Movie Madness and/or Mania: Nancy Drew… Reporter (1939)

So, I decided that if I’m in for a penny, I’m in for a pound on Nancy Drew’s 90th Anniversary… no, not actually reading them, but watching the other three Warner Bros. films from the 1930s.

The accent is definitely on comedy, and the “mystery” here is so confusing that I can’t even describe what is IS, exactly, but Bonita Granville is so darn likable that it’s pretty irrelevant.

As this one opens, Nancy is one of a group of lucky students (four girls and two boys, by the way) chosen for an internship at the local newspaper. The crotchety editor seems to immediately regret this project, and seems especially annoyed by Nancy, assigning her to cover a meeting of a “ladies amateur poetry club”.

That is definitely not what she had in mind, so she steals the assignment off the desk of a real reporter (implied he is out day-drinking) and shoves her way into the press gallery at an inquest of the death of a society woman poisoned by experimental photography chemicals.

When the court is recessed, a suspicious character sideswipes her snappy roadster and she chases him down, eventually locating him at the vast estate of the murdered woman, and demands he pay for her damaged fender; scrupulously honest, she calculates the damages and gas used to chase him down and gives him change!

Ned-Ted still seems to be her only friend, although now he has a bratty younger brother and sister, Mary and Killer (???) who impose their company on the couple and are constantly setting off cherry bombs. They are played by child performers Mary Lee and Dickie Jones, who are mainly associated with Gene Autry’s musical act. We’ll get back to them momentarily.

Nancy drafts Ned-Ted into serving as her photographer for an interview with the lady photojournalist who is being held for trial in the murder, convincing him to cancel his tennis date with an “older woman” and bribing him with a snappy new hat.  When Ned-Ted’s camera is confiscated at the jail, Nancy is prepared with a second camera that she has smuggled in her hair-do.

Nancy also convinces Ned-Ted to go undercover as a boxer… which has something to do with the gangsters who are really responsible for the murder. Mild hilarity ensues.

They do get information to track the gangsters to a Chinese restaurant, and formulate a plan to spy on them from an adjacent booth (very Trixie-and-Jim in The Mystery on Cobbett’s Island); unfortunately, they can’t ditch Mary and Killer, who tag along and order more Chop Suey than Nancy and Ned-Ted have money to pay for. The restaurant’s proprietor is about to sentence them to the dish room, when Mary offers to sing for their supper. Luckily this is the kind of Chinese restaurant equipped with a full jazz orchestra. Mary and Killer perform a PRIME Baby Jane Hudson-type number, which accounts for the extra seven minutes of running time for this film.

This was so distracting that I failed to notice what evidence they successfully gathered, but apparently it is enough to set up a sting operation with police Sgt. Entwhistle at the hotel where the gangsters are hiding out. Of course, this necessitates Sgt. Entwhistle dressing in drag.

When the scheme goes awry, Nancy and Ned-Ted are again held hostage by gangsters (cue more Ned-Ted slapstick) and locked in the engineering room of the Hotel Beldenburg. Thinking quickly, Nancy and Ned-Ted attract attention to their plight by turning off letters in the hotel’s neon sign so it reads HOTEL BED BUG.

The authorities thus summoned, the gangsters are captured, another successful case closed for Nancy Drew!

While Mary and Killer’s schtick is pretty hard to take (it looks like they are absent from the remaining films in the series) most of the comic business is delightful. I especially like how Nancy carefully takes the maraschino cherry off of her bowl of cereal announcing that she’s “saving it for last”- in the previous film she slapped Ned-Ted’s grabby hand when he tried to steal the cherry off of her grapefruit half.

Odds and Ends: Look fast for Joan Leslie as one of the other student interns.

Availability: …Reporter is the only title streaming on Amazon and is easily found on YouTube as well as in the DVD box set.

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3 Responses to Movie Madness and/or Mania: Nancy Drew… Reporter (1939)

  1. ibikenyc says:

    “. . . the ‘mystery’ here is so confusing that I can’t even describe what is IS, exactly. . . ”

    You sure did give it the (ha-ha) Old College Try, though!

    It sounds like a delightful caper regardless, and I might just check it out. My first name is Nancy, and I was a big fan of the books as I was growing up.

    PS: Is it me, or is that a typo in the poster? Shouldn’t “What Chance Has A Story” instead be “What Story Has A Chance”?

    • mondomolly says:

      Ha! Apparently Nancy’s creators didn’t like Granville’s characterization and found her too dizzy, but (not being in a position to compare) I find her really delightful in her circular logic and just dragging everyone in to her adventures.

      I didn’t even notice the wording on the poster! I feel like it could be a typo or just archaic phrasing. It definitely is odd!

      • ibikenyc says:

        Oh, ya know what? Now that I’m reading it again, I see how they could have meant it! DUH on me! 🙂

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