Bureau of Missing Persons (1933)

Time once again for the monthly Pre-Code Crazy pick from me and my blog friend Karen of Shadows & Satin, when we each choose one gem from this era that’s showing on TCM.

This month there are several movies showing that I’ve recommended in previous Pre-Code Crazy posts, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)The Invisible Man (1933), and Arsène Lupin (1932). So this month I tried a new-to-me movie recommended by Laura in her March preview, and it’s one I really enjoyed.

Bureau of Missing Persons is the department to which brutal and impulsive cop Pat O’Brien is transferred. He thinks the place is a kindergarten where he’ll be stuck doing lesser police work, but he’s about to learn it’s a parade of cases more exciting and emotionally involving than he ever expected.

The bureau has its hands full with more “torn from the headlines” cases than you think would ever fit into 73 minutes, little mysteries ranging from gritty to silly, some with heartbreaking outcomes and some folks found safe.

A big part of the officers’ job, when they actually find the missing, is a kind of social work; they advise runaways from bad marriages and other difficult situations, like a man escaping a rather demanding and clingy partner and a boy genius yearning to live like a normal kid away from his overbearing helicopter parents. One fun case is just there to deliver a great punch line: a woman demands they find her husband who ran off with their cook, and says, “never mind him, I want the cook!”

These cases open O’Brien’s eyes to the realities, tragedies and importance of his new beat and prepare him for the movie’s central case and caper. An enigmatic woman, played by Bette Davis, arrives in search of her missing husband, but her story seems off, and her description of said hubby is oddly vague (she presents a picture of him in costume). Trouble is, O’Brien is blinded by his attraction to her and gets blindsided by the revelation that she’s actually wanted for the murder of the man she’s supposedly searching for. Or is she? Got that? For a time she goes missing, and finding her will help restore O’Brien’s reputation and self-respect, as well as solve a weird murder mystery.

Besides being snappily directed by Roy Del Ruth, this movie is also like a box of chocolates for classic movie fans, with fun roles filled by familiar and talented actors: Lewis Stone is the wise and steady captain, Allen Jenkins, Hugh Herbert and Frank McHugh are seasoned detectives, Glenda Farrell is a persistent gold-digging bigamist who gets a cartoonish beating when her con is discovered, and Ruth Donnelly is a frazzled, hardworking bureau employee with a secret of her own. It feels like a pilot episode for the best pre-Code Naked City series never made.

Watch Bureau of Missing Persons on TCM March 10th, and now please click here to see which Pre-Code film Karen has picked for your viewing pleasure.



10 thoughts on “Bureau of Missing Persons (1933)”

  1. This is one of the first movies I ever taped (like, 25 years ago!) and do you know I’ve never watched it? I will have to do something about that! (And the streak continues!)

    1. This month is the closest we ever got, I was this close to picking yours!! This is one the fastest-moving movies I have ever seen. So much happens and so many more faces are in it than I mentioned in the post–Jean Muir, Alan Dinehart, Hobart Cavanaugh, etc etc that it’s just so fun to watch. Bette doesn’t even appear until way into the movie.

  2. I need to get about more, I didn’t notice Laura’s recommendation of this!
    I have a very vague memory of seeing this on TV when I was in my teens way back in the mid-1980s, and I’ve never seen it again. I do have a feeling I thought it pretty good at the time because I looked out for subsequent screenings but never caught up with it. Thank you for the reminder.

    1. Hope you get another look at it, enjoyed this one for its brevity–lightning-fast!– and this cast, so many familiar faces, even if they get one little moment. Nice mix of zany and serious.

  3. I’m so glad you enjoyed this too, Kristina, and hope Karen and Colin will like it! As you say, so many, many great faces. It really is like a box of chocolates! I always remember saying at the time that seeing Ruth Donnelly and Allen Jenkins in a police station made my heart happy LOL.

    Enjoyed your review!

    Best wishes,

    1. Thanks for the tip, it was a lot of fun indeed, so fast and stuffed! Keeps you guessing what the main story is for long time, since Bette doesn’t show up til well into the movie. too bad this wasn’t a series.

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