Bettejane Was No Sissy.

Born Bettejane Greer in 1924, Jane Greer legally changed her name in 1945, deciding that Bettejane was “a sissy name. It’s too Bo-Peepish for the type of role I’ve been playing”. RKO promoted her as “the woman with the Mona Lisa smile”, but in fact, teenage Greer suffered from a condition that paralyzed the left side of her face. Even after recovering, she relied on facial exercises to overcome the paralysis, which contributed to her enigmatic expression. 

Teen beauty pageants led to modeling jobs and a big band singing gig in the Washington D.C. area till Hollywood discovered her from a Life magazine modeling spread. Greer appeared in a long list of MGM and RKO films playing everything from crooks to cowgirls and continuing to work in both movies and television into her seventies. This even included a parody of her iconic role as Kathie Moffat, one of film noir’s most iconic femmes fatales, in a 1987 Saturday Night Live skit alongside her Out Of The Past costar Robert Mitchum. Now that I’d like to see!

Jane Greer left us in 2001 at the age of 76.

Destination Murder.

Destination Murder 1

Continuing to make do for my cable TV noir fix via the Movies! network, having lost TCM months ago, I’m getting used to commercials intruding on the few classics they air (and air and re-air and…) but more importantly, getting a chance to see some largely forgotten films too. That some of these deserve to be consigned to the B-movie graveyard can be argued over by the true film buffs.

RKO’s Destination Murder from 1950 is a low budget affair that clearly aspires to more, managing to achieve some brief glimpses of genuinely noir-ish brilliance here and there, but sadly mired in too much stagey direction, working with a needlessly convoluted script, and performed by a cast that is clearly not going to earn any Oscar nominations.

Destination Murder 2

Dutiful good-girl daughter Laura Mansfield, played by Joyce MacKenzie, witnesses her beloved father’s murder, but is frustrated by the small city’s detective bureau and its obstinate refusal to follow her tips. Good ol’ Dad stood in the way of the burg’s local underworld kingpins, and Laura decides to take matters into her own hands, insinuating herself among the small-time crooks and mobsters to uncover the killer. Eventually she goes undercover as a cigarette girl at “The Vogue”, a glitzy mob nightclub. There, her demure demeanor gets a makeover in a skimpy cigarette girl costume that grabs the attention of suave gang lieutenant Stretch Norton (Hurd Hatfield). Stretch may have his eye on Laura’s seamed fishnets, but she’s got her eye on her prime suspect, Stretch’s boorish boss. The problem is, Laura has no idea that the boss is just a front man, Stretch is the real mob kingpin and the one who gave the order to have her old man murdered.

Naturally, they fall in love.

Destination Murder 3

Bodies pile up till the climactic gun play and ineptly staged fisticuffs, but the bad guys all get it in the end. Director Edward L. Cahn does what he can with the material (and I’m leaving out a lot…it really is convoluted). B-movie and poverty row regulars Alice Wentworth and Stanley Clements brighten things up as a gold-digging gun moll and a wannabe blackmailer (and the man who actually pulled the trigger on Laura’s dad). Destination Murder is no noir classic. But I’m glad the Movies! channel is digging up flicks like this — the crime melodramas, B’s and low budget noirs whose posters and film stills we so often browse, even though the films themselves are rarely seen.

Destination Murder 4

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