The Bette Davis Project: Bureau of Missing Persons (1933)

Bureau of Missing Persons (1933)


A smug detective, Butch Saunders (Pat O’Brien, Angels with Dirty Faces), is not happy with his transfer to the Missing Persons Division because he thinks that looking for people is not a tough enough job. Butch’s boss (Lewis Stone, Grand Hotel) tries to convince him of the importance of the Bureau but to no avail. A bizarre case of a missing husband might be the thing that changes Butch’s mind about his new job.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Although it has a fast-as-lighting narrative, Bureau of Missing Persons, written by Robert Presnell (Meet John Doe), directed by Roy Del Ruth (1931’s The Maltese Falcon and Lady Killer), struck me as being a rather dull programmer. It’s the kind of cheapie Warner Bros. loved to produce in the 1930s; small sets, fast talking characters, nonsensical subplots, etc.

Though Bette Davis is top-billed, she doesn’t appear on screen until 30 minutes into the movie, and she only has half a dozen of scenes. Davis plays a “mystery woman” at the center of an investigation. I’m sure that it was humiliating for Davis to go from a starring role in Ex-Lady (1933) to what constitutes a glorified cameo. You can almost sense Davis’s desperation in her few scenes. She’s jittery and mannered; as if she was trying to compensate for the lack quality surrounding her.

Producer Darryl F. Zanuck, the person pushing to sell Davis as a star had quit the studio right after Ex-Lady was completed so it is safe to assume that with Zanuck being gone Davis was left without any allies. Henry Blake and Hal B. Wallis took over Zanuck’s production duties and the gentlemen took their time warming up to the idea of Davis as a movie star.

Pat O’Brien is the real star of the movie. I’ve always seen him as a second tier actor so I like him better in supporting roles. He is always good but hardly memorable.

Bureau of Missing Persons really belongs to the actors in supporting roles anyway. Comedian Hugh Herbert and sharp-tongued Glenda Farrell (Little Caesar) steal most of the show. The cast also includes Allen Jenkins (Dead End), Ruth Donnelly (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), Marjorie Gateson (Lady Killer), Tad Alexander (Little Men), and Alan Dinehart (Jimmy The Gent).

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Bureau of Missing Persons is just an okay mystery. I wasn’t crazy about it, but I’m sure most fans of Pre-Code Hollywood will enjoy it. The best that can be said about the movie is that it anticipates popular crime TV series like The Streets of San Francisco, Kojack and Hill Streets Blues. B&W, 73 minutes, Not Rated.


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