The Columbia ILAM Film series: "I Love A Mystery"

"I Love A Mystery" (1945) was the first of the three Columbia films, featuring Jim Bannon in the role of Jack Packard, and Barton Yarborough reprising his role of Doc Long (Reggie York, featured in the radio series, was written out of the film series).

This first film in the Columbia series was based on the (now lost) Carlton E. Morse serial, "The Decapitation of Jefferson Monk," is an entertaining whodunnit. The screenplay was adapted by Charles OíNeal. It was directed by Henry Levin (who went on to direct the two sequels).

After a gruesome opening scene at the city morgue, we have a flashback to several days before, at a traditional Russian restaurant where Jack and Doc are dining. The boys meet Jefferson Monk, played by George Macready, a rich dilettante, and help him avoid an accident with a flaming dish. Thanking them, he earnestly tells them his life is in danger, that other "accidents" have occurred, and would they please follow him to verify that a killer is stalking him. Monkís date, a mysterious woman named Jean, tries to dissuade the boys, but after telling her they wonít follow Monk, they go and head and do so (Jack had recognized that Monk had been drugged!).
Luckily for Monk they did, for they thwart an attempt on his life by a peg-legged one-eyed stranger wielding a sharp hook and carrying a bag! They accompany the shaken Monk home, where they hear his peculiar story and litany of troubles. Itís bad enough that his beautiful wife has mysteriously lost the use of her legs after a joint trip to the Far East, and is now confined to a wheelchair. Adding insult to injury is the fact that a mysterious cult has foretold his death and is after his head!

According to Monkís story, he is the exact double of one of the cultís ancient prophets, whose mummified remains (which closely resemble his own) are finally deteriorating due to the ravages of time. His death, he is told by one of the High Priests, will occur in exactly one year, and when it does come, would Monk sell them his head for $10,000?
Monk had refused their request last year, but mysterious notes are being sent counting down the last days of the foretold year, and now he is being stalked by a peg-legged freak who carries a large head-shaped valise in his left hand, the same one they met that night! Could Jack and Doc save him from this horrible fate?

Jack and Doc take on his case, and for the next 70 minutes is crowded with thrills, excitement, femme fatals, mysterious doctors, several murders, Jack being arrested, and a surprise twist ending to a very eerie (and very enjoyable) entry story in the Columbia ILAM series!

Jim Bannon, on contract at Columbia at the time, had actually been the announcer for the "I Love A Mystery" radio series at the time of film production. Bannon speculates in his autobiography, "The Son that Rose in the West" that he, a newly contracted movie actor at Columbia, was given the nod over that of then Jack Packard radio actor, Michael Raffetto, simply because he looked more what the studio thought Jack Packard looked like than Raffetto did. Rumor has it that Raffetto, furious at being passed over for the ILAM film, quite the radio series at this time, with his role being taken over by another.

Bannon also had this to say about the first movie:

"Mystery, after all the conversation about it and all the waiting for the script to be finishd so we could get the series started, was not really an outstanding production at all. It will do business, Iím sure, simply because of the title and the number of people who have listened to the show on radio for so long. As a truly good movie, however, it limps a little.

George Macready, was the lead heavyÖBarton Yarborough, from the radio cast, is a delight to work with, and we managed to have fun doing it. All in all, it was pretty run of the mill. About all we can do is to hope that the next one will better.

One of the things we both objected to was the way they had us just sort of stumble into the situation. In most of the detective series Ė Boston Blackie, The Lone Wolf, The Thin Man, etc. -- the story is set up to revolve around the main characters. That wasnít the case with us, and I felt that the result was a weakened product. Carlton Morse, the author of the radio series, was on the set much of the time and since he didnít make too much of a howl about the way it was being done, Bart and I kept quiet. Itís sort of sad because they could very well kill off what has a chance of turning into a good continuing thing."

Follow this link to view a copy of the press release for the first ILAM movie

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