Cast & Crew
Alfred E. Green
While riding a bus back to her mid-Western home town with insurance investigator Sam Donovan, attractive Anita Weatherby learns from the bus driver that Roger Phillips, a local, has committed suicide by shooting himself. When they arrive in town, Anita introduces Sam to her parents, Stu and Bessie, and her younger sister Cathie, and tells them that Sam is there to investigate the Phillips case. Sam goes to see county sheriff Larry Best and asks for the coroner's report but is told that the coroner has left town for Christmas. Larry appears evasive and Sam tells him that Phillips' insurance policy had a double indemnity clause and that the beneficiary might wish to attempt to prove that Phillips was murdered. When Sam threatens to get a court order to exhume the body, Larry reluctantly produces two bullets from a Luger that he claims were extracted from Phillips' body. Sam next visits jeweler Abbey, who discovered the body, but he offers little information beyond the fact that he did not see any gun. Later, the undertaker tells Sam that there were no powder burns on the body, which would have indicated suicide. When Sam revisits Larry, he discovers that he owns a Luger. After phoning his boss with a progress report, Sam takes Anita to the movies and kisses her goodnight. The next day Sam talks with Phillips' beneficiary, Margaret Baker, the dead man's niece, who does not believe him when he tells her that her uncle was murdered. After he learns that Stu, a banker, also owns a Luger, Sam and Anita go to the Phillips house and discover that the sheriff has chalk-marked the crime scene, indicating murder. Larry confirms to a worried Anita that Phillips was killed by a Luger and tells Sam that Margaret eloped the night her uncle was killed. At the Weatherby home, Sam tells Stu that Phillips was killed with a Luger, and Anita is alarmed when her father fails to admit he owns such a gun until Hilda, the maid, reminds him that he gave the gun to a doctor. Later, Sam and the Weatherbys attend a ceremony in the town square, at which the much-loved Dr. Gerrow is scheduled to officiate at the lighting of the town's Christmas tree. However, when it is discovered that the doctor died of a heart attack earlier in the evening, Stu pays a warm tribute to him. Back at the house, while hiding her diary from her inquisitive sister, Anita finds the gun her father had supposedly given away. When Sam interrogates Margaret's husband Frank, he learns that Phillips did not approve of Frank, prompting Sam to suggest that Frank killed him. However, Margaret points out that her uncle summoned Larry to throw Frank out and that Larry was there when they both left. Later, after Abbey admits to Sam that he saw Frank running away from the house, Stu tells Sam that he had promised Frank a personal loan and had met him at the bus depot, from which the couple were leaving, before Frank could possibly have doubled back to the Phillips house. Sam tells Stu that he intends to look for Stu's Luger at Gerrow's house, but Anita gets there ahead of him and places the gun in Gerrow's collection. At Stu's bank, Sam asks him to identify the gun and tells him that it is probably the weapon that killed Phillips. Larry then confides to Sam that Phillips was a blight on the community and that many people wanted him dead. Later, Sam asks the editor of the town's newspaper to plant a story that he is bringing in a scientist from the Chicago Police Department to run tests on the carpet on which the killer stood. At his home, Stu looks for the gun, but finds Anita's diary instead. On Christmas Eve, Sam waits in the Phillips house for the killer, knowing that the parties involved will have read the newspaper story. Larry joins Sam at the house and tells him that no one else will be coming to his party. Stu, meanwhile, is about to leave his house, when Anita begs him not to go. He explains that he has read her diary and knows of her suspicions, but has to go anyway. When Stu arrives at the Phillips place, Sam learns that Dr. Gerrow killed Phillips and that Larry and Stu knew and were covering it up. Stu discovered Gerrow, gun in hand, and Gerrow wanted to turn himself in but was persuaded to wait until after the holidays. Larry then tells Sam that Margaret had informed him that the insurance money could go to a charity as long as her uncle's death was not ruled a suicide. He also asks Sam not to make public the details of the case as the townspeople had such love for Gerrow and such hatred for Phillips. After Anita shows up and learns that her father is not responsible for the killing, she departs with Sam.
Alfred E. Green
Ann E. Todd
Paul E. Burns
Fred W. Berger
B. P. Jaques
Jerome Pycha Jr.
Lewis J. Rachmil
Hans J. Salter
Cover Up is one of those thrillers where everything is hiding in plain sight; the town's secrets are there for the taking, if you just know where to look. Dennis O'Keefe's insurance man, Sam Donovan, may seem like a sharp guy, but knowing where to look -- at least in a town like this one -- isn't his strong suit. He also happens to be distracted by one of the locals, Anita Weatherby (Barbara Britton, fetching in an understated way): The two meet as their train is pulling into the station. It's Christmastime, and Anita has been doing some shopping, ostensibly in the big, bad city; Sam helps her with the packages that are tumbling out of her arms. As they board a local bus together, the driver, a puzzling grin plastered across his face, makes pleasant chit-chat with Anita and informs her that Roger Phillips has committed suicide. We don't yet know who Roger Phillips is or why the announcement of his self-imposed demise would cause anyone to smile from ear to ear. Anita, for her part, looks rattled and surprised by the news, but not exactly grief-stricken.
Sam wants to know if Roger Phillips really did commit suicide; if he was murdered, his insurance policy will pay out a much larger sum, thanks to a double-indemnity clause. It's not quite clear why Sam's company is so anxious to pay out more money rather than less, but the chief point is that Sam's curiosity gets the better of him. He can't not investigate this case, particularly when he's repeatedly stymied by the local sheriff, Larry Best (William Bendix), and eventually has reason to wonder if Anita's father, town banker Stuart Weatherby (Art Baker), might have something to do with this mysterious death that no one seems too broken up about.
Cover Up is a solid, appealing, not-really-a-noir, and the Christmas setting -- complete with banker Weatherby grousing good-naturedly about how much he had to pay for the family Christmas tree -- makes the unfolding murder scenario seem just a little bit sordid. But not too sordid: Director Alfred E. Green keeps firm control over the movie's tone. Green, who started out as an actor, had been making movies since 1917. By the time his film-directing career ended, just five years after Cover Up, his resume included more than 100 titles, including a number of pre-code classics, among them Baby Face (1933), with Barbara Stanwyck. Green's efficiency at churning out movies didn't necessarily mean he gave actors short shrift: He directed Bette Davis in the 1935 Dangerous, a role that brought the actress her first Oscar®.
Green may have liked working with actors, and he keeps the gears between them running smoothly throughout Cover Up. William Bendix has star billing, but his taciturn, secretive sheriff is really just a foil for O'Keefe's dogged, if somewhat clueless, Sam. The first exchange between the two is a marvelous bit of wary banter. When Sheriff Best notes that Sam smokes too much -- "one cigarette after another" -- Sam brushes him off coolly: "I know -- it saves a lot of time."
By the time Cover Up was released, O'Keefe had already appeared in Anthony Mann's T-Men (1947) and Raw Deal (1948), and his timing had already made him, as Robert Porfirio notes in Film Noir: The Encyclopedia, a "noir icon known for his fast-paced delivery." Notably, O'Keefe was one of the writers of Cover Up -- credited as Jonathan Rix -- which suggests he may have had a feel for writing dialogue as well as slinging it.
And as an actor, O'Keefe fits right in with the darker undertones of Cover Up, which is intriguing for the way it balances the idea of small-town postwar contentment with the more noirish notion of creeping dread, a sense that life could never again be the same. If, in the end, the small-town comforts -- the coziness of the family hearth, the lit-up Christmas tree in the town square -- win out, it's not because O'Keefe's Sam didn't try to keep himself suitably skeptical about the motives of mankind. It's just that the warmth of the Christmas lights, and of the people who lit them, was just too alluring to resist.
Producer: Ted Nasser
Director: Alfred E. Green
Screenplay: Jerome Odlum, Jonathan Rix (original screenplay); Francis Swann, Lawrence Kimble (additional dialogue)
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Art Direction: Jerome Pycha, Jr.
Music: Hans J. Salter
Film Editing: Fred W. Berger
Cast: William Bendix (Sheriff Larry Best), Dennis O'Keefe (Sam Donovan), Barbara Britton (Anita Weatherby), Art Baker (Stu Weatherby), Ann E. Todd (Cathie Weatherby), Doro Merande (Hilda), Virginia Christine (Margaret Baker), Helen Spring (Bessie Weatherby), Ruth Lee (Mrs. Abbey), Henry Hall (Mayor).
by Stephanie Zacharek (Stephanie is the chief movie critic for Movieline - www.movieline.com)
Alain Silver, Elizabeth Ward, James Ursini, Robert Porfirio, Film Noir: The Encyclopedia, Overlook Hardcover, 2010
This film's working title was Some Rain Must Fall. According to a New York Times news item dated June 20, 1948, when Dennis O'Keefe reported for work on this film, he discovered that the screenplay on which he had collaborated [as Jonathan Rix] with Jerome Odlum had been altered by the producer. Some scenes containing Christmas references had been switched to spring time and all mention of Christmas had been eliminated from the dialogue. O'Keefe protested and refused to start the film. The producer felt that the Christmas season was inappropriate for a murder melodrama, but O'Keefe insisted that it was essential to the plot, and after a day's delay, the producer relented. The film was reissued in the 1950's by Astor as The Intruder.