the-tooth, desperately debonair style of the first filmed Sam Spade, Ricardo Cortez.
He’s on the scene along with the cops when his old parish priest appears to have hanged himself in the rectory. The discreet cover story fed to the press is a heart attack, but Bowman knows it’s not mortal sin but murder. (There’s some anticipation, in this homicide of a holy man, of the much better Red Light of three years later.) But who would want to kill the beloved old rector?
Dressed to the nines, in slithers Marguerite Chapman (who never made it to a really good movie), claiming to be an old chum of the padre from San Francisco, an alibi Bowman quickly pierces by getting her to confabulate about Bellini’s Restaurant on 3rd and Broadway in the city by the bay, which of course is nonexistent.
Other unbidden visitors show up, too. George Macready as a phoney missionary, accompanied by his horror of a wife (Katherine Emery) and worse horror of a goon (Noel Cravat), seeks a pair of Bibles the murdered priest had in his possession. Equally eager to lay hands upon the Good Books are J. Edward Bromberg, posing as Chapman’s unhinged father, and his legal custodian Edgar Buchanan. All the fuss about the Bibles owes to their concealing clues to the whereabouts of a lost masterpiece, Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘The Walls of Jericho’….
There’s a lot of not-quite-first-string character talent in the cast, and the story comes courtesy of Jo Eisinger, who penned Gilda and Night and the City, her most unimpeachable credits. But director Lothar Mendes, a German immigrant whose last movie this would be (and he hadn’t worked much in the previous few years) doesn’t bring any spark or pace to the action.
Coupled with the lackluster Bowman in the sort of part that Bogart and Dick Powell and even Mark Stevens were doing with panache, it doesn’t make the movie much of a keeper. (The picaresque incidents grow too far-fetched as well, culminating with an exhumation in a boneyard one dark and stormy night.) Nevertheless, the movie has its own low-grade integrity, with brief flashes emanating from Macready, Chapman, Bromberg and Buchanan. The Walls Came Tumbling Down makes no honor roles, but gets at least a passing grade.