A dentist (Ken Niles) is murdered and a set of dental records is
stolen. The police labels the murder a suicide though and doesn't
investigate any further, so the dentist's assistant (Jayne Meadows) turns
to private investigator Brad Runyon (J.Scott Smart) aka the fat man for
help. The assistant soon turns up dead as well, but not without giving the
privat eye a decisive clue - that the dental records were of a certain Roy
Clark (Rock Hudson), a man who has apparently come to a fortune pretty
Runyon is unable to find Clark, but finds a track leading to
local rich man Gene Gordon (John Russell), who has come into unexpected
wealth quite some years ago, and to Clark's fiancée Pat (Julie London),
who tells him Clark has spent some time in prison, apparently for robbing
the payroll at a racetrack. He was the only one arrested for the crime,
all his accomplices got away - might Gene Gordon be one of them?
meets Deets (real life clown Emmett Kelly), Clark's former cellmate and
now a professional clown. He paints the nicest picture of Clark.
a burnt out truck is found with an unidentifiable corpse in it. His
description however might fit that of Clark, and Runyon figures it must be
him, because his dental records, the only thing to identify him by, were
stolen. Somehow he manages to trace the truck back to Deets, but now Deets
is gone. Eventually, Clark finds Deets, who now owns his own circus.
Cornered, he confesses everything: He knew Clark and Gene Gordon have been
accomplices in the racetrack robbery, and went to Gordon to offer to kill
Clark, for a fraction of Clark's share - Gordon agreed of course. (Not
sure though why he later needed to steal the dental records and kill the
dentist and his assistant though.)
It all ends with a chase through
Deets's circus, at the end of which Deets falls to his death.
Hammett was a master of convoluted, labyrinthine and highly immoral crime
stories. This film though, based on his radio series, is a straight
by-the-numbers murder mystery - and not even a well-written one: The
motive for the first murder is more than questionable, the way Runyon
comes up with clues is not always based in logic, and the final solution
seems to be a bit too simplistic. All this is carried by a rather bland
directorial effort, which doesn't help much either.
All of this makes The
Fat Man not a trainwreck, merely a forgettable movie.