Another priceless bit of Hollywood lore surfaces, fascinating archivist Valentino and killing one of his best friends.
Can’t imagine anyone but Boris Karloff playing the Monster in the 1931 film Frankenstein? Well, Carl Laemmle Jr., head of production at Universal, could. He made a screen test of Bela Lugosi, fresh from his triumph in Dracula, but then went with Karloff instead. The test must have been wretched indeed, but the quality of Lugosi’s performance wouldn’t make Valentino salivate any less over a filmed record. So it’s no wonder that washed-up action star Craig Hunter phones his old buddy, an archival consultant at UCLA, to try to share his news about this amazing find. Unfortunately, Hunter’s been lost to drink and drugs for so long that Valentino dodges his calls all day long and then hangs up on him. When the cops show up the next day at Valentino’s office to tell him that Hunter was beaten to death in the restroom of the Grotto, a tavern in San Diego, he feels so guilty that he not only takes a call from Hunter’s ex, Lorna, a retired actress who’s poised to dive into the bottle herself, but promises her he’ll find the killer. It doesn’t seem that hard, either, since strong-arm gangster Mike Grundage, who owns the Grotto, is reputed to have beaten lots of other people the very same way Hunter was beaten. Will Valentino look past the obvious. Sadly, he won’t have to look very far.
Veteran Estleman (Alone, 2009, etc.), clearly more interested in past Hollywood lore than present-day mystery-mongering, is better as a tour guide (his apercus are right on the money) than as a plotter, and the only thing the killer does to make himself memorable is slink off into the fog way too early.