Rocky Custer
Created by Sue MacVeigh (pseudo. of Elizabeth Custer Nearing) and Peter Ruric

Here's an oddity -- Grand Central Murder is a P.I. film based on the 1939 not-so-hard-boiled, not so P.I. novel of the same name by Sue MacVeigh, adapted by one of the shining lights of the hard-boiled Black Mask school, Paul Cain, under his screenwriter alias of Peter Ruric.

The story kicks off with a convict who escapes from his police escorts at New York's Grand Central Station. When his old girlfriend, Mida King, a golddigging actress, is found murdered at the same station, the cops round up a motley group of suspects including the convict, several of the victim's other old boyfriends, some of their jealous girlfriends, and ROCKY CUSTER, a private eye already on the case, and his wife and assistant Sue.

But if you were thinking, judging by its pedigree, that this would be a dark, terse, hard-boiled psychological slab of noiritude, think again. This is a breeezy screwball romp, a rollercoaster ride of snapper patter and freewheeling detective work.

Sue MacVeigh (actually Elizabeth Custer Nearing) was a regular contributor to Street & Smith's Detective Weekly. She wrote four books featuring the intrepid Captain Andy MacVeigh and his wife, "a combination of the Thin Man and 'had-I-but-known' breathless school, according to B film historian Don Miller. When Ruric wrote the screenplay, he changed the central role from a railroad detective to a "Park Avenue private dick" and made his long-suffering wife, Sue, his assistant. Captain MacVeigh became Inspecor Gunther, Rocky's soda-slurping foil/straight man.

But it worked. It's a sheer joy to watch Van Heflin as motormouth Custer spinning out one wild theory after another while the increasingly bamboozled inspector totters closer and closer to losing it completely. The entire film plays out like an Agatha Christie denouement on helium as Rocky leads the entire troup of suspects, cops and witnesses from police station to Grand Central Station and even on to the private railroad car where Mida was murdered.

In his short literary career, Cain only wrote 17 short stories, all for Black Mask. Five of them were combined to make his one novel, Fast One, and seven of them were collected for his one collection, Seven Slayers. In that small but powerful body of work were even a few private eye tales, most notably two featuring Black. As George Ruric he worked as a production assistant and as Peter Ruric as a screenwriter in the thirties and forties, scripting Gambling Ship (allegedly "derived" from his one and only novel Fast One), The Black Cat, Affairs of a Gentleman, Dark Sands, Twelve Crowded Hours , The Night of January 16, Alias A Gentleman and Mademoiselle Fiji, as well as Grand Central Murder.

THE EVIDENCE

  • "Whoever knicked off that witch ought to be a cinch for the Nobel prize."
    -- Rocky mourns the deceased.

UNDER OATH

  • "...scripted by Peter Ruric at a breathless clip, so much so that the opening reel or so is more than ordinarily confusing, even for a whodunit. But once the threads become untangled and private eye Heflin comes on the scene to investigate the murder of a catty actress (Patricia Dane) in a private car in Grand Central Station, it becomes clever, witty and possessing all the ingredients to please a mystery fan."
    -- Don Miller,
    B Movies

FILM

  • GRAND CENTRAL MURDER
    (1942, MGM)
    Black and white
    Based on the novel "Fast One" by Peter Ruric
    Screenplay by Sue MacVeigh 
    Directed by S. Sylvan Simon 
    Cinematography by George J. Folsey
    Original music by David Snell
    Produced by B.F. Zeidman
    Starring Van Heflin as ROCKY CUSTER
    with Virginia Grey as Sue Custer
    and Sam Levene as Inspector Gunther
    Also starring
    Patricia Dane, Cecilia Parker, Samuel S. Hinds, Connie Gilchrist, Mark Daniels, Stephen McNally, Tom Conway, Betty Wells, George Lynn, Roman Bohnen, Millard Mitchell

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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