Two police officers are escorting Turk (Stephen McNally), a convicted killer, by train to New York City for retrial. Turk breaks out a window and escapes off the train while it is pulling into the station. The first thing he does is call Mida King (Patricia Dane) on the phone and threaten her life.
Mida is an actress in a show being produced by Frankie Ciro (Tom Conway). She tells her maid Pearl Delroy (Connie Gilchrist) to have her understudy take her place and runs out of the theater. Her understudy is Pearl’s daughter Baby Delroy (Betty Wells). Mida heads for her fiancé’s private train car at Grand Central Station not knowing that it’s where Turk is. Mida already had plans to leave New York later to marry her rich society boyfriend David V. Henderson (Mark Daniels) before heading out west with him. Her body is found later by David and his ex-fiancé Connie Furness (Cecilia Parker).
Inspector Gunther (Sam Levene) is in charge of the case. Turk is captured but so is a private detective named Rocky Custer (Van Heflin) and his wife Sue (Virginia Grey). Rocky was hired by Turk’s lawyers to find evidence on behalf of Turk. He did. His evidence is the reason for the retrial. Now Gunther thinks Turk killed Mida for revenge and perhaps Rocky may have helped him.
Gunther assembles everyone he can find that either are suspects or may have evidence to point to a suspect in her murder. Besides Turk, Rocky, Sue, Connie and David, Gunther has hauled in Mida’s maid Pearl, her daughter Baby and the show’s producer Frankie. In addition Gunther brings in Mida’s greedy stepfather Ramon (Roman Bohnen) and her ex-husband Paul Rinehart (George Lynn) who happens to work at the terminal. Soon Connie’s father Roger Furness (Samuel S. Hinds), a railroad magnate, shows up when he finds out his daughter found the body.
Gunther has his hands full sorting out all the suspects and finding out that the not so nice victim was disliked by most of the people she used on the way up and most of the people who tried to use her. His investigation is also interrupted by the smart aleck Rocky who seems to know more about what’s going on than Gunther.
“Grand Central Murder” was released in 1942 and was directed by S. Sylvan Simon. It is a low budget murder mystery and a comedy. The film is based on the 1939 novel by Sue MacVeigh.
This was a fun and engaging who-done-it. It is your typical forties style comedic mystery, fast paced and full of suspects. Van Heflin is great as the snarky detective who overwhelms the frazzled inspector, played by Sam Levene. They offset each other perfectly. All the acting is quite good and the back and forth between all the actors that have been stuck together is timed well.
Some have referred to it as a noir film but I think that’s going a little too far. Making the scene of the crime a railroad car at Grand Center adds to the noirness and much of the story is told in flashback but is it enough to tip it into the noir style? I’m not totally sure of that. I’m OK with calling it noirish.
The film starts off with action but gets quite talky in the middle. Still everyone pointing fingers at everyone else adds a lot of information and cleaver come backs that ends up fleshing out the characters and the motives of all involved. The mystery of who did do it is nicely saved until the very end of the film. It may be a low budget film but it’s done quite well.