Director: Stephen Roberts
Starring: William Powell, Ginger Rogers, Paul Kelly, Gene Lockhart, Ralph Morgan, Leslie Fenton
The screwball mystery was an extremely popular film genre throughout the 1930s. Following The Thin Man in 1934, studios began putting out several knockoffs to cash in on the film’s popularity. Some were good, some weren’t. The two best knockoffs, The Ex-Mrs. Bradford and Star of Midnight, starred William Powell, who was also the star of The Thin Man. The Ex-Mrs. Bradford was a charming remarriage comedy costarring Jean Arthur. Star of Midnight, slightly better than Bradford, featured Powell as a high power lawyer with a particular knack for solving crimes.
Powell’s ends up working the case of Mary Smith, a popular, but mysterious singer when she disappears in the middle of one of her shows. Star of Midnight has a slightly more mysterious, even surreal, feeling to it because we never see the subject of the case. Whereas in films like The Thin Man we usually see the victim before they are murdered or disappear, in Star of Midnight Mary Smith is just as mysterious as her disappearance. This is what helps to set this film apart from so many other films of this type. The comedy in a screwball mystery is usually by far stronger than the actual mystery part. But the absence of Mary Smith throughout the entire film makes Star of Midnight a but more evenly balanced. The comedy is fantastic and sharp, but the mystery matches up and is really very intriguing.
Powell’s partner and romantic match in this film is the wonderful Ginger Rogers. This was the only film they made together, and they’re such an excellent match it’s actually sad that they didn’t do any others. Powell was almost always several years older than his leading lady, but it was never brought up or made an issue of. That’s another unique thing that Star of Midnight has going for it. Powell was 19 years older than Rogers, and that’s actually a fact used in the film. Rogers plays the daughter of an old friend of Powell’s. It’s a childhood crush turned into love, and it’s completely adorable. They’re a great match. They trade verbal quips with complete ease and their chemistry is completely on the mark, and the writing for them is excellent. Because of the noted age difference, they have an interesting dynamic and their dialog makes great use of it.
With a sparkling script, a fun and interesting mystery, and the brilliant pairing of Ginger Rogers and William Powell, Star of Midnight is one of the very best screwball mysteries of the 1930s.
By: Katie Richardson