Bureau of Missing Persons

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Bureau of Missing Persons
Bureau of Missing Persons.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Produced by Henry Blanke (uncredited)
Written by John H. Ayers (story)
Carol Bird (story)
Robert Presnell, Sr.
Starring Pat O'Brien
Lewis Stone
Glenda Farrell
Bette Davis
Music by Bernhard Kaun (uncredited original music)
Leo F. Forbstein
Cinematography Barney McGill
Country USA
Language English

Bureau of Missing Persons is a 1933 American Pre-Code drama film with comic overtones directed by Roy Del Ruth. The screenplay by Robert Presnell is based on a story by Carol Bird adapted from the book Missing Men by former New York City police captain John H. Ayers.


Amid vignettes involving a philandering husband who fakes amnesia, a child prodigy who yearns to live a normal life, an aging bachelor whose housekeeper has disappeared, and an old lady whose daughter has run away, the primary plot line focuses on brash detective Butch Saunders, who is assigned to find missing Chicago banker Therme Roberts. Butch finds himself attracted to the man's wife Norma, despite the fact they're both married, so when his superior, Captain Webb, tells him she really is Norma Phillips and the man she claims is missing is not her husband but the person she has been accused of murdering, he doesn't believe her. Norma fakes her suicide by drowning and disappears, but can't resist returning when Butch stages her funeral in the hope she'll surface. Not only she but the missing Roberts, as well, turn up at the services. Norma tells Butch she once was Roberts' secretary, and he killed his mentally disturbed twin brother and assumed his identity in order to avoid embezzlement charges. Roberts denies her accusations, but Webb tricks him into admitting his guilt. Norma is cleared and, when Butch learns his wife Belle never divorced her first husband, the two are free to wed.

Production notes[edit]

In order to promote the film, Warner Bros. promised in advertisements to pay $10,000 to Manhattan's missing Judge Joseph F. Crater if he claimed it in person at the box office.[1]

In 1936, the film was reissued with Bette Davis given top billing, since by then the one-time contract player had become the studio's leading female star.[2] The film was the second on-screen pairing of Davis and Pat O'Brien, who had appeared Hell's House the previous year.


Critical reception[edit]

Variety called it "pretty fair entertainment . . . steered clear of over sombreness or becoming too morbid" and added, "Just when it threatens to become banal, excellent trouping and some inspired dialoguing snap it back into proper gait."[3]

Time said, "this is as engrossing as the normal detective cinema, but what gives Bureau of Missing Persons substance and makes it interesting journalism as well as adequate fiction are convincing shots of how a Missing Persons Bureau works."[4]

Time Out London says, "With Del Ruth directing at screwball pace, things sometimes get a little too jokey; but at its best, in noting the obsessive quirks developed by officers, it has some claim to be considered an ancestor of Hill Street Blues."[5]

TV Guide describes it as an "amusing mystery film that is genuinely complex and intriguing, though it does take some slapstick turns. Davis fans will be disappointed as her headlining part is relatively small."[6]


External links[edit]