Having Wonderful Crime from 1945 is a fast paced hilarious romp that often has its three stars, Pat O’Brien, George Murphy, and Carole Landis, running madly all over the place as they try to solve the mystery of a missing magician. Having Wonderful Crime is loosely based on a novel of the same name by Craig Rice. “Craig” was born Georgina Anne Randolph Craig and had a sad childhood bouncing from relative to relative while her parents were busy globetrotting. Craig’s mother returned to Chicago, Illinois to give birth but then immediately left her little baby to rush back to traveling. Craig was three years old before she saw her mother again and her father for the first time. Eventually she found a permanent home with an aunt and uncle. The uncle sparked Craig’s interest in mysteries by reading Edgar Allen Poe to her. Craig’s writing career did not begin well. She spent several years unsuccessfully trying to write novels, poetry, and music. But nothing clicked until she wrote her first story featuring John J. Malone in 1939. The Malone books featured a unique and popular combination of “the hardboiled detective tradition with no-holds-barred, screwball comedy”. Craig’s 1943 book, Having Wonderful Crime, was very loosely translated into the 1945 film Having Wonderful Crime. The film was to have been the start of a series of John J. Malone movies but the studio never followed through. After an unhappy childhood and a slow start to her writing career, Craig Rice finished out her life as she lived it: sadly. After four husbands and various other affairs, she developed chronic alcoholism and made several suicide attempts. Her health went steadily downhill and she became deaf in one ear as well as blind in one eye. She died of apparently natural causes just before her fiftieth birthday.
Having Wonderful Crime filmed April 25 to July 1, 1944 on location at Malibu Lake, Del Monte, Carmel, and the Lakeside Country Club in California. It premiered on April 12, 1945. Pat O’Brien, one of the best known screen actors of the 1930s and 1940s and Hollywood’s most popular Irishman (Pat was Irish descent and often played Irish or Irish-American characters) plays attorney John J. Malone. Malone has an eye for the ladies and two zany friends who constantly get him embroiled in all kinds of hilarious amateur detective shenanigans.
Malone’s two friends are newlywed Jake Justus, played by George Murphy, and Helene Justus, played by Carole Landis. George Murphy had a successful career as a song-and-dance man in several big budget musicals before retiring from Hollywood at age fifty. He then went on to a successful second career in politics. From 1965 to 1971 he was a United States Senator from California. He was the first notable actor to make a successful leap from Hollywood to politics and paved the way for later actors-turned-politicans Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. George Murphy is the only US Senator to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Actress Carole Landis, playing the new Mrs. Justus, unfortunately had a life almost as sad as her character’s creator, Craig Rice. Carole’s father abandoned his family shortly after her birth and her mother’s second husband also abandoned the family. Her mother worked menial jobs to keep the family afloat. Carole dropped out of school at age fifteen to pursue a Hollywood career. She made her film debut as an extra in 1937 but 1940 saw her career take off after she was cast as a cave girl in One Million B.C. ( Check out my review of that film at “Man Vs. Dinosaur in One Million B.C.”) Then Carole landed a contract at Twentieth Century Fox and began an affair with the studio head Darryl F. Zanuck. When the affair ended, her career also mostly ended and she found herself relegated to B movie roles. But Zanuck was just one in a string of bad romance choices. Carole started out by marrying at age fifteen. Her mother had the marriage annulled but Carole talked her estranged father into giving permission and she remarried her first husband. The marriage lasted three weeks and then Carole left and took off for Hollywood. Four years later her husband followed her to Hollywood and tried to make some money by suing director and choreographer Busby Berkeley and claiming Berkeley had stolen Carole from him. The case was thrown out, Carole finally divorced her first husband, and Berkeley did propose but then later broke it off. Carole’s second marriage only lasted two months. She met her third husband while touring Army camps during World War II but that marriage lasted only three months. Husband number four was a Broadway producer. This marriage lasted about two years but Carole divorced him citing “extreme mental cruelty”. Carole then began an affair with married actor Rex Harrison but was reportedly crushed when Harrison refused to divorce his wife and marry her. Carole committed suicide by taking a drug overdose after a final dinner with Harrison. Harrison and a maid found her body the next afternoon but Harrison waited several more hours before calling a doctor and the police. He reportedly had a suicide note left for him destroyed. Harrison also denied the affair and claimed Carole was just a friend of he and his wife.
I really enjoyed Having Wonderful Crime. It is only 70 minutes long but a whole lot of hilariousness is packed into that 70 minutes. The film jumps right into the action from the very beginning. Jake Justus and Helene have just gotten married but before they can leave on their honeymoon, before they can even tell their friend Malone they got married, they get embroiled with a bad guy. When Helene calls the cops, the cops are upset with her because they are tired of all the amateur antics that have gone on before as Malone, Jake, and Helene herself have bumbled around trying to be crime solvers. After Helene nearly shoots poor Malone, the threesome leave an unconscious bad guy behind and decide to make a getaway before the fed up cops arrive and decide to arrest them. Malone, Jake, and Helene duck into a theater and catch part of a magic act. But there is some suspicious going on with the Great Movel and his assistants. Jake and Helene head off on their honeymoon and have to take Malone with them since he is still hiding from the police. Along the way they pick up Gilda, who is the missing magician Movel’s assistant. They also pick up her trunk which may or may not have a dead body inside. Before long there are a whole host of people popping in and out of Jake and Helene’s honeymoon suite. Everyone wants the trunk which keeps disappearing. Dead bodies also keep appearing then disappearing. Malone, Jake, and Helene have to run madly all around the resort lodge as they try to connect all the dangling dots and solve the mysteries.
Having Wonderful Crime is in black and white but the version available for FREE online viewing or downloading at the Internet Archive is in excellent condition. The film has very little damage and is quite crisp and sharp for it’s age. Audio is also excellent. The movie moves along at a quick pace with every possible murder mystery cliché and “rapid-fire wisecracks, double takes, and every sight gag known to Hollywood”. All the rushing around does get a little confusing at times but there are just so many fun jokes such as the Polka Dot girl who keeps wandering through the lodge and totally distracting playboy Malone and Jake and Helene’s exchange as they take off on another romp:
Helene: “Not so fast, my skirt’s too tight!”
Jake: “Oh, I told you you didn’t know how to dress for a murder!”
There is just so much going on and almost all of it is hilarious. The three stars all work well together. My only real complaint is that the head bad guy resorts to some stereotypical super villain boasting towards the end of the film. Too bad the studio never followed through and turned Having Wonderful Crime into the first of a fun screwball mystery series. At least we have Having Wonderful Crime. Just click the link and enjoy!