Cast & Crew
Determined to find his girl friend Alice, who disappeared a year before in Chicago, Tim Winthrop goes to New York and seeks the help of his friend, criminal lawyer Clay Dalzell. After discussing the situation, Tim, Clay and Donna Mantin, Clay's would-be fiancée, go to the theater, where Mary Smith, an actress who is famous for the lifelike mask that she wears on stage, is performing. As the curtain rises, Clay receives a message to meet gangster Jimmy Kinland and leaves to pick up a packet of incriminating love letters that Donna has asked him to retrieve. While Clay is negotiating with Kinland for the letters, which he discovers are not from Donna, but from a married friend, he hears a radio news report about the sudden disappearance of Mary Smith during the play's first act. Clay returns home and is visited first by Tim, who tells him that Mary Smith is Alice, and then by newspaper gossip columnist Tommy Tennant. Before Tommy can explain why Mary Smith bolted from the stage, he is shot and killed by an unseen gunman in Clay's bedroom, who also grazes Clay. Before escaping, the killer throws his gun next to Clay, thereby incriminating the lawyer in Tommy's murder. Now the main suspect of Inspector Doremus, Clay determines to find the killer and, with the help of Donna and Horace Swayne, his butler, undertakes to connect the woman's disappearance with Tennant's murder. Eventually Clay finds out that his former lover, Jerry Classon, and her wealthy lawyer husband Roger are also looking for Alice, who Classon claims is the only person who can exonerate his partner in the murder of a Chicago mobster. From Kinland, Clay learns that Alice's father had been ruined by John Moroni, Classon's partner, and that, out of revenge, she fled Chicago to avoid providing him with an alibi, and then became Mary Smith. From Donna, Clay hears that Jerry had affairs with both Moroni and the slain gangster. Sure that the killer's target is Alice, Clay telephones all of his suspects and tells them that Mary will be waiting for them at a certain Greenwich Village address. By using a recording of Mary's singing, Clay, Donna and Doremus trap the killer, who turns out to be Classon dressed in women's clothes and Mary's mask. As deduced by Clay, Classon killed the Chicago gangster out of jealousy and, wanting to pin the crime on the equally guilty Moroni, tried to eliminate Alice as Moroni's alibi. The murder solved, Tim and Alice reunite and marry on the same day that Donna finally snags the elusive Clay.
J. Farrell Macdonald
Robert E. O'connor
John L. Cass
Howard J. Green
J. Roy Hunt
Van Nest Polglase
Star of Midnight
Audiences flocked to The Thin Man for a number of reasons, but the most attractive ingredient was the witty and loving relationship between Nick and Nora Charles, as seen in a sophisticated (and often gin-soaked) Art Deco high life. The RKO imitations present winning variations of this scenario. In Star of Midnight Powell plays Clay 'Dal' Dalzell, a lawyer by trade but an amateur sleuth on the side: "just because I happen to have more fun solving cases than trying them, my friends all seem to think that I'm a combination of Charlie Chan, Philo Vance, and the Sphinx all rolled into one." (The inside gag here is that Powell had already played Philo Vance in four features earlier in his career). The unmarried Dal is often joined in his adventures by wealthy young socialite Donna Mantin (Ginger Rogers), who has been an enamored hanger-on of the lawyer since she was 10 years old - apparently the daughter of a rich friend or client.
Characters are introduced fast and furious in the storyline (the script is based on a novel by Arthur Somers Roche). Tim Winthrop (Leslie Fenton) comes to New York to ask help of his friend Dal; it seems that a year earlier in Chicago, Winthrop's singer fiancée Alice Markham left him suddenly and disappeared. Tim, Dal, and Donna attend the play Midnight because Tim suspects that masked actress "Mary Smith" is actually Alice. Dal is called away to visit gangster Jimmy Kinland (Paul Kelly) to retrieve some incriminating letters as a favor to Donna. In the lobby Dal meets an old flame, Jerry Classon (Vivien Oakland) and her husband Roger (Ralph Morgan). While at Kinland's apartment, Dal hears the news that Mary Smith ran out of the theater when confronted by Tim. Later at Dal's apartment, while butler Horace Swayne (Gene Lockhart) is away, gossip columnist Tommy Tennant (Russell Hopton) plans to tell Dal why Mary Smith ran from the stage. Before he can, an unseen gunman shoots Tommy dead and wounds Dal; the gun is tossed by Dal's body in an effort to frame him. Inspector Doremus (J. Farrell MacDonald) does indeed have Dal followed while he, Donna, and Swayne investigate the connection between Tommy's murder and the missing Mary Smith.
Dal Dalzell must be an excellent lawyer - his Park Avenue apartment is luxuriously appointed with beautiful Art Deco furnishings and details, and his servant is constantly entering the room with a tray full of drinks. A fair number of scenes take place in Dal's spacious bathroom, which is stocked with a stand-up shower, a full barber's chair, and a toilet that plays "Pop Goes the Weasel" when in use! (Even though the commode is off-screen and only implied, it is surprising this detail got past the Hays Office).
The age disparity between Dal and Donna is cleverly played up in Star of Midnight (Rogers was 19 years younger than Powell in real life). Donna's actions paint her as little more than a troublesome kid sister, but the verbal by-play that occurs is much less innocent. When Del suggests that Donna should get a spanking, she presents her behind, saying, "Well, this'll be new." (She receives a kick to the rump instead). In another scene she is bringing Dal and a guest some drinks to the bathroom, but makes an amusing U-turn when she hears the musical commode in use; the clear implication is that she is otherwise used to barging in on Dal, no matter the location. The playing between Powell and Rogers is deft; Powell is able to utter disparaging remarks like "the woman is a shameless hussy and a fact-distorter" while indicating that he doesn't believe a word of it and holds her in great affection.
Ginger Rogers appeared in Star of Midnight directly between the filming of Roberta (1935) and Top Hat (1935) with Fred Astaire. In her 1992 autobiography Ginger: My Story, Rogers wrote, "I was thankful to be going into a sophisticated comedy instead of rehearsing long hours and hearing the same song five thousand times." Working with the same personnel at RKO meant that costume designer Bernard Newman "...had my measurements and could have all my gowns ready before lunch if necessary. He designed some lovely dresses; I especially loved my opening outfit, a white mink blouse with a black velvet skirt. It was so Fifth Avenue."
Nearly every review of Star of Midnight mentions the film's similarity to The Thin Man, but does not necessarily hold that against the film. The writer for Variety, for example, raves that "it hits a similar merry comedy-drama stride and attains practically the same effectiveness as screen entertainment. ...Smart dialog containing a good share of genuine laughs keeps Powell and Rogers occupied most of the time when they are not mystery-solving or drinking."
The critic for Liberty magazine called the film "brightly written and frequently bawdy" and said that Powell ("consuming enough Martinis to float Oliver Hardy and Charles Laughton") and Rogers ("rapidly becoming one of the screen's most pleasant personalities") "...have so much drunken fun that the audience can hardly miss capturing a share of it." The writer for Time magazine acknowledges that "the spectacle of Clay Dalzell's suave bar manners are much more stimulating than the mystery which he solves... Cinemaddicts who enjoyed The Thin Man, recognized master print for all cocktail and wisecrack crime cinemas, should find Star of Midnight an entertaining and not too sedulous copy."
Andre Sennwald, writing in the New York Times, called Star of Midnight "a sleek, witty and engaging entertainment, it contemplates its corpses with the charming air of just passing the time pleasantly until the bar opens. Probably William Powell, as the debonair lawyer-sleuth of the late Arthur Somers Roche's story, is responsible for making Star of Midnight seem like a sequel to The Thin Man, when its producers had no such reckless intention. His Clay Dalzell is drawn to the Nick Charles measurements and he conducts his pursuit of cocktails and assassins with that blend of bored nonchalance and native shrewdness which we found so captivating last year."
In his New School program notes, William K. Everson admired the "exceptionally clever pun title" but listed what he felt were problems with the film, writing that "as a mystery it's just too urbane. The sophistication is delightful, but the identity of the killer is never once in doubt. Yet the motivation for the crime is so complex that it never does get wholly sorted out..." Everson also felt that Max Steiner was not "awake and earning his money... a lively and punctuational score would have worked wonders for the film."
Director Stephen Roberts, screenwriter Anthony Veiller, and star Powell returned the following year for The Ex-Mrs. Bradford. It was to be Roberts' final film; he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1936. Powell, meanwhile, signed that new contract with MGM and the studio soon paired him with Myrna Loy for the first of several official Thin Man sequels, After the Thin Man (1936).
Producer: Pandro S. Berman (uncredited)
Director: Stephen Roberts
Screenplay: Howard J. Green, Edward Kaufman, Anthony Veiller; Arthur Somers Roche (novel)
Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Max Steiner (uncredited)
Film Editing: Arthur Roberts
Cast: William Powell (Clay 'Dal' Dalzell), Ginger Rogers (Donna Mantin), Paul Kelly (Jimmy 'Jim' Kinland), Gene Lockhart (Horatio Swayne), Ralph Morgan (Roger Classon), Leslie Fenton (Tim Winthrop), J. Farrell MacDonald (Police Insp. Doremus), Russell Hopton (Tommy Tennant), Vivien Oakland (Jerry Classon)
By John M. Miller
Star of Midnight
Plot notes in Motion Picture Herald's "The Cutting Room" differ slightly from the plot in the completed film. According to the pre-release review, Powell plays a "clever man about town" who "falls in love with a stage actress who, disappearing when a murder is committed, is linked with the crime." Many reviewers commented on the thematic similarity between this film and M-G-M's 1934 hit The Thin Man . Variety referred to Star of Midnight as a "non-camouflaged follow-up" to the earlier Powell-Myrna Loy film. RKO borrowed Powell from M-G-M for this production. Hollywood Reporter production charts add Sidney Toler and Frank Reicher to the cast, but their participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to modern sources, Star of Midnight earned the studio $265,000. Modern sources credit Mel Berns with makeup and John Miehle as still photographer and add Hooper Atchley (Hotel manager) to the cast.