Saturday Night Cinema: The Fat Man (1951)

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Tonight’s Saturday night cinema selection is a 1951 crime film noir, The Fat Man. The Fat Man and his associates were created by Dashiell Hammett for the radio series The Fat Man, which ran for 341 episodes between 1946 and 1955.

The film is directed by the great William Castle. Among his best known films are House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, 13 Ghosts, Strait Jacket, Homicidal, Mr. Sardonicus and Rosemary’s Baby. Among his admirers is filmmaker John Waters, who wrote, “William Castle was my idol. His films made me want to make films … William Castle was God.” He is Robert Zemeckis’ “favorite filmmaker”. Zemeckis co-founded Dark Castle Entertainment, which was intended to remake Castle’s films.

The big man is played by J. Scott Smart, who is charming as the corpulent fellow. He even has a dance scene, so you know he’s not one of those awful chubby bastards who can’t dance. And he is rendered a few capable assists by Julie London, as the wife of one of the ill-fated gangsters; Rock Hudson, as her handsome husband; Jayne Meadows, as the nurse; Teddy Hart, as an informer; Marvin Miller, and Emmett Kelly, the noted clown, who is making his film debut.

Cartoonist Feg Murray (below): “For ‘The Fat Man,’ 280 lb. J. Scott Smart danced The Charleston for 3 hours with 108 lb. Julie London.”

The Fat Man Turns to the Films

Published: May 25, 1951
Although he has been intriguing listeners ever since February, 1947, when “The Fat Man” began his sleuthing on the radio, J. Scott Smart has been eminently successful but obviously unseen. Yesterday that corpulent detective was put on view at the Palace in Universal-International’s film version of “The Fat Man,” and while this whodunit is sometimes as ponderous as its titular gumshoe, it proves that its heavyweight hero is a man who should be seen as well as heard.

Since our hero is not equipped to move too fast, The Fat Man and his varied associates do a lot of talking before he unmasks the killer of an innocent dentist and his nurse, but he also manages to make the proceedings mysterious and interesting, too.

As introduced here, The Fat Man is an unhurried gent fond of food, but not so much of a gourmet as to ignore the plea of the distressed nurse who believes her boss was not killed accidently. The meager clues lead our men from New York to Beverly Hills and a motley crew of suspects, including several gangsters, a circus clown and another sinister and non-sinister characters. Via flashbacks, the pattern of the crime takes shape as a $500,000 robbery is revealed as the cause for dissension among the thieves, as well as the murder of one of them. As to the identity of the killer—that is, naturally, Mr. Smart’s secret.

Mr. Smart takes the business in hand seriously, but not seriously enough not to be cheerful about matters generally. Figuratively living up to his nickname he is, at least, a novelty among screen hawkshaws. And he is rendered a few capable assists by Julie London, as the wife of one of the ill-fated gangsters; Rock Hudson, as her handsome husband; Jayne Meadows, as the nurse; Teddy Hart, as an informer; Marvin Miller, in an unbilled bit, and Emmett Kelly, the noted clown, who is making his film debut. As the ex-convict clown, Mr. Kelly herein demonstrates that circus rings needn’t be his sole field.

THE FAT MAN, screen play by Harry Essex and Leonard Lee; from a story by Mr. Lee; directed by William Castle; produced by Aubrey Schenck for Universal-International.
Brad Runyan . . . . . J. Scott Smart
Pat Boyd . . . . . Julie London
Roy Clark . . . . . Rock Hudson
Bill Norton . . . . . Clinton Sundberg
Jane Adams . . . . . Jayne Meadows
Ed Deets . . . . . Emmett Kelly
Gene Gordon . . . . . John Russell
Lieut. Stark . . . . . Jerome Cowan
Lola Gordon . . . . . Lucille Barkley
Shifty . . . . . Teddy Hart
Fletcher . . . . . Robert Osterloh
Happy Stevens . . . . . Harry Lewis

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