Jim Siergey: Boston Blackie

May 18th, 2021

When in the throes of melancholia, many people turn to what has been labeled as “comfort food”. Me, I turn to “comfort films”.

I will re-watch movies that I have already watched innumerable times. It makes me feel warm, safe and content. Plus they contain less calories than a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

I won’t bore you with a listing of my comfort cinema but they are a combination of classic films, not so classic films and “guilty pleasures”.

One selection from the latter category is Boston Blackie movies. They are all B-pictures running a tad over an hour in length that are a combination of mystery, suspense and corny humor.

Boston Blackie is a reformed jewel thief and safecracker now operating as a kind of private detective. The law always suspects him of whatever crime has just occurred as he continually outwits both them and the actual culprit with charm and cunning.

Apparently there were Boston Blackie films made in the teens and twenties but the ones I’m familiar with were from the 1940s. Chester Morris (The Man with No Profile as I call him) stars as Blackie and George E. Stone, a character actor from the silent era who worked all the way through the early 1960s, eventually settling in playing a court clerk on the Perry Mason TV series, portrayed Blackie’s cohort/partner/valet/stooge whose moniker was “The Runt”.

jackboyle
Jack Boyle was quite a character…

 

Blackie’s constant accuser was Lt. Faraday, played by Richard Lane who later gained fame as radio announcer for midget car racing, roller derby and wrestling. His catch phrase was “Whooooaaaaahhhh Nellie”, used whenever something unexpected or exciting occurred.  His Detective-Sergeant was played by a variety of dim-witted lunkheads whose main purpose was to be the butt of jokes.

They were easily watchable films with crisp cinematography and entertaining story lines. There were 14 of these films made during the ‘40s and quite a few of the actors, actresses and directors involved in this series went on to become big names in Hollywood.

In the early 1950s there was a TV show called Boston Blackie starring ‘40s film actor Kent Taylor. All history of his thievery and safe cracking was erased as he portrayed a straight private investigator who, along with his wife and dog, solved crimes with the assistance (!) of Lt. Faraday and the police.

I only recently discovered that Boston Blackie began as a series of short stories.

Jack Boyle, an ex-newspaperman, who like his literary compatriots, Jean Genet, O. Henry, Nelson Mandela, the Marquis de Sade, Ezra Pound, Eldridge Cleaver and Jack Abbott, began writing his Boston Blackie stories while in prison.

Born in Chicago, Jack Boyle, working as a reporter in San Francisco became an opium addict and was jailed for writing bad checks. He was later convicted of robbery and while serving his sentence in San Quentin in 1914 began writing Boston Blackie stories.

The life of Jack Boyle could make for an interesting movie.

I found a website that presented Boston Blackie stories to read. For free. In the Boyle stories Blackie, whose given name was Horacio Black, was not an ex-jewel thief and safecracker but an active one.

In this story I began reading he had broken into a house in order to steal jewels from the wall safe he had found but was interrupted by the entry of a couple, the wife of the house’s owner and a man who was not her husband. From this point on ensued several pages of overwrought dialogue between this man and the woman who felt pangs of guilt for having an affair with the man she was with who was trying to persuade her to go away with him to the islands of Hawaii.

It got to be too much for me so I quit reading. I guess I shouldn’t blame the author for carrying on this torpid dialogue of anguished sexual deception for so, so many pages. After all, he was in prison at the time.

So there you have it, more info about a subject with which you most likely never expected to be confronted. Now, did somebody say something about meatloaf?

 

Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was His Hair Was Perfect

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