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Jewel Robbery June: Mary Ryan, Detective (1949)

Updated: Jun 20

A common trope in classic movies is the jewel robbery scenario, often depicted from the gangster's point of view. We had a lot of titles to choose from for this month's blog where we will focus on some of the less common films.

RODNEY BOWCOCK:  Mary Ryan is a smart police detective that is assigned to go undercover, infiltrating a gang of jewel thieves, purposely getting tossed in the hoosegow to get information from her cellmate.  Before long, she is placed with an employment agency that assigns her to a turkey farm (that sells mail-order smoked turkeys) that is used as a cover for smuggling stolen jewels.

SAMANTHA GLASSER: The opening lines of the film where the mother and daughter walk down the street to the jewelry store are clearly dubbed, an indication that this film had a small budget. At first, I thought I was listening to a narrator who would set the scene, like sometimes happens in film noir. This film was originally titled Woman From Headquarters.

RB:  That was also the title of a Republic film released in 1950 starring Viriginia Huston, Robert Rockwell, and the phenomenal Barbra Fuller, whom we just lost.

SG: Makes sense why they changed it then.

The ways Mary Ryan proves to the professional thieves that she is one of them are clever, like when she swipes her cellmate's cigarettes and then offers her one. As an audience we believe her cover has been blown, but really, she has secured the woman's trust. The jail is pretty dismal, with female guards who look like stereotypical domineering Nazis, heavyset and masculine.

RB:  As you’d expect there’s not much that Mary Ryan can’t do.  The way that she gains the trust of the criminal element is seamless.

SG: Not everything in this film is seamless or smart. When the police officer spots the group at the warehouse, just after telling them to stop and they take off instead, he starts wildly shooting at them. Scenes like this, given the modern sensitivities to police behavior, seem ludicrous. I also thought it was funny that when Mary attempts to remove the bullet herself, she is wearing a dress blouse and fancy earrings despite the fact that she is relying on borrowed clothes and can't afford to soil anything nice.

RB:  Well, okay, that’s a valid point.  Mary certainly had an elaborate wardrobe to be wearing the extras while she’s on the run from the law.  It’s fortunate that she clearly had elaborate medical training in her past.  Maybe she was a WAC in an unmade prequel?

SG: Marsha Hunt was an incredibly beautiful MGM contract actress who appeared in classics like Pride and Prejudice and The Human Comedy, but never quite achieved stardom. Her ability to carry clothes can be seen in her book The Way We Wore: Styles Of The 1930s And '40s and Our World Since Then. We get a taste of her clothing expertise in the scene where she goes through racks of furs to pick out the most expensive ones. In 1947 Hunt joined a committee that spoke out against HUAC and by 1950 she was blacklisted. This film came out just before her ban, and one wonders if the reason this film never became a series was because of her status as an untouchable. She died in 2022 at age 104.

The series idea gains credibility by the presence of John Litel as the police captain, a familiar face from the Henry Aldrich, Nancy Drew and Rusty film series.

RB:  I think that’s a reasonable theory.  The supporting cast is chock full of B-movie regulars including Victoria Horne, shortly before her marriage to Jack Oakie, and uncredited names like Bess Flowers, John Dehner, I. Stanford Jolley, and Gertrude Astor. It’s a fascinating combination of names on their way up or down.  These are the kinds of things that I love about this sort of movie.

SG: June Vincent is lovely as the accused thief in the opening scene. She reminds me of Veronica Lake, and I was pleased to discover she was from Harrods, Ohio near Lima.

RB:  That’s not a name that I’m familiar with, admittedly, but upon researching her, I learn that we saw her at the Picture Show a couple of years ago in Frank Tashlin’s Marry Me Again.  She had a long career starting out in a couple of those 40’s Universal musicals that we love so much around here, some series detective movies at Columbia (Boston Blackie, Lone Wolf…that sort of thing…), finishing up her career on 70’s TV stalwarts like Kung Fu and Maude.  A pretty great career!  She lived until 2008, dying of undisclosed causes at the age of 88.

SG: Motion Picture Daily said the film was "of mild interest," and that "the many slow spots make it something less than a grade A action story." They called the camera work, script and acting average.

Harrison's Reports called the plot "thin and obvious, but those who are not too demanding should find it sufficiently exciting in spots." They recommended it for the bottom half of a double bill.

RB:  The film was largely ignored by the trades upon its’ release.  I couldn’t find anything in the always reliable What the Pictures Did for Me column in Motion Picture Herald.  We seem to take this kind of movie more seriously now than they did when they were initially released.  To hazard a guess, I’d say it’s because we aren’t inundated with these sorts of movies every time we go to the theater.  Mary Ryan, surprisingly has an authorized DVD release from Sony, and it looks great.  I wish we could get many more movies like this.

SG: I found this movie to be fast-paced, surprising, and a delight to watch. Three and a half stars.

RB:  Two fast paced goodtime B pictures in a row.  This is a film that isn’t going to win any awards, but as I’ve said regarding similar movies in the past, it’s a great example of the kind of movies that were the bread and butter for the studios.  Three and a half stars, for a briskly paced enjoyable film, even if it’s not quite an “experience”.

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