One of my favorite TCM discoveries of 2018 was a 10-minute short Warner Bros. and Vitaphone production: So You Want to Be a Detective.
Starring George O’Hanlon (who would go on to voice George Jetson), and created by Richard L. Bare, So You Want to Be a Detective is a spoof of Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake—itself an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s mystery novel of the same name.
The conceit of Lady in the Lake is that the audience plays detective Philip Marlowe, with the entirety of the movie filmed from the first-person point of view. Robert Montgomery plays Marlowe mostly in voice-over (he also directs), and can only be seen by the audience should a mirror happen to be in the shot. The other characters talk directly to the camera.
Lady in the Lake is an excellent novel but a bore as a movie. It’s a curio at best, one ripe for lampooning, which is precisely the aim of So You Want to Be a Detective, which TCM devilishly programmed after the lackluster movie. Here Joe McDoakes (O’Hanlon) plays Philip Snarlowe, and narrator Art Gilmore plays the never-seen client and ultimate killer.
Shot using the same first-person technique with Gilmore as the camera, So You Want to Be a Detective follows McDoakes/Snarlowe through all the usual private eye twists and turns, beatings, and beautiful ladies.
So You Want to Be a Detective is a hoot. Of all 63 McDoakes shorts produced 1942-1956, it might be the best, but far from an outlier. Other standouts include So You Want to Be a Banker, So You’re Going to Have an Operation, So You Want to Be an Heir, and so on.
Unfortunately, the 63 McDoakes comedies are not available via streaming (though some have been uploaded to YouTube). TCM occasionally includes them in their line-up, but if you want to catch ’em all, Warner Archive did put out a 6-disc collection of all 63 episodes. The disc can be purchased at WBShop.com or rented through your local library. Lady in the Lake is available to rent at YouTube (should your curiosity get the better of you).