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Panther's Claw, The

D: William Beaudine / 70m

Cast: Sidney Blackmer, Rick Vallin, Byron Foulger, Herbert Rawlinson, Lynn Starr, Barry Bernard, Gerta Rozan, Joaquin Edwards, John Ince, Martin Ashe, Frank Darien, Billy Mitchell

When gauche wigmaker Everett P. Digberry (Foulger) is discovered leaving a cemetery at one in the morning, it’s not long before the extortion plot he’s mixed up in leads to murder.  Having been sent a letter demanding he leave $1000 in the cemetery, it transpires that similar letters have been received by members of the New York Opera Company (or Gotham Opera Company if you read the headlines); Digberry has a connection to the company in that he provides the wigs for their productions.  The case is taken up by the police commissioner, Thatcher Colt (Blackmer), but his search for an extortionist who signs his letters with the footprint of a panther points increasingly to Digberry being the culprit behind it all.  And then one of the members of the opera company is found dead, and it appears that Digberry is guilty of that crime as well.  Is Digberry a cunning criminal mastermind, or is he being set up?

Panther's Claw, The - scene

Another quickie from low-budget movie factory Producers Releasing Corporation – the third and last movie to feature Anthony Abbot’s fictional detective, Thatcher Colt – The Panther’s Claw is a convoluted tale, with twists and turns galore and a large dash of playful humour, held together by Foulger’s dazed, nervous performance and a confidence in the material that helps move things along swiftly.  Foulger is effectively the lead and is afforded a lot of screen time, leaving Blackmer to sit back and appear knowing and debonair at the same time.  There’s able support from the rest of the cast, including Rawlinson as an impatient District Attorney looking to convict Digberry because it’s an election year, and Edwards as the kind of hammy opera singer with a drink problem that’s almost a caricature by modern standards.

Beaudine’s direction is as briskly efficient as ever, and while the sets are of the usual “bare bones” quality and the camerawork as bland and uninspired as you might expect, the movie has an energy and a surprising sense of its own silliness (which it embraces).

Rating: 6/10 – an offbeat, entertaining production from PRC that is better than most of their output from the period; Blackmer is a great replacement for Adolphe Menjou, and the mystery elements add to the fun.