In the Columbia features, Boston Blackie is a reformed jewel thief who is always suspected when a daring robbery is committed. In order to clear himself, he investigates the crime personally and brings the actual culprit to justice, sometimes using disguises. An undercurrent of comedy runs throughout the action/detective series.
Chester Morris gave the Blackie character his own personal charm: he could be light and flippant or stern and dangerous, as the situation demanded. His sidekick, "The Runt," was always on hand to help his old friend. George E. Stone, one of the most sympathetic character players in movie history, played Runt in all but the first and last films (Charles Wagenheim and Sid Tomack, respectively, substituted for Stone when he was not available). Blackie's friendly adversaries were Inspector Farraday of the police (played in all the films by Richard Lane) and his assistant, Sgt. Matthews. Matthews was originally played as a hapless victim of circumstance by Walter Sande; he was replaced by Lyle Latell, who played it dumber, and then by comedian Frank Sully, who played it almost imbecilically.
Blackie and Runt were often assisted in their endeavors by their friends: the cheerful but easily flustered millionaire Arthur Manleder (almost always played by Lloyd Corrigan; Harry Hayden and Harrison Greene each played the role once), and the streetwise pawnbroker Jumbo Madigan (played by Cy Kendall or Joseph Crehan). A variety of actresses (including Rochelle Hudson, Harriet Hilliard (Nelson), Adele Mara, and Ann Savage) took turns playing various gal-Friday characters.
The films are highly typical of Columbia's B product of the 1940s, with an assortment of veteran character actors (including Clarence Muse, Marvin Miller, George Lloyd, Byron Foulger), new faces on the way up (Larry Parks, Dorothy Malone, Nina Foch, Forrest Tucker) and stock-company players familiar from Columbia's features, serials, and short subjects (Kenneth MacDonald, George McKay, Eddie Laughton, John Tyrrell). The series was also a useful training ground for promising directors (Edward Dmytryk, Oscar Boetticher, William Castle). The series ran until 1949.
On April 11, 1945, Richard Kollmar took over the title role in a radio series syndicated by Frederic W. Ziv to Mutual and other network outlets. Over 200 episodes of this series were produced between 1944 and October 25, 1950. Other sponsors included Lifebuoy Soap, Champagne Velvet beer, and R&H beer.
While investigating mysteries, Blackie invaribly encountered harebrained Police Inspector Farraday (Maurice Tarplin) and always solved the mystery to Farraday's amazement. Initially, friction surfaced in the relationship between Blackie and Farraday, but as the series continued, Farraday recognized Blackie's talents and requested assistance. Blackie dated Mary Wesley (Jan Miner), and for the first half of the series, his best pal Shorty was always on hand. The humorless Farraday was on the receiving end of Blackie's bad puns and word play.
A sequel to the graphic novel was published years later.
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