Warner Bros. Horror/Mystery Double Features 

Collections like "Warner Bros. Horror/Mystery Double Features" hold great appeal to film buffs, because they offer multiple movies you might not buy individually, but gratefully snap up for the price of one. In this case, six flicks from the late 1930s to early 1940s come packaged on three DVDs, manufactured on demand by Warner Archive.

Even if they barely deserve the "Horror" label of the title, these half-dozen hours provide tremendous fun for fans of that era's simple, straightforward style of whodunits.

First up is 1943's "Find the Blackmailer," in which a private dick (Jerome Cowan) with a pencil-thin mustache is hired to get to the bottom of a blackmail case of a mayoral candidate, only to stumble into an ice-pick stabbing. Our somewhat effective detective gnaws on old-school lines like "Well, that would feather everyone's nest nicely," "The nerve of that tomato!" and "Remind me to pour you a saucer of milk when you get back, will ya?"

"The Smiling Ghost" concerns down-on-his-luck Lucky Downing (Wayne Morris) who agrees to take $1,000 to be engaged to a young woman for just one month. She's hot —? well, hot for 1941, at least. The problem: She's a black widow, with three dead hubbies in her wake. This must be the only comic mystery in history to work shrunken heads and a man in an iron lung into its mix, not to mention a total "Scooby-Doo" ending.

Only one thing sours the fun of 1942's "The Hidden Hand": the racial stereotypes of the black and Asian hired hands. (At least "The Smiling Ghost" limited its white supremacy toward one minority.) Otherwise, this number about a mental institution escapee who comes home, with the authorities on his tail, is one oddball romp.

The best of the bunch is the strangely titled "Sh! The Octopus," which feels like an Abbott & Costello comedy. Ever seen any movies with a spooky house in which a gorilla runs around through secret passages and whatnot? This 1937 stage adaptation is just like that, except replace the house with a lighthouse and the ape with an octopus. All this and frogs, a scene-stealing turtle, a guy with a hook for a hand and our second "Scooby-Doo" ending of the set!

"Mystery House" is a locked-room puzzler from 1937 concerning who killed a person in the titular site. Before the end, there are two more to determine. Also from the same year, "The Patient in Room 18" begins as a daft comedy, despite its protagonist being kept under lock and key in a hospital for a nervous breakdown. He becomes investigator when a fellow patient is murdered via a hit of smack.

Stars like Ann Sheridan and Alan Hale populate this mix of flicks, with not a bad turnip — or "toinup," as the leads are likely to pronounce it — in the batch. —?Rod Lott

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Rod Lott

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