Meet Nero Wolfe

A Columbia Picture (1936)

Producer: B.P. Schulberg
Director: Herbert J. Biberman

Screenplay: Howard J. Green, Bruce Manning,
Joseph Anthony, from novel by Rex Stout

Edward Arnold as Nero Wolfe
Lionel Stander as Archie Goodwin
Joan Perry as Ellen Barstow
Victor Jory as Claude Roberts
Nana Bryant as Sarah Barstow
Dennie Moore as Mazie Gray
Russell Hardie as Manuel Kimball

Costumes by Lon Anthony

Black and White, 72 mins. running time

Meet Nero Wolfe was based on a novel by Rex Stout called Fer de Lance. Columbia Pictures planned to make a series of films with the Nero Wolfe character, but their star, Edward Arnold, was not under contract and they lost him to larger vehicles. Walter Connolly was a one-time replacement for Arnold, but he could not continue, reportedly due to health reasons. He made only one Wolfe picture, The League of Frightened Men (1937).

The esteemed Professor Barstow (Boyd Irwin) dies suddenly on a gold course, presumably from heart failure. No one suspects a more sinister cause. Shortly after, Maria Maringola (Rita Cansino) appeals to the eccentric but ingenious detective, Nero Wolfe (Edward Arnold), to help her find her missing brother, Carlo (Juan Toreno). On his cases, the reclusive Wolfe does the thinking from home while his assistant, Archie (Lionel Stander), dutifully does the legwork. From a single clue, Wolfe connects Barstow's death to Carlo's disappearance, then decides conclusively that the two men met the same fate -both murdered. Carlo was a gunsmith. He manufactured a gun out of a golf club that shot a poisoned needle into Barstow. But who ordered such a gun?

The discovery of Carlo's body and an autopsy on Barstow proves Wolfe's hunch to be correct. Further investigation reveals that the poison was actually meant for another man, E.J. Kimball (Walter Kingsford), who had lent Barstow his golf club. Wolfe questions Kimball to find out who would want him dead. Kimball was involved in a scandal years ago in Argentina. He discovered his wife was having an affair with the first husband of Barstow's widow, Sarah (Nana Bryant). Soon after, Mrs. Kimball was murdered and the man disappeared. Kimball was accused but acquitted. He moved to America, where his son, Manuel (Russell Hardie), joined him after years of separation. The story turns up several suspects for various reasons, including Sarah, her daughter, Ellen (Joan Perry) and Ellen's beau, Claude Roberts (Victor Jory).

When the time is right, Wolfe rounds up everyone involved at his home on the pretext that he is protecting them from the murderer, who is out to get them. He knows one among them is a killer. Maria is working with Wolfe. He lets the suspects believe she has a way to get a description of the person who ordered the gun from her brother. The killer strikes back at Wolfe by sending what appears to be a bomb, but which is only deadly if he tries to douse it. Perhaps realizing that Wolfe cannot be outwitted, the criminal exposes himself, and the motives behind both murders. The Barstow's and Marie now know the truth about their departed loved ones, thanks to Nero Wolfe.

At this time, Rita had just been dropped from her contract at Fox and suddenly found herself without the backing of a major studio. With Edward Judson's help, she landed a modest role in Meet Nero Wolfe that allowed her to make two costume changes and exchange dialogue with Edward Arnold. This was Rita's first Columbia picture, the studio where she would rein as queen in the next decade. The other beauty featured in the film was Joan Perry, a former model who continued in movies until 1941, when she became Mrs. Harry Cohn.

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