Christmas Watch: Cover Up (1949)

Join us Tuesdays and Thursdays in December for our Christmas Watch. Each time you comment and share a post, you are entered into a drawing to win a free paperback of your choice from Bear Manor Media. Rodney and Samantha discuss a crime drama set during Christmastime.

S: Cover Up confronts us with an unpleasant part of the holiday season, suicide. Only this time, the suicide might have been murder. When insurance investigator Sam Donovan (Dennis O'Keefe) comes to a small town to look into a claim, he finds that the murder weapon is missing and the sheriff (William Bendix) is less than helpful in supplying the information to substantiate his ruling. The townspeople are reluctant to talk, often ducking into back rooms to avoid Donovan's questions.

R: Some of the townspeople weren't just reluctant to talk--they were positively gleeful that the suicide had happened! I like these little touches of dark humor, and they didn't seem at all out of place here. I like how the movie takes place in the sort of classic small town that so many Christmas movies from the past take place in. I also found it interesting that the entire town wasn't blanketed in snow the entire time. Considering that I'm hard pressed to remember the last white Christmas I've experienced, I thought that was kind of fitting and appropriate.

S: Interestingly, two major characters are never seen. This isn't quite noir, but it has some of those elements. O'Keefe has some snappy lines ("Sheriff, I work for a very funny outfit. They insist on a day's work for a day's pay.") and the romantic lead (Barbara Britton) isn't the squeaky-clean honest small-town girl she appears to be. In the scene where Donovan grabs for her purse when he can't find a match or a lighter for his cigarette, my heart leapt for her as she coolly slides the bag to the opposite side. I can't say I've ever carried something as damning as a gun, but I've had near misses in hiding Christmas and birthday gifts from their recipients.

R: I agree that this isn't quite noir, but is what I'd call noir-light, a phrase that I may have just made up, and if so, you're welcome. Feel free to use it. The film is pretty well written, and I admit that I had a difficult time figuring out how everything would wrap up. The casting is really good, particularly William Bendix, in what I'm not the first person to note, is basically a trial run for his character in Detective Story. Barbara Britton is always lovely, and she brightens up the scenes that she is in.

S: Even though the plot is in contrast to the "peace on earth, goodwill to men" theme we expect during Christmas, there are a lot of holiday visuals in the movie. The jewelry store counters are decorated, there is a scene at the town's big tree-lighting ceremony, and Britton's home is festively decorated with a large tree dripping with tinsel.


R: From what I've learned, the film was initially deemed too dark to be based at Christmas time and O'Keefe, who also wrote the story, had to really fight to get it set during the yuletide season. Frankly, I think the setting is what sets this apart from other similar films, and I consider it something of a breath of fresh air during this season.

S: There is nothing offensive about this film, but there isn't anything terribly praiseworthy about it. It goes down easy like a programmer often does, but it is easy to forget about when the movie is over. I give it 2 stars, the weather outside is frightful.

R: I'm going to give a little more praise to this, and go with three stars. I agree that it may not really stick with you, but it is competently acted and directed. I feel like it does exactly what it set out to do, which is provide some diversion. I'd recommend this for anyone who enjoys the genre, and, while this is anything but a "lost noir" or something along those lines, it doesn't seem to pop up in discussions of vintage crime films often. I think that's a shame. It deserves to be discovered by larger audiences.


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