Jefferson DiMarco
Created by Doris Miles Disney (1907-76)

"Four lives at dead end"
-- the tagline for English release
of Fugitive Lady

The rarely seen B-flick, Fugitive Lady, was filmed on location in Italy and based on a novel, Dark Road, written by popular American mystery writer Doris Miles Disney. But the film was given a decidedly noir touch, laying on the rain-slicked roads, bad weather, off-kilter camera angles, flashbacks and -- naturally -- someone's luck running out in a suitably dark final twist.

In Fugitive Lady, Disney's series character, insurance investigator JEFFERSON DiMARCO is sent to look into looks into the death of Ralph Clementi, a wealthy Italian businessman who drove his car off a cliff in an apparent suicide. But as he digs deeper into Clementi's life, he soon discovers several people who may have wanted Clementi dead, including Barbara, a nightclub singer turned trophy wife and now trophy widow, Clementi's adopted sister Esther who had a thing for her brother, and Gene, the widow's possibly unstable boy toy with whom she's been having an affair for years. His suspicions aroused, DiMarco asks his company for -- and gets -- 48 hours to investigate before signing off on the death claim.

We're not talking "long lost classic" or anything here, but this well-made programmer does have its moments, and the novelty of having been shot in Italy adds to the charm.

The film begins appropriately enough at night with rain, a shadowed figure moving among brush and trees against a dark sky with ominous music. Later we discover that this is an insurance investigator looking into the death of Eduardo Ciannelli, whose car went off a cliff. I do not know the name of the actor who played the investigator (character name is Jack DeMarco) because the IMDb list doesn't have this character's name.

The film was made on the cheap by American producer Mike Frankovich whose British-born wife, Binnie Barnes, starred in it as Esther, the stepsister with the hots for the deceased. Frankovich and Barnes were living in Italy at the time, hence the location shooting, and why it starred a lot of actors you've never heard of.

In the books (there were eight of them), "Jeff" is a far less dashing figure than in Fugitive Lady. His hair is graying and he's short and pudgy, prone to putting on the pounds as the series progresses. He works for the Boston-based Commonwealth Insurance Company, and never ventures out of the New England area. He's a good company man, although he does have the habit of sometimes getting too emotionally involved in his cases.

Doris Miles was born in Glastonbury, Connecticut. She worked in a Hartford insurance office prior to her marriage to George J. Disney. A prolific and bestselling author in her day, several of her almost fifty novels were turned into films.

In fact, another 1950 film, Stella, also featured DiMarco. Victor Mature starred as "Jeff " DeMarco (note change in spelling), alongside Ann Sheridan, Leif Erickson, David Wayne and Randy Stuart. But it's a far less serious take on the character, although the humour of this adaptation is definitely of a slightly noirish hue. When a wealthy but not particularly well-like uncle keels over at a family picnic, apparently after being served some poisoned mushrooms, the family panics and charges her of its members with the task of disposing of the corpse, unbeknownst to Stella (Sheridan). But when the clan discovers that Uncle Joe was carrying a substantial life insurance policy, they do a rapid about-face. Now they need the corpse to claim the loot. But the two geniuses charged with disposing of the stiff can't remember exactly where they buried it. Much merriment ensues, albeit of a black variety, while Jeff sniffs around the edges of the case and he and Stella circle each other.

Besides the DiMarco novels, she created two other series characters: David Madden, a U.S. postal inspector, and Jim O'Neill, a county detective. Sadly, this post-WWII author seemes to have slipped into relative obscurity, although there are those who still prize her plotting and characterization skills. and her eye for detail and particularly her sparse prose style have more in common with the hard-boiled genre than she's given credit for.

NOVELS

  • Dark Road (1946; aka "Dead Stop")
  • Family Skeleton (1947)
  • Straw Man (1951; aka "The Case of the Straw Man")
  • Trick or Treat (1955; aka "The Haloween Murder")
  • Method in Madness (1957; aka "Quiet Violence" and "Too Innocent to Kill")
  • Did She Fall or Was She Pushed? (1959)
  • Find the Woman (1962)
  • The Chandler Policy (1971)

FILMS

  • FUGITIVE LADY...Buy this book
    (aka "La strada buia")
    (1950, Republic)
    87 minutes
    Black & white
    Based on the novel The Dark Road (1946) by Doris Miles Disney
    Screenplay by John O'Dea
    Directed by
    Sidney Salkow
    Produced by
    M.J. Frankovich
    Starring
    Janis Paige, Binnie Barnes, Massimo Serato, Eduardo Ciannelli
    and Antonio Centa as JEFFERSON DiMARCO
    Also starring Alba Arnova, Dino Galvani, Rosina Galli, Giovanni Fostini, Lucciana Danieli, Michael Tor, Alex Serberoli, Joop van Hulzen

  • STELLA
    (1950, 20th Century Fox)
    83 minutes
    Black and white
    Based on the novel Family Skeleton (1947) by Doris Miles Disney
    Screenplay by Claude Binyon
    Directed by Claude Binyon
    Starring Ann Sheridan
    and Victor Mature as JEFF DeMARCO
    Also starring, Leif Erickson, David Wayne, Randy Stuart

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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