Sam Donovan (Cover Up)

Created by Jerome Odlum, Dennis O’Keefe, Francis Swann & Lawrence Kimble

This Christmas Eve, if you’re tired of The Thin Man, and can’t quite stomach another viewing of Die Hard, there’s an easy-going alternative that ought to hit the sweet spot between crime films and Christmas cheer.

Cover Up is a pleasant little feelgooder from 1948, full of small town nostalgia, Christmas spirit and just a bit of murder, starring Dennis O’Keefe as a middle-aged insurance investigator SAM DONOVAN from Chicago (played with Everyman panache by Dennis O’Keefe), a working joe dispatched from the Big City to Cleberg, a quaint little Midwestern burg just a few days before Christmas, to sign off on a $20,000 claim filed on Roger Phillips, a not-very-popular local who recently committed suicide. He figures it’s just a formality–a few hours of paperwork, tops, and he can head back home, where he’ll presumably spend Christmas alone. The highlight of the trip for Sam is the attractive local, Anita Weatherby, whom he met and mildly flirted with on the bus on the journey up.

But it doesn’t quite work out that way. The local police, represented by good-natured Sheriff Larry Best (played by William Bendix with surprising effectiveness as a sly, pipe-sucking hick who isn’t quite as dumb as he seems–or is he?), he discovers, are either totally incompetent or corrupt. The deceased, he’s told, shot himself, but the gun was never found, and the coroner is out of town so there’s no report. The sheriff’s reluctance to help soon has Donovan suspicious. Particularly when the sheriff suggests Sam just sign off on things and go home. Turns out the deceased wasn’t particularly well-liked by the good citizens, and when he begins to ask questions, the locals’ reactions vary from uncooperative to downright hostile.

Meanwhile, since he’s going to be stuck in town for a few days, Sam is invited to the Weatherbys for supper (Anita’s father is the town banker), and a romance begins to blossom.

The only problem? As Sam and Anita’s relationship evolves, he continues to investigate, and discovers that her father is a prime suspect. Although, to be fair, so are a good number of the town’s citizens.

If you’re looking for some dark, noirish gem, this ain’t it. And if you’re looking for some It’s a Wonderful Life schmaltz, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a nice little gift for yourself, warm up the hot chocolate, a partner in crime, grab the throw and cuddle up on the couch for a movie has a little of everything–murder, the lighting of the town’s Christmas tree, family secrets, a fine romance, a pushy, opinionated maid (Doro Merande), a dead body, pretty presents for pretty girls, a dogged investigator, white picket fences, missing evidence, a bratty kid sister, boughs of holly, breaking and entering, deceit, and–perhaps most importantly for a holiday movie–snow. I even like that the film’s star, Dennis O’Keefe (second billed behind Bendix) had a hand in writing it–this feels like it was personal.

Steve Lewis of Mystery*File sums it up nicely:

“Very folksy and charming… there’s an edge to the plot–hidden right below the mistletoe–that keeps this movie moored as a mystery and not a just another soft-hearted romance.”

Me? Imagine A Christmas Story. But with a dash of homicide.

FILMS

  • COVER UP Buy the DVD Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1948, United Artists)
    Writers: Jerome Odlum, Dennis O’Keefe, Francis Swann, Lawrence Kimble
    Directed by Alfred E. Green
    Starring Dennis O’Keefe as SAM DONOVAN
    William Bendix as Sheriff Larry Best
    and Barbara Britton as Anita Weatherby
    Also starring Art Baker, Ann E. Todd, Doro Merande, Virginia Christine, Helen Spring, Ruth Lee, Henry Hall, Russel Armes, Paul E. Burns
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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