In 1958, Warner Brothers and ABC decided to make a bunch of “location” detective shows. The first, and most successful, was 77 Sunset Strip. Its dazzling location was Los Angeles, and yes, that’s a pretty lame cheat for production purposes, but it wasn’t New York and that made a difference back then. It was also steeped in Los Angeles culture, easily accessed and understood by a creative team who lived and worked in the city, and ripped off Raymond Chandler all the time. The next most successful was Hawaiian Eye, my favourite of these turkeys because it features a very young Robert Conrad as a proto Thomas Magnum. It, too, rips off Raymond Chandler, but also throws in some James A. Michener. Surfside 6 was the final instalment, taking place in Miami, having a truly obnoxious theme song – like if the judge asks you why you murdered someone, say they kept singing Surfside 6 and you’ll go free – and mixing the required ripping off of Raymond Chandler with teen beach movies. It does not work, but it was popular because of Troy Donahue and Van Williams, which is a legit reason to watch a show.
Bourbon Street Beat happened at the beginning of all of this and failed the hardest, despite having arguably the best cast. This cast nudges it just past Surfside 6 in terms of actual quality, but that’s not hard. Your kid’s school play is better than Surfside 6. It stars Andrew Duggan – who would later become Murdock Lancer and was also in every show ever – as Cal Calhoun, part owner of a detective agency he shares with Rex Randolph (should have been named Rex Rexford, imo) played by Richard Long. Depending on your tastes, he’s either Jarrod Barkley to you, Professor Harold Everett, or the guy from Cult of the Cobra.
Cal and Rex took turns solving mysteries, and this episode is one where Rex actually stays in New Orleans and does stuff there. Another quirk of Bourbon Street Beat was that the show absolutely hated having the guys in the city of New Orleans. Somebody in some production meeting was probably like: “Pick American places that have super defined cultures!” And somebody else did what people always do and went: “Hawaii! New Orleans! Miami! Alaska! Texas!” But Alaska was just becoming a state and people had lots of controversial feelings, and there were no opportunities to show beautiful people in swimwear. And Texas? We’re not making a western, this is about modern detectives!
As mentioned, L.A. writes itself. Literally and on many levels. Meanwhile, Miami is divided into two types of culture, and one of those types is and always has been pretty easy for TV to handle: rich white people murdering each other and frequenting the nightlife. Hawaii is the same, where you just have a bunch of haoles in pineapple shirts killing their ex-lovers in beachside hotels, and pretend there’s nothing else going on. New Orleans, though? Even the rich white people are different! And you can’t portray any of the unique cultural institutions without including actual black people! Non-butler black people! That’s a nightmare for lazy 1950’s writers, and the solution was to make everyone leave that stupid French-speaking melting pot.
When the fellas do get to stay in town, they mix their Raymond Chandler with Tennessee Williams, and it’s not a good idea. Chocolate is great and so is sushi, but don’t dip your sushi in chocolate. They also like to blatantly rip off old movies, like White Heat and The Bribe. (The movie we’re ripping off today is part of the lame and baffling twist ending, so I can’t tell you what it is.)
Ready to start?
What do you mean “No, this sounds awful”?! It’s going to be fun!
We begin with Cal and Rex standing on a floor painted to look like a cobblestone road, but ridiculously huge cobblestones. Like if the Flinstones went to Belgium. They’re outside their offices, which are situated above The Old Absinthe House, because nothing says trustworthy and discreet like a close proximity to absinthe! Cal is all: “Hang out with me!” and Rex is like: “Nah. You’re more of a work friend than a friend friend.”
Cal, who is gigantic, is wearing a crumply white suit and a Big Daddy hat to emphasize that they are in New Orleans. It looks silly, and bears mentioning as the costuming shorthand is only going to get worse. He insists on making his partner eat food and have a conversation, and he offers to pay for the food and do all the talking. That’s a sweet deal anyone would be a fool to pass up.
They go to the least jazzy nightclub of all time, with white table linens and a formal big band stand, while jazzy music is produced by… someone? None of the musicians are playing. And it’s a trumpet solo, but nobody is holding a trumpet? It’s probably a voodoo trumpet, those are things they have there. Anyway, Rex tells the waiter he wants a Gibson, very dry, hold the onion. Bartenders roll their eyes, knowing that what Rex has actually asked for is a gin martini and no longer a Gibson at all. He then proceeds to order the hell out of the menu, including a mushroom soufflé, grapefruit aspic, and other stuff that sounds fancy and gross. Cal is not amused by Rex ordering a nine course meal, but kind of gives up and tells the waiter he’ll have the same thing. Even the not-Gibson.
Baron, a piano player who started playing while Rex was ordering his crazy feast and finished right after, tells Rex that somebody has been looking for him and points at a table across the room. A man is sitting with a heavily made up Southern belle. Rex recognizes the man as Harry Evans, a small time musician who he’s known for many years. Apparently, Harry, despite knowing Rex, has been asking around nightclubs for him, instead of going to the office with his name on the sign? Baron discreetly implies that Harry is about to hit Rex up for money.
Baron is played by Eddie Cole, brother of Nat “King” Cole. His character is basically Sam from Casablanca, which was kind of a default role for black actors at the time.
Over at his table, Harry notices Rex and Cal and Baron all gossiping about him like girls in middle school. But instead of being at all concerned about that, he jumps up like a puppy at the cookie factory. Rex is here, with his inherited money and his lack of knowledge about drinks! Harry tells his date, Rose, that he’ll be back in a minute and then they can “go home.” 1950’s code for doing the do. She giggles coyly, heavily applying perfume behind her ears, and telling him that she’ll think about it.
As Harry straightens himself out and prepares to meet the gravy train at the station, a dude at the bar watches ominously. He and Rose toast one another behind Harry’s back. Rose is wearing a sequin dress, feather boa, and dangle earrings because she is a vamp and that is how vamps dress. The mystery man she’s conspiring with is nebulously foreign, going off of the mascara he’s got on.
“Rex Randolph!” Harry enthuses, “How are you? Man, you look like a million bucks!” Speaking of a million bucks, that is how much I need, or they’ll cut off my thumbs! A drummer needs his thumbs, Rex! You can’t hold sticks without thumbs!
Rex introduces Cal, and Harry is just like: “He needs to leave.”
Cal pretends to not find this awkward or offensive and takes his Gibson, served in a cocktail glass because it’s not a Gibson, and wanders off to meet people. I kind of wish we were going with him. Cal’s adventures are better than Rex’s, but Rex’s are easier to find bootlegs of. Sigh.
“Ah, remember when we were kids, Rex? We used to wonder when we’d get it made, and how, and if?” Harry chuckles nervously.
Seems as good a time as any to point out that Rex Randolph is of the New Orleans Randolphs, who are rich, rich, rich. These questions Harry is talking about? Rex never asked them. It was more like: “Which of the two autumn townhouses should I keep my bags of gold in this year?” Also, no, Randolph is not a very Old New Orleans sounding name, but we’ve established that they’re not even trying, so let’s all let that one go.
Turns out Harry doesn’t have it made, he needs dough. (Act surprised for his dignity’s sake.) One thousand dollars, and he swears he’ll pay Rex back next week, he’s got a gig with a new trio, and musicians are always paid promptly! Especially in a town full of musicians!
Rex is all: “I’m not Mr. Monopoly, Harry, I don’t carry around thousand dollar bills in my pants.”
Harry understands that, but surely Rex can get a thousand dollars very quickly. And he needs it. Badly. Tonight. It has nothing to do with drugs, but of course it does, how can it not? Rex asks Harry why he needs the money, without actually asking if it’s for drugs, and Harry says: “That’s my business.”
Rex, rightfully, is like: “Nobody is going to give you one thousand dollars just because you want it. Be real.”
Harry is a gracious loser and apologizes for dragging Rex into the whole sordid mess. Thanks for listening, Rex. He doesn’t even make up a story about an orphan needing a heart transplant or anything. Just gets up, dusts himself off, and leaves.
Huh. Usually, musicians with mysterious secret problems are better at squeezing their friends for cash. Maybe it’s not drugs…
With Harry gone, Rex and Baron can go back to talking about him behind his back. Baron is all: “Did he ask for money? Was it an insanely specific number like eighty hundred fifty-six dollars and thirteen cents? Or did he just round up?”
Rex asks Baron for the full scoop on Harry’s problems, but all Baron knows is that it’s something to do with gambling, a woman, and a boat. Gambling was actually a favored substitute for other life-destroying addictions because actors could still look beautiful while things spiralled out of control. The boat is an unknown at the moment, but the woman is Rose.
Rex takes a good look at her as she stands up across the room and takes Harry’s arm. He asks Baron for her last name.
“Just Rose, I think. Don’t know if she’s got a last name.”
Mysterious! I certainly hope we don’t have to track her down later with just the one name to go on!
At the end of the evening, Cal and Rex leave the restaurant with Cal talking about all the crazy things he ate, when all he really wanted was grits and molasses. Why did you let Rex pick the restaurant?! This was before people were taught the evils of peer pressure and spending your money on rich people. Did they inherit three million dollars? Then they can buy dinner for everybody.
Anyway, Cal is like: “Now that you’re done dining like the last of the French kings, can we talk about something important to me?”
And Rex is all: “I don’t want to. See you in the morning. At your desk. Working silently.”
A+ friendship tonight, Rex. Letting Harry wander into the waiting bat of a leg-breaker, and eating all of Cal’s money and blowing him off. Really great. They should give you awards.
Later that same night, it looks like Rex has decided he was, in fact, a huge jerk. He heads over to Harry’s apartment, where Harry is obviously dead. Like, super obviously. Rex knocks, gets no answer, lets himself in to the darkened room lit only by a flashing neon sign from across the street, sees Harry slumped lifelessly in an armchair and is like: “Hey Harry! Taking one of your eyes-open, bleeding-from-the-corner-of-your-mouth naps, huh? Classic. Look, I’ve decided to give you the money… Harry? Did you hear what I said? Harry? Har—oh my god! You’re dead!”
Should be noted, as well, Harry’s hand is clenched around a revolver this whole time. Like it’s visibly in his hand, on his lap.
Rex is a professional detective.
It’s his actual paid job to notice details.
Just throwing that out there.
The next morning, the front headline reads: “Jazz Musician In Mystery Suicide!” And it looks like the props department had lots of fun with this newspaper, because other headlines read: “Brussel Sprout Turns Out To Be Spinach,” “Courts Adjourns Without Reason,” “Building Code Under Fire,” and “Kennel To Close Due To Lack Of Dogs.”
They didn’t know that in the future we would want to watch this show, and also would be able to pause it. But, hey, people of the past, I saw your joke headlines and enjoyed them!
Rex is the owner of this awesome paper full of amazing stories about nothing, and he’s sitting at his desk, smoking a cigarette very angrily, saying that he doesn’t believe it was suicide.
Cal – who ordinarily might be sympathetic, but is still kind of pissed about the dinner bill – tells him to let it go. The police decided on suicide, and why question the police? They’re not going to reopen an investigation that they might not be able to close again, that would hurt their conviction rates, and conviction rates are everything.
“He was in a lot of trouble, but he just wasn’t the kind of guy to kill himself. He was desperate for a thousand dollars, and I wouldn’t let him have it. If I had, this probably wouldn’t have happened.”
Eh. Why live like that, Rex?
He’s not letting this one go, of course. Though that would be a hilarious thing to do, create like a super suspenseful and mysterious suicide, then have your private eye decide to give up and spend the rest of the episode trailing an adulterer and eating sandwiches.
Apparently, Rex feels he owes Harry a thousand dollars of work. According to Have Gun – Will Travel, that gives Harry three days of Rex’s time and a completely balanced set of moral scales. I don’t think Rex is much of a scale balancer, so let’s go with four weeks of floundering around in some clues. Seems even.
Cal is like: “Whatever. Do you have any leads? At all?”
Rex says that there was a woman in the apartment before him, and whoever she was, she wore a distinctive perfume.
Rex, it was Rose. You saw her the other night? Physically with Harry, just before the murder? Soaking herself in Magnolia Murderess by Givenchy? In front of everybody at the restaurant?
Melody calls in from the front office, while Kenny loiters around watering her plants. Melody is their receptionist and a very useful fake wife, and Kenny is Van Williams who will later go on to play this exact character on Surfside 6 because why not? Anyway, Baron is on the phone for Rex, and Cal also has a phone call. From a very important person who is very busy and must be spoken to right away, so Cal has to leave for this scene and the next.
Rex picks up his extension and asks Baron what “the chatter” is, because Rex knows the lingo. He is embroiled in the underworld, like a mongoose that has a cobra wrapped around it; but the mongoose is going to break that cobra’s back. What I’m saying here is that Rex sounds ridiculous when he’s trying to talk like he’s hardboiled.
Baron’s like: “Everybody’s pretty sure Harry killed himself. Nobody is making this a thing but you.”
Okay, sure. But what of Rose?
Nobody knows anything about Rose, and Baron hasn’t been asking because he doesn’t really care.
With Cal and Baron firmly in the camp of letting this one go, Rex has to ask for Kenny’s help. He tells Melody to send the boy in.
But Kenny would rather hit on Melody. Melody brushes him off, and sends him into the main office. Melody, by the way, is the only member of the regular cast who was actually from Louisiana and her accent is the most authentic thing on the show. Melody’s the best one, she should’ve been solving the mysteries.
Anyway, Kenny breezes in to see Rex and is all: “What did you need? Do I got to go get more pickled onions for you to leave out of your Gibsons?”
Rex says it’s a legwork assignment.
Oh, good! Kenny is amazing at loitering around places and looking like he’s kind of waiting for somebody specific to show up. He’ll be great at this!
“I want you to go to every bar, saloon, cocktail longue and gin palace around here.”
Now we’re in trouble. Kenny’ll probably get drunk because he’ll think he has to order a drink at each place in order to “blend in.” And then he’ll be distracted by cougary barflies who’ll prey on his blue eyed innocence. He might never come home. It’s going to be like The Odyssey, but with dives and nightclubs instead of islands.
On this epic quest, he’s supposed to look for information on Rose, a woman with no last name, a fairly common first name, and a huge secret related to a recent murder. I bet when Rex invites people over to dinner, he makes them do the cooking while he sets the table.
“I’ll do my best,” Kenny says, all earnest and bright, “I’m off to visit a few dens of iniquity!”
Stay gold, Kenny. For god’s sake, stay gold.
Meanwhile, Cal decides to come back with a helpful lead. Despite not caring about whether this was suicide or not, he’s been on the phone with the police. The gun Harry used to shoot himself was registered to a man named Michael Dumont.
Not the Michael Dumont?! Of the New Orleans Dumonts?! Why, Michael Dumont used to throw outstandingly lavish parties, and of course he always invited the Randolphs! To not invite them would be social suicide! They were never close friends, but a Dumont party was always a fondly remembered occasion. To be invited to his Christmas Gala was as good as being knighted. My god. Michael Dumont. What on earth would he have to do with something like this?
He reported the gun had been stolen. Cal thinks that’s baloney, but it doesn’t matter because Rex is lost in a haze of nostalgia.
He’s remembering all the stories his mother would tell him about tinkling chandeliers, dancing fountains in gardens lit with white lanterns, and footmen bringing champagne. He might have gotten this mixed up with the time he saw Cinderella. Was there a Duke with a monocle, Rex? Did some mice get transformed into horses and drive your mother to the party?
Just to be certain about the gun, and to go see the dancing fountains, Rex heads over to the Dumont house.
It’s a huge letdown.
I mean, he seems enchanted, but it’s a huge letdown. There’s one fountain. One. And it’s not dancing, it’s got a tacky cherub pouring a trickle out of an urn. The house itself is big, but has no character. It’s hardly the winter palace Rex described to us.
He knocks on the door, and an older woman answers. She says that Mr. Dumont hasn’t been well, and is not in the habit of receiving visitors.
Rex is all: “I’m Rex Randolph. Of the Randolphs. Mumsy and Daddums used to love the parties here…”
Surprisingly, this works. Turns out, this is Michael Dumont’s second wife, and yes, she opened her own front door. Maybe they don’t have staff anymore because they burned all of their money on Gatsby style Christmas Galas. Anyway, Rex gets in the house by making puppy eyes and being rich.
“I’m sure Michael would love to see you!” Mrs. Dumont coos, “There are so few of the old families left!”
Let’s not try to figure out what she meant by that, because it’s probably horrible and likely racist.
Rex has a brief snoop while he’s waiting and discovers two things. First, the house is full of dead butterflies. The kind that are collected and trapped under glass. It’s the major form of artwork, and it’s overwhelmingly creepy. And the second thing?
Or at least a young woman played by the same actress.
She has her head down, dutifully pinning butterfly corpses to boards as is her usual chore, and gasps when she notices Rex. He introduces himself, and she says her name is Evelyn Dumont. Evelyn has gone to the Scarlet O’Hara school of fake Southern accents, but at least she’s trying. She’s wearing a buttoned-up white crepe shirt that you can see her bra through, like really clearly. I think this is supposed to tell us that she’s a proper young lady with an innocent undercurrent of undiscovered sexuality? It doesn’t matter, because it’s a 1950’s bra, which means it looks more like a medical device than lingerie, and it mostly makes me think she needs to be told about camisoles.
Rex is like: “Oh yeah, my mother told me there was a baby girl! That must’ve been you! My parents used to go to parties here, it was nice for them to get out of our big, ostentatious house and go to somebody else’s big, ostentatious house.”
“That must’ve been a long time ago. I can’t remember a party here since… well, ever!”
Rex looks sad.
“That’s a shame,” he says, “parties were invented for girls like you.”
Oh, Rex. That was such a weird non-compliment, and now she’s in love with you. You’re a detective, man! You should be trying to find out why the parties stopped, and if her father ever hired musicians for other kinds of occasions! And also asking her if she knew Harry Evans, and if she is Rose or not!
Anyway, Evelyn is now making big, star-filled eyes at this handsome chain-smoking stranger who suddenly appeared.
Rex picks up one of the pinned butterflies and asks about it.
It’s a Tiger Moth, she tells him. An excellent specimen, and her father’s prized possession.
I don’t know anything about butterflies or moths, so I went to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (excellent for the briefest lowdowns) and found out that Tiger Moths are pretty common, come in a bunch of different kinds, and are the most frustrating caterpillars ever because they weave huge webs over everything and suffocate plants.
I couldn’t find any quick and dirty information on how lepidopterology has changed in the last sixty years, but modern moth specimens, no matter how nicely preserved, aren’t worth a hell of a lot. So what’s the big deal? Why a Tiger Moth and why is it the name of the episode?
Well, Rex isn’t really holding a moth. He’s holding a symbol. A clunky, awkward symbol. It will become really, horribly obvious later on. He’ll hit us over the head with this stupid moth, and it will have all of the impact of somebody hitting you with a moth.
Back to business:
Evelyn asks if Rex has come to see her father. No, Evelyn, he’s a fallen scion who just wanders into houses, makes polite conversation and moves on, like the Old South version of Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer.
Rex is not as sarcastic as I am and just says yes.
“Are you a collector, too? Of Lepidoptera?”
Rex doesn’t know that means butterflies, and is all: “What? Where would I even keep a leopard?!”
Evelyn then tells us that the butterflies are her father’s only friends and constant companions.
The dead butterflies.
That he sticks pins in and displays all over his walls.
After he has caught them, and slowly poisoned them in glass jars.
Rex, I think we should hand this one off to Will Graham now…
Before anybody can run like hell and hide in the car, Michael Dumont himself makes an appearance. He’s imposing, like a Raymond Chandler villain. Just like a Raymond Chandler villain. He also doesn’t appear to be too ill to take visitors at all. He looks in perfect health. (I know, I know, he could have fibromyalgia or MS or something and you can’t tell by looking, but this is a ham-fisted show from 1958 – you can tell everything by looking.) Also, he’s dressed like Colonel Sanders at a funeral.
“My wife tells me you’re the son of Helen and Willard Randolph? I didn’t know them well, but they were charming. We need more of their kind today.”
This house is disturbing and these people are weird, Rex, it’s time to go. Harry committed suicide, why would the newspaper lie? Case closed!
Michael Dumont asks if Rex collects butterflies, and he says he had a small collection of dead bugs when he was a kid, but since then all of the butterflies he’s chased have gotten away. Dumont replies that the ones worth catching often do, while the camera lingers on Evelyn.
That’s right, our major symbol is The Butterfly Represents Womanhood. I hope you like that musty old chestnut, cuz we’re going to have to chew on it for the rest of this episode. And not even just sometimes in the background, it’s a major thing now.
The Tiger Moth is a strange species, it flies by day as well as night, Dumont tells us, and changes colour according to the season. Ignore his information and remember mine: builds horrific spider web-like structures that destroy life, not a tiger at all, kind of a pain in the ass as moths go.
Rex and Dumont make their way into the study, so that Rex can ask about the gun discreetly.
The questioning does not go well. Dumont basically repeats everything he told the police, and asks Rex why he cares. Rex explains that he was friends with Harry and is also a private investigator.
“You? Willard Randolph’s son?” Dumont sighs, “Don’t explain. I don’t understand people anymore.”
Being real, just for a second, people were probably never what this guy thought they were. Because if you don’t see why the only son of a wealthy family would pour a bunch of money into a trendy job like private investigator, you don’t get human behaviour. Rex here is not some kind of ultra-modern anomaly.
“I don’t understand today’s world. I’m not sure I care to understand it," Dumont says.
Rex argues that that’s a terrible viewpoint, and it's probably hurting Evelyn. I do not know why he cares, Evelyn was not that cool. But whatever. Dumont gets offended and kicks Rex out, avoiding eye contact and saying: “You’ll excuse me, if I do not see you to the door.”
Ouch. That would have been such a burn in Victorian times. Rex might have been really insulted if this story was happening seventy years earlier.
“Do you know a woman named Rose, Mr. Dumont?” Rex asks, all fired up like maybe that whole no eye contact thing actually did hurt his feelings.
“Rose? Rose who?”
A woman who looks exactly like Rose is sitting in the living room right now. Are we… not supposed to know that? Or is this some kind of cat and mouse thing I don’t understand?
“I don’t know her last name. I thought you might.” Rex says, simmering with something less than rage. Annoyance, it looks like. He’s simmering with annoyance.
Dumont kicks him out again, and this time it works. As he leaves, Rex sees Evelyn watching him from the front window. Evelyn – the woman who looks exactly like Rose. How come nobody is mentioning this? And by nobody, I mean Rex. Does Rex not know? That’s preposterous! He’s not Mike Longstreet, he can see faces!
Back at the office, Rex whips up some margaritas in his awesome new blender. Mid-budget shows that took place in modern times were obligated to show off kitchen appliances, because appliance companies were often major sponsors. So, yeah, whole sequence devoted to homemade margaritas.
Rex hands one to Cal, and Cal is all: “Blenders are amazing! Truly this is a gilded age!”
Once all that's done, Rex is like: “I’m certain Dumont knows Rose.”
(He leaves out the part where ROSE WAS SITTING IN THE LIVING ROOM.)
Rex says that the Dumont house is weird, but doesn’t accurately express why it was weird. He says everybody is living in the past, especially the girl. Damn it, Rex, were you even at the same house as the rest of us? Dead. Butterflies. Everywhere.
“You should have seen her,” Rex shakes his head.
“I wish I had,” Cal wiggles his eyebrows. (Meh. She was kind of like a haunted doll, Cal, you didn’t miss anything good.)
“She was lovely, in a way. As delicate as the moths and butterflies she was working on.”
Thanks, Rex. Nobody would have got that without your help.
Cal chugs his margarita out of a juice glass, for real, while he tells Rex that other than the gun, there’s nothing to connect the Dumonts to Harry Evens. And no evidence that Harry was murdered. I’m with Cal; let’s give up on this mystery and spend the rest of the episode making stuff with the blender. It can be like a Magic Bullet infomercial with a New Orleans twist!
Rex does not say that Evelyn is identical to Rose. He’s just all: “This is a tough case.”
The phone rings.
It’s Kenny! And he’s still alive!
Where are you, Kenny? Don’t trust the strangers! Look for the numbers on the houses!
He’s found Rose’s trail. Apparently, she’s been seen all over town at places like “The Stuck Pig” and “The Purple Grotto.”
(Wait. The Odyssey joke came true?!)
Also, he drank water in booze glasses while he asked around, so he wouldn’t get drunk. Bright lad sometimes. He found out that Rose’s last name is Fleming. Wow, Kenny. You accomplished like twice as much as Rex did, and Rex actually found Rose, he just doesn’t realize it because her hair was pulled back and she was wearing a different outfit.
Rose Fleming isn’t in the phone book, Kenny adds, because he looked her up right before he called.
Rex celebrates these new leads by refreshing everybody’s margarita tumblers and giving Kenny the rest of the day off.
Go back to Ithaca, Ken.
Later that evening, Baron phones Rex at home. Rose just rolled in with a bad customer named Roy Le Grande, so Rex better get down there quick.
I suspect that Baron, Cal, and Kenny are all turning in prompt work mostly because they want this to be over. Nobody is making any money. Rex is paying himself with a thousand dollars he was keeping anyway. This madness has to end.
Rex throws on a tie and jacket, and shows up at the restaurant where Baron is at the piano and nodding super indiscreetly at a couple sitting in the corner. The man has his back to the door, so he’s pretty confident nobody wants to murder him, and that’s nice. Good for him. Across from him is Rose – who remains Evelyn with a different hair style.
Am I seriously the only person seeing this?
Rose is her usual, giggling, vampy self. Oozing a cartoonish style of seduction, dripping with fake diamonds, and smothered in her signature scent.
“Roy, honey, I always wanted a panda bear. The cigarette girl sells panda bears. Get me a panda bear, please?”
I’m going to go out on a limb and say she’s not talking about actual pandas. Although, that’s a hell of a thing to ask a man for to prove his devotion. “Baby, if you really love me, you’d smuggle me an endangered animal, but not a little one like a volcano rabbit; it has to be big, like a giant panda or a water buffalo. I’ll just die if I don’t have a water buffalo.”
Roy, it turns out, is the mascara wearing mystery man from the last night of Harry’s life.
He asks what he’ll get in return for the panda, and Rose says that maybe “Christmas will come early.”
She’s talking about sex, in case you were confused.
“Hold on,” you say? “The last time we saw Rose, wasn’t she also noncommittally offering a man sex?”
You’re a good detective, reader.
Way better than Rex, that’s for sure.
Because Rex slips into the chair across from Rose, while Roy is off robbing the zoo, and he isn’t like: “Evelyn?! What the hell?! Why are you dressed like a sexy Halloween version of Phyllis Diller?” Which is exactly what a normal person would ask in this situation.
“You’ve got as long as it takes for a man to buy a panda bear,” Rose warns him.
First of all, she can stop saying panda bear now. Second of all, if you’re not talking about stuffed toys, that’s a seriously long amount of time. She needs to be specific.
Finally – FINALLY – Rex notices that there’s something familiar about Rose. He watches her slather on more of her perfume (ew), and begins to see a resemblance to a young lady he met earlier. It turns out Rex is the kind of person who never asks why people can’t tell Clark Kent is Superman, because he doesn’t even try to be all: “Cut the crap, Evelyn, I’ve got working eyeballs.”
What he does do is ask her if she knows Michael Dumont.
What? Why is this his approach? Sometimes, Rex Randolph baffles me.
Rose says she doesn’t know Dumont, and she doesn’t know Rex. But Rex seems to know her. How come?
He saw her with Harry Evans. And he knows she was with him before he died.
“With him? What do you mean with him?” She asks.
“You were in his apartment.”
Aha! Hit a nerve with that! Rose snarls that Rex is a liar, and she wasn’t anywhere near that place, and Rex’s saying so doesn’t make it so.
Rex looks at the perfume bottle in her hand, and is all: “Magnolia Murderess, that’s a rare, expensive, and uniquely stinky perfume. I smelled it at Harry’s – when I found his body!”
Then things get extra awkward for everybody. Seeing Roy on his way back from the cigarette girl with a toy koala, because these people don’t know jack about bears I guess, Rose starts yelling at Rex that she’s disgusted at his improper suggestions. She tells Roy that Rex sat down at her table, totally without introduction, and started saying horribly filthy things.
Roy is like: “Is that true?”
And Rex is like: “Of course not!”
I bet the first thing a pervert would do is deny being a pervert! Call the cops on this sicko!
“Look, I’m trying to find out about Harry Evans—”
“Rose was never Harry’s girl!” Roy declares, while Rose smirks on in triumph, “He might have thought she was, and he tried to get her to be, but she was never his girl.”
He hands Rose her koala, throws some money on the table, and tells Rose they’re leaving.
Natch, Rex follows them.
Once everybody is safely outside, he asks if Roy knew Rose was going to Harry’s apartment, maybe Roy was stalking them and saw something he didn’t like. Maybe this whole thing was a badger game gone wrong.
Roy punches him in the face.
Rose is so delighted, she says she’ll name her bear Roy. “That’s a good name for a panda bear!”
Pandas are black and white with sad eyes. The bear you have is grey with an oval nose and fluffy ears. Seriously, Rose. Babies know the difference.
So now the segment where everyone’s name begins with R is over, and I’m very relieved to not get my fingers twisted up in the Roys, Roses and Rexes anymore.
Unfortunately, that whole getting punched in the face thing was no picnic for New Orleans’s worst detective. He heads up to his office, which is actually part of his apartment, I forgot to say that earlier. You go upstairs from the Absinthe House and hit the exterior office, where Melody’s desk and Kenny’s… place to stand are. Kenny has no desk. Then you go through to the main office area where you can find Cal’s office, Rex’s desk in the open area, and a staircase that leads up to Rex’s apartment. It’s all very confusing and not like a real building in the slightest.
Melody has turned up for work the next day, only to find the boss trying to put his jaw back in its socket. She’s brewing coffee while he fills a new ice bag. Cal, turns out, is leaning against the radiator, and he thinks it’s hilarious that Rex got punched in the face so hard by a dude in mascara. I think it’s safe to say we all agree.
“You should stop picking fights with delinquents,” Cal advises between laughs.
“I wasn’t picking fights, I was picking alibis.”
Make sense with your words, Rex. You don’t have your looks to bank on until the swelling goes down.
Cal asks if the working theory is that Roy killed Harry out of jealousy, and Rex says that would be the simplest solution. By which he means the most easily guessed by the audience, making it the least likely solution. Except a good chunk of you familiar with Raymond Chandler novels and Joanne Woodward films have already figured out the end, but still. Rex has to do his own homework.
“And this Rose,” Cal asks, “what does she look like?”
Evelyn. She looks like Evelyn. Rex will not say this, of course.
“Yes, what did she have on?” Melody asks. I guess she heard through the grapevine that Rose dresses like a Carol Burnett sketch about a brothel madam.
“Well, she was basically a beautiful woman,” Rex tells them. “Too much lipstick, too much perfume, but basically a beautiful woman.”
If you scrape off the caricature of sensuality, you might get somebody who looks like Evelyn Dumont.
“What did she have on?” Melody repeats.
“I didn’t notice.” Rex shakes his head, sipping his coffee.
“You didn’t notice?! The most important thing, and you didn’t notice? If I were there, I would have noticed…”
I think they’re trying to make this a joke about how fashion obsessed women are, but Melody is bang on. First of all, as mentioned before, it is Rex’s actual job to notice things, especially details. Second, the over-the-top gowns look more costume than genuine, which is a pretty important clue.
The doorbell rings, and Rex tries to make Melody go answer it before she can further point out how unobservant he’s been. Lucky for us, Cal offers to do it.
“Did you at least notice the colour?” Melody asks, “Was it black or red or what?”
“I didn’t notice.” Rex clears his throat and, basically, runs away.
“He didn’t notice…” Melody shakes her head, like she can’t believe a detective would purposefully ignore something like a person’s style of dress.
When she finds out that he met two women with the exact same face and didn’t think it was a big deal, she is going to flip out on him.
“I bet it was red. She sounds like the red dress type. You know, with the dangle earrings. I bet she had on a rhinestone anklet.”
Cal opens the connecting door and announces that Evelyn Dumont is here to see Rex. Evelyn steps through in a thin white dress and gloves, with a straw hat in her hands. Innocent Southern girl of a long, sweet summer. Very different from Rose and her dangle earrings and rhinestones.
Evelyn says she was in the area shopping for antiques and saw the sign, so she decided to pop in. Cal tells Melody that they’re going to give the other two some privacy, but Melody is all: “No, I want to watch this car crash as it happens!”
Once Cal finally talks her into leaving, Evelyn right away confesses that there was no antique shopping. She also seems to have no idea what might have happened to Rex’s face to require use of an ice bag. Evelyn has come specifically just to see him, to tell him something important.
Rose is her sister.
“Well, that certainly explains the resemblance!” Rex says, a little surprised.
“I’m sorry. It’s been such a nightmare. Year after year, after year. We don’t hear from her in months, then… something like this… your friend Mr. Evans, the police coming to talk to father. You can’t understand how hard it is for him.”
Evelyn theorizes that Rose came to the house while everyone was away and took the gun. She gave it to Harry, and Harry killed himself. It’s been a year since she last saw Rose, but she feels like the family is never free from her and her sudden arrivals with horrible men.
Hey! Harry was a friend of ours!
Apparently, even as a child Rose was all bad and no good. But Evelyn can’t believe she’d kill someone. She bursts into tears at the thought, and Rex holds her, just to keep leading her on, I guess.
Then she cries some more and declares that she hates Rose for everything Rose has done to their father, and Rex kind of hits on her? It’s like he’s trying to be sweet and encouraging, but he doesn’t quite know how to do that, and he’s giving off some seriously flirty signals, but they seem to be genuinely accidental. It’s a total disaster.
Commercial break and a time skip!
Kenny has been searching for details at the Hall of Records. He calls them in to Rex. Two girls, two years apart, were born to Michael and Amy Dumont. One called Rose, one called Evelyn.
I can see where the impulse to give Kenny his own show came from. He gets stuff done when he puts his mind to it.
Now that Evelyn’s story is verified, Rex can take her to lunch! Is it a date? Evelyn says absolutely, Rex says: “Like a luncheon date? Technically, yes.”
Apparently, it’s been a lovely day, and Evelyn doesn’t want it to end, but she has to sneak home and never speak of this because she hasn’t told her father she’s been seeing Rex. He expects you to do better than a Randolph? That’s bananas! They’re one of the last Old Families, which I think in New Orleans means that you have vampire blood in you.
Have to say, though, Evelyn’s delicate fake accent is starting to seriously grate. Everything is breathy and nervous but hopeful and phony. She asks if Rex is still looking for Rose, and Rex says yes. She doesn’t understand why, she knows in her heart Rose didn’t kill anyone, and Rex is just inconveniencing everyone by dragging this out. Won’t he stop looking for Rose?
He tells her they can talk about it tomorrow.
They’ve got a secret meeting place they’ve been bumping in to each other, and she says she’ll see him there if she can get away.
Except the next day, she doesn’t show up.
I guess that means we can all stop doing this now and move on to another case? Harry is dead and nothing can bring him back, Evelyn has faded from our lives and—oh, no, Rex is muscling into the Dumont house demanding to see Evelyn.
Looks like he was more serious about dating her than I thought. Dude, she’s nuts and annoying and weird and her greatest skill is mounting dead bugs on paper. Pick somebody else.
Mrs. Dumont tries to tell Rex to GTFO, and that’s advice he should take because the butterfly house scares me and I don’t want to go back inside.
Luckily, she manages to stun him with the revelation that they’re selling the house and moving away and taking Evelyn.
“Don’t try to follow us, Mr. Randolph.” Mrs. Dumont pleads, stern but with tears of exhaustion glimmering in her eyes, “Don’t try to follow us.”
This takes Rex aback enough for him to get pushed out onto the porch and have the door slammed in his face.
Let’s go see Kenny. He’s beautiful and doing good work this week, and I’m sick to death of the freaky Dumonts and their Gothic house of secrets and lies.
Kenny reports that he’s been cruising Rose’s haunts, coming up with nothing about the phantom lady. But, he has found Roy; he sings at the Purple Grotto. He’s also learned that Roy has been Cajun this whole time, which is not what I would have guessed from his clothes and accent and appearance and general attitude towards things. Rex thanks him, and Kenny goes back to studying his law books. Kenny is getting a law degree because he thinks that’s an asset to a private investigator, and that law in itself is an over-saturated field.
(If you’re thinking that we should watch the Kenny show, even if it has an annoying song and I claim that it sucks, I will warn you that his character is different by the time he gets there. And we have to put up with beach bunnies and spicy Latinas and Troy Donahue.)
Rex goes to confront Roy, and Roy is startled to find him lurking under a lone street light. I don’t know why Roy would ever be nervous of Rex, the last time they tangled it was pretty obvious who won. With one punch.
Roy is like: “Don’t come any closer, or I’ll punch you!”
Rex tells him he just wants Rose’s address. Roy, surprisingly, agrees to give it to him.
“She did it to me like she did it to all the rest of them,” he says, all disbelieving and distracted. “Me.”
“Uh… the address, please?” Rex asks.
I think you might be getting a motive for the killing right now, Rex. Why don’t you shut up and let the man talk?
But the damage is done. Roy dryly rattles off a street and apartment number, and Rex punches him in the face. To even the score.
Rex, you may have figured out, is a terrible detective. He’s awful. Just awful.
Rose’s apartment is shadow cloaked and empty, so Rex breaks in because how can that be illegal or a bad idea?
First he looks around with his flashlight, then he switches on the lamps.
It’s obvious Rose is a Dumont because her apartment looks like it belongs to a serial killer. It’s full of antique dolls in satin dresses, empty bottles of vermouth, and broken crystals in puddles of perfume. Magnolia Murderess, of course. Evening gowns are strewn over a changing screen, and a makeup table is covered in gaudy accessories, lipstick tubes, and a photograph of a guy we haven’t met.
While Rex is pocketing the photo, Michael Dumont appears behind him. And he’s got a gun.
“Well Mr. Randolph, we meet again.”
He tells Rex that the time has come to let this whole thing go, like every single person in his life has been telling him to do. Rex says no, and looks at the gun.
“The police will never believe I committed suicide.”
“Randolph was way too in love with himself to ever do anything to hurt himself,” the police would say. “This doesn’t add up.”
Dumont catches the implication that he was the one who murdered Harry, and is like: “Wow. You are really wrong. I thought you knew stuff, but you don’t, so…. Man, this is awkward, right? Uh, sorry about the gun. You’re really not close to solving this. Okay, give up. Give up. Bye. Give up.”
But Rex Randolph never gives up, even if it’s reasonable. Even if everyone, including the audience, does not care what he’s doing and wishes he would do something else. Rex does not quit.
The next morning, everyone in the office is being regaled with the story of Rose’s apartment, Roy getting punched on the nose like a shark, and old man Dumont holding our hero at gunpoint.
None of them care. Melody is seriously doing her nails, and Kenny is trying to figure out what sorcery makes the blender work.
Rex tells them that Michael Dumont is insane, obsessive and weird. Everybody figured this out when they heard about the butterfly house, but whatevs.
“I kind of feel sorry for him.” Melody decides, with her flawless instincts.
“It’s Evelyn I feel sorry for, tied to him by pity.” Rex says she’s trapped in that house, smothered, like a butterfly behind glass. A helpless symbol, trapped in a metaphor, wrapped in a cliché.
“What can you do?” Cal drawls, looking very much done with the Evelyn thing. “Are you going to bust down the gates and save the princess with your four-wheel steed?”
Rex says that he can’t turn away from someone who needs help, and Cal notes that he turned away from Harry Evans a lot faster than he’s turning away from Evelyn Dumont.
That was too real, Cal.
Quick, somebody! Break the tension!
“The police identified that photo you gave me,” Kenny announces, handing the picture Rex stole from Rose’s apartment back to him. “They knew it right off. Bill Jennings. He was a gardener for the Dumonts, fired about five years ago. Couple of months later, he either jumped or fell from his rooming house window.”
“And died?” Rex asks.
“Sure did! The police finally labelled it a suicide!”
Kenny, I know you like to contribute, but try to seem less enthusiastic about dead people.
Rex decides that this is too much of a coincidence. He needs to warn Evelyn about her father, because he still hasn’t solved this. Those not familiar with certain old movies are given a free pass for not guessing the forthcoming twist, but you should know that the rest of us are about to dislocate our eyeballs from rolling them so hard.
As Rex races out to thunder into cliché, Cal tells Melody to get him the Hall of Records. Kenny is like: “I checked there already!”
Cal says he knows, and that Kenny did a good job, but Mr. Randolph forgot to check some other things that he really should have.
Cal has also solved the mystery.
The Dumont house is in the process of being packed up as Rex sneaks in. He catches a glimpse of a white dress and follows Evelyn into a room of shrouded furniture and boxes. Evelyn is disappointed to see him. She thought it would have been better if he stayed away.
Rex starts yelling that Dumont wants to keep his daughter a child forever, to have her live and die a child. He’s so off base, it’s really funny.
Evelyn tells him to give up and leave her alone, and he tells her that her father said the same thing to him while he was at Rose’s apartment.
“You went to her apartment? Then you know. About the life she leads, and where she leads it.”
She starts to freak out and tells Rex to get away, and then, ominous music plays as a change comes over Evelyn.
“I have a right to live myself, and no one can stop me. Let them try.” She giggles, a familiar, vampy giggle.
Evelyn has become Rose. They’ve been one and the same all along.
Rex does not get it.
Split personalities were a trendy subject during this time. Lizzie, a book by Shirley Jackson, had bounced the condition into the limelight as a psychologist’s version of Jekyll and Hyde, and The Three Faces of Eve presented a fictionalized account of an actual case study. It also won Joanne Woodward an Academy Award, and everybody was talking about it. Joanne Woodward won that award because it’s really difficult to play multiple characters who are the same character convincingly. This did not stop anyone from trying to make other, less skillful actresses try to do it.
Anyway, the penny finally drops for Rex when Evelyn/Rose dabs on her signature scent.
Rose tells us that Rex is not the first man to try to “save” Evelyn. Bill Jennings tried, and Evelyn – not Rose – pushed him out of the window. Evelyn swore it was an accident, but the Rose personality knew it wasn’t.
Suddenly, Rose goes nuts and starts smashing the butterfly cases with a fire poker. Rex, I don’t know why, tries to stop her like she’s burning down a museum.
Michael Dumont hears the noise and rushes in. One look at his face switches Rose back to Evelyn, because that’s how it works, don’t look it up. Evelyn weeps, as her father comforts her and tells Mrs. Dumont to take her upstairs while he calls the doctor.
“I’ve been bad again,” Evelyn sobs as Mrs. Dumont leads her away, “and I didn’t mean to be.”
Dumont makes his phone call to the doctor, then tells Rex he finally has all of the truth.
The tacky, sensational truth.
The real Rose died when she was in her early teens. She was wild, rebellious, the opposite of docile Evelyn.
“Perhaps she wanted to be like Rose,” Dumont muses. “Who can tell what begins a thing like that?”
“The doctors will be able to tell.”
Another sensitive, courageous exploration of mental disorders. Good work, everybody.
One last thing. Who the hell killed Harry and why?
Rex strolls up to the office, where Cal asks him if he had any luck rescuing the captive princess. Rex says he won’t know for a while.
“I got something that might puzzle you. The sister is dead. Just on a hunch, I called the Hall of Records. She’s been dead for years.”
“Not years,” Rex says, staring poignantly into the distance, “just a few short minutes.”
And that’s it.
That’s the end.
But… Rex, how come Harry is dead? Did Evelyn kill him or did Rose? Why did she have her father’s gun with her that night? What did Harry need that thousand dollars for?
Why did you drop this case without solving it after ruining everyone’s lives but before getting the actual answers?
How did the boat tie in? What triggered Evelyn’s switches? What was the deal with Roy?
Wasn’t this supposed to be about Harry?
Damn it, Rex Randolph, I hope you choke on a pickled onion!