Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Fat Man

Go To

The Fat Man is a 1951 Film Noir detective film directed by William Castle, who hadn't yet acquired his gimmick-meister reputation. Written by Henry Essex and Leonard Lee, it was based on a popular radio series of the same name, whose characters were created by Dashiell Hammett.

While in New York for a convention, Los Angeles dentist Dr. Henry Bromley (Ken Niles) is thrown to his death from a hotel window. While the police quickly proclaim the death an accident, Bromley’s nurse Jane Adams (Jayne Meadows) has suspicions, especially since she notices that one set of dental X-rays are missing from the room. Jane arranges a meeting with Brad Runyan (J. Scott Smart), a private investigator with whom Dr. Bromley had made an appointment.

Traveling to California, Runyan learns that the stolen X-rays belong to a patient named Roy Clark (Rock Hudson), who has dropped out of sight and was last seen being driven by the chauffeur of successful businessman Gene Gordon (John Russell). Through interviews with Clark’s wife Pat Boyd (Julie London) and his former cellmate Ed Deets (famed circus clown Emmett Kelly, who mostly appears in makeup), Runyan uncovers the connection between the missing man, Gordon, and a half-million dollar robbery.

The skinny on The Fat Man tropes:

  • Big Eater: Runyon, not surprisingly. He’s a gourmet who shares some qualities with Nero Wolfe, although he does most of his own legwork.
  • Big, Thin, Short Trio: Runyon is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. His assistant Bill Norton is tall and skinny. He also has a very short-statured underworld informant named Shifty.
  • Disney Villain Death: Deets is shot while standing on an acrobat’s pole, falls to the safety net, falls off the safety net to the ground, and sits up to speak a few last words before expiring.
  • Flashback Within a Flashback: Among the film’s numerous flashbacks, Ed Deets is recalling his prison time with Roy when Roy reminisces about how the robbery went down.
  • He Cleans Up Nicely: When Roy Clark makes his first visit to Dr. Bromley’s office, he’s unkempt and unshaven. When he goes back he’s much better groomed and wearing a nice suit. This is after he’s shaken some money out of Gordon.
  • He Knows Too Much: Dr. Bromley is killed because he can provide the connection between the missing X-rays, the patient, and by extension the robbery. The same eventually happens to Nurse Adams.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: The other robbers aren’t keen on giving Roy his cut of the loot when he gets out of prison. So they give Deets a smaller amount to kill him.
  • Non-Ironic Clown: Ed Deets is this in his act, doing innocent slapstick that even makes hardened prisoners laugh. Which makes it more of a surprise when he turns out to be a murderer offstage.
  • Police Are Useless: The incurious New York detectives declare Dr. Bromley’s death an accident after no investigation to speak of. There may be some Hollywood regionalism at play here, since the California detectives turn out to be much more competent.
  • Rescue Romance: The romance between Roy Clark and Pat Boyd starts when he scares off another guy who’s bothering her.
  • Verbal Tic: Runyon has a habit of calling everyone “sweetheart”, men as well as women.