Film Noir Friday: Fear in the Night [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 FEAR IN THE NIGHT, Paul Kelly, DeForest Kelley, and Ann Doran.

One of the film’s stars, Paul Kelly, was involved in a real-life murder case. In 1927. Kelly beat to death actor Ray Raymond, husband of his lover, Dorothy Mackaye. Kelly did time in San Quentin for the crime, and so did Mackaye. Read all about their story in my new book, OF MOBSTERS AND MOVIE STARS: THE BLOODY GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD.

This film is based the story NIGHTMARE, by William Irish, one of the pen names of writer Cornell Woolrich. Woolrich wrote many stories that made it to film: Rear Window, The Bride Wore Black, Black Angel, and Phantom Lady, to name just a few. If you are not familiar with Woolrich, he is worth reading. His biographer, Francis Nevins Jr., rated Woolrich the fourth best crime writer of his day, behind Dashiell HammettErle Stanley Gardner and Raymond Chandler

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Bank teller Vince Grayson dreams he is in a mysterious mirror-panelled octagonal room, where a man accompanied by a blonde woman is robbing a safe. Vince and the man fight, and when the man begins to strangle Vince, the woman hands him an awl, with which he pierces the stranger’s heart. The woman flees, and Vince places the man’s body behind one of the mirrored doors and locks it, taking the key. When Vince awakens, he discovers the key in his coat and thinks that he may be a murderer. Distraught, he calls in sick at work and visits his brother-in-law, homicide detective Cliff Harlan.

The Acid Bride–Conclusion

Bernice and Carlyn

Bernice and Carlyn drove around the city with no destination in mind. Bernice ordered her sister to stop at a drugstore on Sawtelle Blvd. Bernice bought a bottle of veronal cubes and before Carlyn could make a move to stop her, she swallowed all of them. Bernice realized the dose could be fatal, so she started to scream and cry. Carlyn thought fast. She saw a bus stopped at the side of the road, so she pulled over to ask the driver for directions to the nearest hospital. Carlyn and the bus driver drove Bernice to Hollywood Hospital; where she lapsed into a coma. The doctors gave Bernice a fighting chance. Darby fared a little better than his wife. The twenty-five cents’ worth of acid damaged one half of his face, but his doctors felt they could save his eyesight. Sadly, they were mistaken. About three weeks after Bernice’s attack, Darby lost sight in one eye.

Darby Day in the hospital following the acid attack.

While Bernice was in the hospital, and Darby recuperated at home. Detectives tried to piece together the complete story. In particular, the motive for the crime. Carlyn provided a piece of the puzzle. She produced a note, written by Bernice, which blamed Mrs. Day, Sr. for the marital discord between the newlyweds.

“Darby: I’m as sane as can be, but after your mother acted the way she did and would have anything to do with you after I saw you this afternoon, I guess it’s quits. I love you from the bottom of my heart and they say love will go to extremes. We are both in the same fix and you will never find a love as true or pure as mine. Mother-in-laws (sic) should not live with young married people. Love, Bernie,”

Bernice woke up, and since she was unwelcome at the Beverly Hills house, she stayed with her mom and sisters in their apartment at 529 South Manhattan. The police found Bernice and Carlyn there and took them into custody.

Bernice stuck to her ridiculous story, claiming that she doused Darby with acid when the cork flew out of the bottle. Alienists examined her and determined she had the mind of a ten-year-old girl.

Once the jury saw the damage Darby had suffered, they didn’t care if Bernice was a clumsy ten-year-old girl in the body of a 20-year-old woman; they found her guilty. The jury cut Carlyn a break. They found her not guilty of being an accomplice.

Bernice got one to fourteen years in prison.

She could not stay out of trouble. Police rearrested her for speeding while she was out on bond, pending an appeal.

Bernice Day. Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library

For months Bernice remained a free woman, but California’s high court denied her appeal and by mid-August 1926, the Acid Bride was San Quentin bound.

The press caught up with her as she was about to board the train that would take her to San Quentin. She told them, “I have no bitter feelings against anyone. I have nothing to say about the case, as there has been too much said already.”

Darby Day Jr. and his family returned to Chicago, where he divorced Bernice. Even with the divorce, rumors suggested Darby and Bernice would reconcile on her release from prison. The rumors may not have been as loony as they sounded.

In a move that shocked everyone, Darby made a plea to the Governor of California to set Bernice free. He said, “Bernice has been punished sufficiently for her hasty act, just as I have suffered, but this is the time to forgive, make amends, and then forget. I am not attempting to shield her, nor to belittle the offenses, but I will do what I can to bring about her release.”

The governor was not as forgiving as Darby, and Bernice’s bid to win a pardon failed. The parole board paroled Bernice at the end of 1927, after she had served only fourteen months. Too short a sentence for the agony she caused Darby.

The beautiful young parolee said she wanted to put her time in prison behind her. She summed up her fourteen months in San Quentin for reporters saying, “Association with approximately 100 women, white and black, brown and yellow, some good the others mostly bad, all milling back and forth like animals in damp and stuffy quarters where the air is none too good, daily disputes, wrangles, bickering, real fist fights at times and a good deal of hair pullin’—such a life is enough to take the heart out of anyone, especially when one has not been accustomed to such associations.”

Her snobbery and lack of self-awareness speak volumes about her immaturity and selfishness. Pretty on the outside, ugly on the inside.

Bernice denied the rumors that she and Darby would reconcile. She told reporters, “I’m glad he got a divorce, for I never want to see or hear of him again. As for the public, all I ask is that they let me alone.”

Bernice and her family returned to Chicago. Evidence suggests they all moved to Florida, and Bernice remarried.

In a tragic PostScript to the case, Darby Day Jr. died under anesthesia in a Santa Monica hospital on February 4, 1928.

His death hastened by Bernice’s vicious attack. 

Film Noir Friday: Kansas City Confidential [1952]

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 KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL, starring John Payne, Coleen Gray, and Preston Foster. This film is said to have inspired Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

For over a week, retired Kansas City police captain Tim Foster watches the Southwest Bank and the flower shop next door to ascertain the timing of each business’s delivery trucks. Satisfied that each truck leaves at exactly the same time every day, he then assembles a trio of criminals to help him rob the bank of its deposit: Pete Harris, a gambling addict; Tony Romano, a ladies’ man; and Boyd Kane, a cold-blooded killer.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Acid Bride

Bernice Lundstrom of Chicago had done a lot of living in her 20 short years. On Valentine’s Day 1923, she eloped with Howard Fish, a member of a wealthy Chicago family. The couple had been hasty, and the marriage disintegrated. By September 1924, Bernice got a divorce and restoration of her maiden name. She was ready to find a new marriage-minded Windy City millionaire.

Photo is courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

She turned her attention to Darby Day, Jr., son of a moneyed Chicago family. Following her divorce from Fish, Bernice and Darby wed. Darby Sr. gave the newlyweds a trip to New Orleans and Havana, and then installed them in an apartment.

Given the frigid temperatures in Chicago during winter, the newlyweds opted to move to California and buy a home in Beverly Hills. Soon afterward Bernice’s mother, Mrs. James E. Lundstrom, and her two other daughters, Carlyn and Dorothy, moved to Beverly Hills as well.

In early February 1924, the new Mrs. Day asked for a separate home. A strange request from a newlywed. Confused, Darby did not want to acquiesce to Bernice’s demand. She may have tried pouting and stomping her feet, but in the end, she told Darby if he didn’t buy her the home she wanted within two weeks, she would kill him. She didn’t follow through on the threat.

On February 23, Bernice upped the ante when she told Darby she took poison. If she would not kill him, maybe she’d teach him a lesson and kill herself. She made a show of taking tablets and, scared to death they were fatal, Darby ran into his mother’s room. Yes, Mrs. Day Sr. lived with the newlyweds. Mrs. Day Sr. asked Bernice what she’d taken and said she’d phone for a doctor.

Bernice told her mother-in-law not to worry, she’d taken a few aspirin because she wanted to frighten Darby. Then she got up and ran out of the house. Darby’s employer ran her to ground. He said he prevented Bernice from hurling herself off a cliff.

After a busy day of attempted suicides, Bernice appeared to have recovered her senses because Darby bumped into her later that night at a dinner party where they made up. At least for a few hours. By the next day, Bernice had gone again. She had errands to run, and one of them was a felony.

Darby Day. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

Bernice and her sister Carlyn stopped in at the Baldridge Drug Store at Sixth and Western and asked a clerk, W.J. Bowman, for a chemical that would remove warts. Bowman suggested nitric acid and told the young women that 15 cents worth ought to do the trick. The women bought 25 cents’ worth instead. Bernice gave her name as Mrs. K. Lane, 514 Manhattan Place, which Bowman entered in the poison register.

While Carlyn waited in the car, Bernice knocked on the front door of the Beverly Hills home. Mrs. Day Sr. answered the door.

Bernice said, “I want to see Darby.”

“You can’t come in. Not after the way you’ve acted.” Her mother-in-law responded.

Darby overheard the exchanged.

“Oh, let her come in, Mother.” Darby shouted as he rushed to the door.

Bernice took Darby by his arm and lead him down the driveway. She said, “I want to speak to you, honey.”

Bernice had driven to the home with her sister, Carlyn Lundstrom. As Bernice and Darby walked toward the car, Carlyn drove away.

Darby asked where Carlyn was going. Bernice said, “I don’t know. Let’s chase her.”

Darby jumped into his own car, and as he leaned over to shift the gears, Bernice flung the contents of a two-ounce bottle of nitric acid in his face.

Darby screamed.

Bernice burst into tears. She got out of Darby’s car. Her sister’s car slowed down, and she got in and took the wheel.

Henry Gale of the Beverly Hills police force, heard Darby’s cries for help, and saw Carlyn’s car speed away toward Los Angeles. On the way back to the city, Bernice drank poison.

As the sisters made their escape, Bernice’s mother-in-law called the police.

The search was on for the Acid Bride.

NEXT TIME — The Acid Bride’s story continues.