This Robert L.Lippert production surely sets a new record for the shortest ever ‘B’ feature – 43 minutes! (IMDB describes The Hat Box Mystery as a ‘Short’). And yet I didn’t feel short changed.
Another unusual thing about this light thriller is how it begins. Tom Neal addresses the camera and tells us he is a private detective,Russ Ashton.He calls in his secretary,Susie and his assistant,Harvard, and Harvard’s girlfriend,Veronica.
Then he says, “I’m Tom Neal,my secretary is Pamela Blake.This is Virginia Sale and of course Harvard is Allen Jenkins. And here’s the rest of our cast.”
We then see the normal credits. It was a neat idea and certainly catches your attention.
Ashton’s agency is badly in need of clients and he gets called away on a job. Susie is left in charge and happily accepts an assignment from a mysterious looking man who wants her to take a photo of his wife whom he is divorcing. He doesn’t want his wife to know he is getting evidence on her and tells Susie he has put a camera in a hat box and all Susie has to do is go over to the apartment building where his wife lives,wait for her to come out and press a button on the front of the box.
Ok, it’s daft! But silly and fun, as Susie does as she is told and finds that the hat box camera turns out to be a gun which goes off when she aims it at the wife.
Russ and Harvard and Veronica get involved in solving the mystery. it may only be 43 minutes, but not a second is wasted!
Robert Lippert used the same 4 leads and characters in Case of the Baby Sitter (also 1947) – it runs 41 minutes!
There is some talk on IMDB that Lippert might have been hoping for an early TV series ,but he probably saw a way to save money by making both at the same time.
(I watched it on You Tube.)