Dibble, P.I.

The Michael Shayne, Private Eye films are good B-movie fun, with Lloyd Nolan, never really a front-running leading man, surprisingly appealing in these unpretentious little thrillers. The only thing distinguishing them from countless other detective movies, apart from a sprinkling of wit, are the facts that they’re if anything a little MORE generic than any other ‘tec movies, and the fact that they rejoice in the character’s Irish-American roots. So it seems fitting that Nolan’s detective license is signed by Irish-American character actor Allen Jenkins!

Okay, so it says Allan B Jenkins…

Lovers of Warner Bros precodes will likely know Allen well. Persons of my generation, kids during the 70s, may also know him as the voice of Officer Dibble on TV’s Top Cat. Incidentally, in a fit of madness, the BBC broadcast the show under the title “Boss Cat,” under the mistaken assumptions that (1) nobody in the UK was familiar with the expression “top dog,” upon which the Hanna-Barbera cartoon based its title (2) this mattered in the slightest and (3) nobody would notice that the theme tune of the show had LYRICS, which clearly included the words “Top” and “Cat.”

Dibble askew.

I’m still angry about that all these years later. I can’t let it go. This may offer some clue as to why I can be a tricky person to collaborate with creatively. As Buster Keaton said, “In this business, there’s a certain amount of guess. Has to be. So you try to convince yourself, maybe the other fellow’s right. But once in a while… ain’t no guess.”

Michael Shayne Mysteries Vol. 1 (Michael Shayne: Private Detective / The Man Who Wouldn’t Die / Sleepers West / Blue, White, and Perfect)

7 Responses to “Dibble, P.I.”

  1. I have a great Officer Dibble straight role, better still because he captures the moderately-depressed character from the story it was stolen from (I use stolen since the original story isn’t credited anywhere) so perfectly, but it’s only a mediocre MGM programmer. He and Walter Catlett have the best parts.

  2. Wow, what’s the movie (and story)?

    My Jenkins still comes from Mindreader, with Warren William, which has lots of nice Dutch tilts whenever anyone discusses mindreading.

  3. Rub it in again with that talk of the Mind Reader, why dontcha?

    The film is a Maisie movie (of all things) called “Maisie Gets Her Man” that’s partially set in, and has characters from the A. J. Liebling New Yorker story “The Jollity Building”. They just changed the location of the building and the names of the characters and inserted a few new characters. Jenkins plays a character that’s based on Liebling’s Morty Ormont, who ran the building (which actually existed in NYC, though Liebling himself changed the names of the people). I was flabbergasted when I saw the film, because I recognized the story as soon as Maisie entered the building. The changes were too cute by half, but I tagged every character out of the story, they didn’t even remotely hide them well. I guess MGM had great lawyers to skirt such obvious plagiarism.

  4. Extraordinary. Other studios, notably RKO with The Ghost Ship, were not so skilled. In fact, MGM got nailed on Letty Lynton.

    OK, let’s set up another swap and I can send you The Mind Reader. Pretty sure you’ll dig it.

  5. Allen Jenkins rules! He’s one of those character actors you wish wasn’t really a human being but was instead some kind of pollenating organism you could grow in your garden and sprinkle into film stories because they can add their part of the story so quantifiably. Actors like Jenkins are less iconic than plain essential. After they go there’s just impersonations or moving on to other business. The caliber and just plain chops (he pops up in every light-hearted Warner) are unique to the genre-assembly line of pre-48. He was perfect when you need a dopey New Yorker that’s always barging into rooms with confidence by way of indroduction – but then immedately after he’s inside the scenario either becomes totally confused, or else counfounds the other people once the conversation begins. Fearless misunderstanding followed by a series of low-key epiphanies. I imagine him saying “Oh” in front of the mirror a million different ways. He ‘s also perfect when you need a great delivery of a really bad pun. The trick apparently is to look away before you say it, but in a kind of animal-like preoccupation rather than a self-conscious, cheeky, eye roll.

  6. Beautiful. You know, I can’t think of any facts about the real Jenkins, and I can’t imagine any that wouldn’t diminish him, make him more like an actor, a real person, and less like a dough-sculpted comedy puppet. How horrifying to learn he was married, or collected abstract impressionist paintings, or invented variable frequency transmission, or had a drinking problem, or won prizes for his vegetable garden. He should remain always fictional.

  7. Christopher Says:

    I think if you dig thru the old prop dept. at the burbank studios,you’ll find Mr. Jenkins going to waste in there..just needs a dusting off..and good as new..ready for the 21st century..

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