Friday, September 20, 2013

Satan Met a Lady (1936)


“Do you mind very much, Mr. Shane, taking off your hat in the presence of a lady with a gun?”

            How many of you know that Dashiell Hammett’s famous story The Maltese Falcon had been made into a film three times? I am sure you have heard or seen the famous version with Humphrey Bogart from 1941. There was one made of the same title in 1931 and then in 1936 under the title Satan Met a Lady with Warren William and Bette Davis. Satan Met a Lady is more a comedic farce than a serious mystery.
            Ted Shane (William) is a detective who is kicked out of one town after another for always bringing trouble with him. Ted is heading back to work with his old partner Ames. On the train he is asked to be a bodyguard by a rich woman named Mrs. Arden. A young woman at the table behind Ted and Mrs. Arden looks at them over Mrs. Arden’s shoulder. The young woman from the train goes to see Ted at the detective agency. Her name is Valerie Purvis (Davis). She tells Ted her fiancée ran away and she wants Ted to help find him.
            Ames is killed as he was trailing a man named Farrow for Valerie. He was killed in a cemetery. The police question Ted. When he leaves the cemetery he tells the police he is going to tell Ames’s wife Astrid. The police think Ted killed Ames in some kind of revenge. Ted gets a call that Valerie is leaving her hotel. He gets to her before she leaves. Valerie tells Ted she is leaving the hotel because a man was brother her. They go back to her apartment. She does not know that Farrow has been murdered and wants Ted to follow him because she does not trust him. When Ted tells her about Farrow being murdered she wants to pay him to find out who killed Farrow. As Ted is leaving he notices he is being followed and confronts the man.
            Ted goes to the hotel where Farrow had been staying. The proprietor says that Valerie used to go there all the time. When the chief detective calls for Valerie at her apartment she is gone. The proprietor tells them an English man would come by on occasion.
            When Ted gets back to his room it has been ransacked. The Englishman did it. The Englishman goes to the apartment and talks with Ted. Ted finds out everyone concerned with the case has been looking for a trumpet full of jewels. The trumpet is supposed to be from ancient times. He goes to his office that night and finds that it too has been ransacked. He tells his secretary he is going to Valerie’s apartment. Valerie shows up and holds Ted at gun point. He manages to sweet talk her for a while then turns a gun on her and searches her apartment. There are things she has to say but cannot say them.
            The guy following Ted tells him his boss wants to see him. The guy’s boss is an old woman named Madame Barabbas. Madame Barabbas wants to give Ted $100,000 to locate the trumpet. She does not plan on letting Ted live once he finds the trumpet. Ted manages to find the trumpet. He thinks Valerie is the one who has it. He gets a message to go down to the docks.     
            After this I could not keep up with the story and who was bad and who was good and who was lying and who was telling the truth. Honestly my attention to the story kind of drifted by this point.
            Warren William and Bette Davis made a good pair. William was sly and charming and Davis was tough and sassy (think of them as the darker Warner Bros. version of Nick and Nora with a bit more attitude). Not sure if they were in other films together but I would like to see them together in another film. I like Bette Davis in the 1930s she was just starting out in her career and she did not have an air about her yet that is there in her films from the 1940s. William and Davis are known more for their dramas and being rough, mean characters and here they are funny and witty. I like seeing Davis in comedic roles I feel they make her more sympathetic (not sure if that is the right word. Put it this way I find her less of a bitch and a pain in her comedies than her dramas).

            Satan Met a Lady takes elements from Dashiell Hammett’s original story but for the most stands on its own story wise. Instead of the falcon they are looking for a trumpet. I would recommend seeing Satan Met a Lady for Warren William and Bette Davis. The film is available on DVD in a pack of The Maltese Falcon films.