Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Salute the Toff (1952)

There were two British mystery thrillers made in the early 50s based on John Creasey’s popular Toff novels (reviewed here). Both were thought for many years to be lost films but a few years back Renown Pictures found prints of both films. The first Toff film, Salute the Toff, was originally released in early 1952 to be followed by Hammer the Toff later the same year.

The Toff is a character with some superficial resemblances to Leslie Charteris’s Simon Templar. Both are heroes with a touch of the rogue to them, both are inclined not to worry too much about the letter of the law, both have a characteristic calling card which they use to gain a psychological edge over evil-doers and both are crusaders for justice. There are some crucial differences though. Simon Templar could move in the higher social circles but he was not technically speaking a gentleman. The Toff is very much the genuine article. He is actually the Honourable Richard Rollison, the son of a nobleman.

And Simon Templar is himself (in the eyes of the law at least) a crook and a thief, even if he only steals from other criminals. The Toff is quite at home in the criminal underworld but he is not a criminal.

While Simon Templar psychs out the bad guys by using his famous Saint stick figure as a calling card the Toff employs a drawing of a top hat for the same purpose.

Salute the Toff opens with Rollison becoming involved in what seems a very routine disappearance. You won’t be surprised to hear that it’s a beautiful young woman who leads Rollison into the case. Fay Gretton (Carol Marsh) is worried about her boss, a young businessman named Draycott. He’s gone missing. 

Rollison agrees to go to Draycott’s flat to find out what’s going on. This will involve a spot of house-breaking but that’s no problem for The Toff. In Draycott’s flat he finds the young man lying dead.

It gradually emerges that there’s some kind of conspiracy and it may involve wealthy businessman Mortimer Harvey, or possibly Harvey may be the victim. Harvey’s beautiful but somewhat amoral daughter Phyllis may be mixed up in it and an old criminal foe of Rollison’s, a smooth thug named Lorne, seems likely to have a hand in the conspiracy.

The plot is nothing particularly special but it’s workmanlike and has enough twists to keep things fairly interesting.

Maclean Rogers was a journeyman director of quota quickies and similar low-budget fare but he proves himself to be competent enough. There’s a bit of location shooting, the highlight being some great scenes of early 50s London street life.

It’s the cast that makes this movie work so well. John Bentley made several Paul Temple films at this time but he doesn’t give us a mere retread of those performances. He makes Rollison convincingly upper-class but he does it with skill and subtlety. It’s a lively and likeable performance. Carol Marsh makes a charming heroine. Comic relief is provided by Rollison’s faithful and surprisingly useful gentleman’s gentleman Jolly (Roddy Hughes) and  his old friend, publican and boxing trainer Bert Ebbutt (Wally Patch). They’re not just annoying comic relief characters thrown in for no good reason. They both play worthwhile parts in the lot and the humour is nicely integrated with the plot line. Jolly in particular is a delightful character.

Renown’s DVD presentation is more than acceptable. The print is not pristine but it’s pretty good and considering that we’re lucky this film has survived at all there’s no cause for complaint.

Salute the Toff is a very decent little crime thriller. The low budget is no real problem. It’s a film that never looks cheap or shoddy. John Bentley’s sparkling performance is a major asset, the comic relief is never intrusive and while it reaches no great cinematic heights it’s thoroughly enjoyable. Its status as a once lost film adds extra interest. Recommended. 

1 comment:

  1. I was very pleased to hear when these two films were found. I wonder why there weren't more of them.
    I must add that your sites are my favourite on the internet! Keep writing!