"Criminal pathologists try to crack a case with nothing but the victim's bones to go on."
This was the brief synopsis on TCM for the 1950 film Mystery Street. It sounded interesting so I added it to my list. I was also intrigued because the lead was played by Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban, who I've watched recently in a couple Esther Williams films as well as the WWII film Battleground (1949) - in which he gave a wonderful performance.
As soon as I watched it, I knew I had to write about it. Showing the procedural side of police work, the film was groundbreaking in showing how policemen use the science of forensics to solve crimes, in this case a murder in which all that is left to go on is some bones buried in the sand on the beach.
The audience already know who the bones belong to and who committed the crime, so there is no mystery involved. The excitement comes from seeing the way in which the clues are gathered and how the murderer and his victim are identified by the police. There is of course some suspense/action near the end with the death of the victims' landlady who tried to use her knowledge for monetary gain.
The film opens with the victim, Vivian Heldon (Jan Sterling) making a phone call to the married man she is having an affair with. She demands he meet her at the Grass Skirt cafe, her place of employment in Boston. While there she meets a young man, Henry Shanway (Marshall Thompson), who's wife has just lost their baby in childbirth. Vivian offers to take the inebriated Shanway home but instead takes over his car to meet her lover Hartley on Cape Cod. When he protested to ditches him on the side of the road a few miles from a diner. At the beach, Vivian demands Hartley give her money. Instead, he shoots her while she's still on the car, then buries her body among the sand dunes.
Moralas meanwhile, also visits the Grass Skirt and learns that Vivien left with a young man. They track him down and are able to confirm that the car they found in the pond was his, which he had reported was stolen from in front of the hospital. Caught in his lie, he becomes their prime suspect and is arrested. However, the discovery of the bullet that killed Vivian lodged under the car raises doubts in Moralas' mind. He continues searching and is lead to Hartley by checking Vivien's phone bill. Hartley denies knowing Vivien and watches nervously as Moralas searches his office. When the gun is not discovered, Hartley pays a visit to Mrs. Smerrling, who again tries to blackmail him. She has hidden the gun at the baggage claim at the train station and put the claim ticked in a bird cage. Hartley, getting desperate, forces her to reveal the hiding place then, when there's a knock on the door, hits her on the head with a candlestick, killing her.
The visitor is Shanway's wife, trying to prove her husband's innocence. Moralas shows up a few minutes later - he was going to question Mrs. Smerring again - discovers the baggage claim ticket, and hurries to the train station. He arrives just moments after Hartley convinced the baggage claim attendant to give him the bag containing the gun despite not having a ticket. He and his partner chase Hartley down and arrest him for the murder of Vivian Heldon, clearing Shanway in the process.
This post is part of The Good Cop, Bad Cop Blogathon hosted by Coffee, Classics, & Craziness. Please follow good police procedure and read all of the evidence ;)