Film Noir Friday: Crashout [1955]



Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is CRASHOUT starring William Bendix, Arthur Kennedy, Luther Adler and William Talman.

Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

Convict Van Duff engineers a large-scale prison break; the six survivors hide out in a forgotten mine working near the prison, then set out on a long, dangerous journey by foot, car, train and truck to retrieve Duff’s bank loot. En route, as they touch the lives of “regular folks,” each has his own rendezvous with destiny.

Film Noir Friday: Return of the Whistler [1948]



Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is THE RETURN OF THE WHISTLER which was the last in a series of films based on the radio series of the same name. The film stars Michael Duane and lenore Aubert.

As a bonus I’m also posting an episode from the radio series for your enjoyment.


Now for the film!

From TCM:

When a woman goes missing on the eve of her wedding, her fiancee hires a detective to track her down.

Late one night, young civil engineer Ted Nichols and his French-born fiancée, widow Alice Dupres Barkley, brave rain-swept country roads hoping to find a justice of the peace who will perform an on-the-spot wedding. Their hopes are dashed, however, when they are told that the justice of the peace is away for the night. The couple’s misfortunes soon multiply when their car, which has been tampered with by a mysterious man who has been following them, breaks down in a small town that has no available hotel rooms.

The Do-It-Yourself Kidnappers

heil headlineThere are hundreds of do-it-yourself books, pamphlets and TV shows that cover  everything from home decorating and repair to fashion and crafts.  You can derive a great deal of satisfaction by doing many things yourself, and I’d never discourage any of you from experiencing the pride of a project well done; however, there are some tasks which are better left to professionals–like kidnapping.

On June 10, 1958, Walter W. Heil, husband, father and attorney, was getting ready to leave his Bel-Air home on Strathmore Drive to  go to the dry cleaners to pick up his fifteen year old son’s military school uniform.  He was barely out of the house when he was suddenly approached by two men wielding weapons.  They appeared to be part of a gang of four—Heil noticed a blonde woman and another man waiting in a car near his driveway. The blonde was twenty-two year old Sylvia Jewel Spicer, Harry’s girlfriend; and the man was twenty-one year old Francis Lee Morris, a mutual friend.  The two armed men forced the frightened attorney into his car and drove him out to a lonely shack in Newhall where they terrorized and beat him for over twelve hours.

When he was first taken Heil had absolutely no idea who the kidnappers were or why they’d made him their victim, but during the course of his ordeal it became crystal clear who they were, and what they had in mind.

Two of the men were brothers, Harry (37) and Bruce (39) Tannatt of Glendale, and they were pissed off at Walter because he had represented their mother, Mary T. Tannatt, a year or so earlier in a civil case in which they were all involved.

Morris, Harry Tannatt, Bruce Tannatt

Francis Lee Morris, Harry Tannatt, Bruce Tannatt

Harry and Bruce had attempted to gain conservatorship of Mary’s assests, over $100,000 (equivalent to $809,000 in current U.S. dollars). The brothers contended that she had come under the domination of a modern day “Svengali” and that she had been brainwashed.

Svengali, if you are not familiar with him, was a fictional character in George du Maurier’s 1895 novel Trilby.  Scholars cite Svengali as an example of anti-Semitism in literature because he was depicted as an Eastern European Jew who seduced, dominated and exploited Trilby, a young English girl, whom he transformed into a famous singer.   Consequently, a “Svengali” is a person who, with evil intent, manipulates and dominates a person for his/her own gain.  In this case the Svengali in question was Mary’s sixty year old part-time business manager (and full-time appliance salesman) Francois Jacques Soiret.

Harry and Bruce had a plan, although it wasn’t a very good one. They thought that they would strong-arm Heil into making a statement about Soiret that would alter the outcome of the nearly two year old court case.  The Tannatt brothers were obviously not geniuses; the court case had already been adjudicated and a statement from the attorney wasn’t going to change anything.

Heil’s coerced statement read:

“I have today met with Harry and Bruce Tannatt and friends relative to the Tannatt matter and have written Mrs. Tannatt telling her there seems to be considerable question of Mr. Soiret’s honorable intention relative to Mrs. Tannatt.”

After tormenting him and threatening to kill him for over twelve hours, the kidnappers put Heil back into the car, admonished him to keep his mouth shut, and drove him home. Imagine their surprise when they found that the police were waiting for them.  Walter’s fifteen year old son had witnessed the early morning snatch and he and his mother had telephoned the cops.

The suspects were arrested and turned over to West Los Angeles Detective Sergeants V.A. Peterson and Jack Gotch.  While the detectives were taking the suspects to the station, Glendale officers searched the home of Harry Tannatt where they confiscated three blackjacks, a gun, knife and a do-it-yourself kidnap kit which consisted of a box with twelve compartments containing everything the kidnappers thought they’d need (well, except for a viable plan).  The kit had gauze, adhesive tape, nylon cord, a silk stocking and other items.

heil kidnap

The Do-It-Yourself kidnapping kit

All four of the perpetrators were arraigned and each was held on 10,000 bail. The four were initially arrested for kidnapping but miraculously they were held to answer on the lesser charge of false imprisonment and each of them had their bail reduced to $2500.

At some point the clueless kidnappers must have realized that they’d been given a break because all of them plead guilty to falsely imprisoning Walter Heil, Esq.

Walter Heil recounts his ordeal.  [Photo courtesy UCLA Digital Archive.]

Walter Heil recounts his ordeal. [Photo courtesy UCLA Digital Archive.]

Harry and Bruce were each sentenced to serve nine months in jail as a condition of five years probation. Sylvia (who married Harry not long after their arrests) was sentenced to 60 days in county jail.  Francis Lee Morris’ sentence wasn’t reported but his participation in the abduction was minimal so he likely either walked or was given probation.

Sylvia Spicer [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Archive].

Sylvia Jewell Spicer  [L.A. Times Photo]

There was nothing further in local newspapers about the Tannatt brothers until March 1960 when, once again, Harry and Bruce petitioned for guardianship of their mother’s assets.  No wonder she had moved to Cuba.

Of course by 1960 Mary, probably preferring not to live in Cuba under the brand new Castro regime, had returned to the United States.  Unfortunately her first meeting with her sons in over two years took place in a courtroom.

The brothers were once more attempting to get their mitts on whatever money Mary still possessed; but the wily widow had blocked them by placing most of her remaining assets in the name of her brother, Fred W. Tucker.  She was very clear about why she’d transferred her assets to Fred:

“I did it to keep my property out of the reach of my sons.  All they want is my property.”

 A recording that Mary had made two years earlier, in the hope that it would quash the legal proceedings was played in court. She never wavered from her belief that her children were “selfish and unprincipled” and they were not concerned at all with her well-being but rather with her personal fortune.  She referred to Francois Soiret as “…my true friend.  My sons are the ones who want to take advantage of me.”

Fidel Castro c. 1959

Fidel Castro c. 1959

Soiret was called to the stand to testify to his business relationship with Mary Tannant.  He said:

“Mrs. Tannatt entrusted her property to me to protect it from the ravages of lawsuits.”

He told Judge Condee that he had deeded back to her a home in Glendale and a building where her late husband, Henry, conducted a furniture business.  He said that she had sold the house and given him $13,500 for safe-keeping. To put it in perspective, the money Soiret crammed into the tool box  is equivalent to about $110,000 in current U.S. Dollars.

Mary was surrounded by incompetent do-it-yourselfers and outright idiots.  Her sons put together a laughable DIY kidnap kit and a half-baked plan in an attempt to relieve her of her money; and her business manager’s idea of dealing with large sums of cash was a DIY bank—he stuffed her money into a tool box and hid it in his backyard shed.

The outcome of the conservatorship hearing wasn’t reported in the Los Angeles Times–but we can only hope that Mrs. T was triumphant.

Film Noir Friday: Dark Waters [1944]

 dark waters 1944

Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is DARK WATERS starring Merle Oberon and Franchot Tone. Directed by Andre DeToth.

Enjoy the film!

TCM says:

When the ship that is carrying Leslie Calvin and her wealthy parents from Batavia to America sinks, Leslie, one of only four survivors, is haunted by the death of her parents.  Just before she is to be released fro the New Orleans hospital in which she is recuperating, Leslie writes a letter to her only living relative, her mother’s sister, Emily Lamont, whom she has never met.  Emily writes back from Belleville, Louisiana, explaining that she and her husband Norbert are residing at the ancestral plantation there and inviting Leslie to stay with them. Leslie travels to Belleville, but when no one appears to meet her at the train station, the neurotic Leslie faints from the heat.

Is Leslie unstable or really in danger?

Film Noir Friday: The Kennel Murder Case [1932]

 kennel murder case

Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is one of my favorite crime dramas from the 1930s, THE KENNEL MURDER CASE, based on the S.S. Van Dine novel of the same name . The film was directed by Michael Curtiz and stars William Powell, and Mary Astor.

Enjoy the film!


Many film historians (including William K. Everson, who pronounced it a “masterpiece” in the August 1984 issue of Films in Review) consider it one of the greatest screen adaptations of a Golden Age mystery novel, and rank it with the 1946 film Green for Danger.

TCM says:

When wealthy, heartless Archer Coe is found dead, ace detective Philo Vance joins forces with his nemesis, police sergeant Ernest Heath, to solve the case. What first appears to be suicide turns out to be not only Coe’s murder, but also the killing of his brother Brisbane. There are several suspects, each with a strong motive: Hilda Lake, Coe’s ward, who deeply disliked her guardian and resented his control of her money; Sir Thomas MacDonald, who planned to marry Hilda, and whose outrage when his prize show dog was killed made him threaten Coe with revenge; Raymond Wrede, Coe’s secretary, who was also in love with Hilda and believed that Coe stood between him and happiness; and Doris Delafield, Coe’s mistress, who was about to run away with her art dealer boyfriend, Eduardo Grassi, when Coe caught them together, canceled a big business deal with Grassi and ended his relationship with Doris.



The Black Owl

There were many gun crimes in Los Angeles during the 1930s—even purse snatchers were frequently armed; but there were two crimes which defined the era: kidnapping (the so-called “Snatch Racket”) and bank robbery.  Robbers, motivated by desperation, hunger or good old-fashioned greed, stalked Spring Street, the “Wall Street of the West”, hoping to pull off the perfect bank heist.

Security-First National Bank c. 1930s [photo courtesy of LAPL]

Security-First National Bank on Spring Street c. 1930s [photo courtesy of LAPL]

On December 31, 1931, twenty-four year old Timothy Blevins was finding Old Man Depression a formidable adversary. It seemed that no matter what he did he couldn’t climb out of the financial hole he was in.  The fact that millions of people around the world shared his predicament offered him no consolation. He had recently lost his job as a bus boy in a cafe at 5610 Hollywood Blvd, and then he had taken a job with a county road gang.

Working on a road gang is exhausting work, but he may have stuck with it if his eighteen year old wife, Cornelia, hadn’t left him and gone home to her mother.  She was just fifteen when the couple had married in Ojai, Arizona, much too young to grasp the seriousness of their vows.Even if they’d waited it probably would have ended badly between them. Timothy was moody and no picnic to live with. After three years Cornelia was fed up. Timothy had become terribly despondent and he told her that he was contemplating suicide.  Cornelia couldn’t take any more of her husband’s dark moods and she intended to get their marriage annulled as soon as possible. It wouldn’t be too difficult for an eighteen year old to start over again.

A few days prior to the end of 1931, Cornelia had bumped in to her soon-to-be ex-spouse when she returned to their former home at 1135 South Catalina Street to get some clothing.  She was dismayed, but not surprised, to discover that his mood hadn’t lightened, in fact he appeared to be as morose as ever.

Timothy had been sitting alone in the apartment brooding over how he could change his circumstances—and he had devised a plan.

The Spring Street financial district, located north of Fourth Street and south of Seventh Street, was the beating heart of capitalism in the city in 1931 and there were at least twenty banks concentrated within a few blocks.

It was shortly after 2 pm on the last day of 1931 when Timothy Blevins, clutching a small black case, stepped over the threshold into the crowded lobby of the Security-First National Bank hoping to get lucky.

black owl bomb

The Black Owl’s “infernal machine being shown off by two unnamed LAPD detectives. [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Collection]

Tracy Q. Hall, the vice president of the bank, was in his office and there were at least a dozen customers waiting to have a word with him.  Blevins strode up to the rail which enclosed Hall’s office and set the case he had been carrying down near Hall, then he handed the banker a note. The crudely printed note, written on a blank check from the Bank of America, contained a demand for $100,000 and stated that there was enough explosive in the bag to turn the block into smoke and ashes.

Hall quietly read the note and then glanced up slowly to take the measure of the man who would dare to make such a loathsome threat. Blevins decided to drive his point home and reveal the contents of the case; he snapped open the catch and suddenly the “infernal machine” (a bomb) was visible.

The two men continued to hold each other’s gaze but Blevins blinked first. He released his grasp on the case, whirled around and ran for the exit.  Hall grabbed at the fleeing man but just missed him.  The failed robber continued to run, and in his haste he knocked down Peter J. Anderson, a patron of the bank and proprietor of a garage at 221 East Fifth Street.

LAPD Traffic Officer Olson

LAPD Traffic Officer Olsen

Anderson let out a cry, and so did Hall who was in hot pursuit of the fleeing man. Blevins dashed out into Fifth Street and it looked like he was leading a parade. Behind him were Anderson, Hall, and Sam Sulzbacher, the bank’s doorman. When they reached Main Street, Traffic Officer R. W. Olsen joined the chase.

Blevins ducked into a theater on Main Street but Officer Olsen had seen him go into the building. Naturally Blevins tried to blend in with the theater crowd, but it was no use—Olsen found him and took him into custody.

While Blevins was being escorted to police headquarters, Hall turned the infernal machine over to LAPD Captains McCaleb and Malina. Upon examination of the device they found a dry battery wired to a quart jar full of ethyl gasoline. Also inside the case there was an empty milk can and a small bottle of carbide powder; above the quart bottle were two brown sticks of dynamite.

On the lid of the box, printed with black paint, was a bold threat:

 “The Black Owl.  Will deal you death.  Don’t talk”

Then McCaleb and Malina read the note that the suspect had handed to Hall:

 “There are enough explosive here to tear up the block.  Read carefully.  Do exactly as told.  Starting with biggest denominations fill bag.  We will go to the vault first.  When I have enough you will take me out back door.  Get me a taxi.  Then take your time going back, for I have to take care of you.  If you describe me too well this will not fail to work.  There is poison gas to kill every one within.”

At police headquarters Blevins, sullen and mumbling incoherently, refused to make any statement other than to tell the cops: “you can call me Dave Lowre.”  Then he made an attempt to grab Officer Olsen’s weapon, but half a dozen detectives jumped on him and prevented his escape. He became slightly more cooperative following his aborted escape attempt, but he never revealed the inspiration for his nom de felon.

Timothy Blevins, glowering during questioning by an unnamed LAPD detective.  [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Collection]

Timothy Blevins, glowering during questioning by an unnamed LAPD detective. [Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Collection]

Timothy was arraigned in Municipal Court and his bail was fixed at $10,000—he was clearly going nowhere.

The complaint against Blevins charged him with burglary, attempted robbery and violation of Section 601 of the Penal Code in that he transported dynamite into a public building, thereby endangering the lives of others.

Tracy Q. Hall, Vice President of Security-First National Bank

Tracy Q. Hall, Vice President of Security-First National Bank

Timothy originally pleaded insanity, but he decided to withdraw that plea.  Instead he entered a plea of guilty to the charge of illegally transporting dynamite into a public building. The likely reason for his change of plea was that he’d be permitted to file an application for probation if he wasn’t insane.

Obviously Timothy hoped that he’d be granted probation but it was not to be. He was found guilty, denied probation and sentenced to San Quentin Prison.

I haven’t been able to discover the length of Blevin’s prison term (he would not have been given less than one year) but following his release he must have kept his nose clean because his name never again appeared in the local newspapers.

The Black Owl had retired from his brief and unsuccessful life of crime.

NOTE: Many thanks to my fellow crime fiend, Mike Fratantoni, for introducing me to this deranged case.

Film Noir Friday: Framed [1947]


Welcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open. Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat.

Tonight’s feature is FRAMED [1947] starring Glenn Ford, Janis Carter, Barry Sullivan and Edgar Buchanan.

Enjoy the film!


Mike Lambert, unemployed mining engineer, arrives in a small town with a bang when the brakes fail on the truck he’s driving. After meeting seductive Paula at the La Paloma Cafe, he finds himself in trouble with the law. On the basis of a few burning glances, Paula pays his fine and finds him a room, but her motives are not what they seem. Mike lucks into a job with miner Jeff Cunningham, but against his will he’s drawn ever deeper into Paula’s schemes.