Monday, July 3, 2017

The Intruder (1953)

The Intruder is a 1953 British drama that is not exactly a crime film in the conventional sense although crime does certainly play a part, and there is a manhunt.

Jack Hawkins plays Wolf Merton, a stockbroker who discovers a burglar in his home. It’s hard to say who is the more surprised of the two. Merton had been a colonel during the war, commanding a tank regiment. The burglar, Ginger Edwards (Michael Medwin) is one of the men who served under him. Actually Ginger is a bit more than that. He’s the man who saved the colonel’s life, and in fact saved the lives of an entire armoured squadron, during a particularly nasty action in North Africa.

Merton is shocked but his immediate impulse is to help the man. He might be a retired officer but he still feels a responsibility for the men who had been under his command. Unfortunately Ginger panics, throws himself through a glass door and makes a run for it.

Colonel Merton is not prepared to let the matter drop. Ginger had been a fine soldier and a thoroughly decent fellow and Merton can’t stand the idea that he should now be a  common thief. If he can find the man he may be able to find out what went wrong, what chain of misfortunes could have brought him to Merton’s house in the guise of a housebreaker.

Finding Ginger again isn’t easy. Ginger had let it slip that he still kept in touch with one of the men from the regiment and the colonel has an idea that the man in question might be Summers (George Cole). He’s almost right but then the trail seems to go cold again. Merton is sure that the man Ginger has been in touch with is one of the soldiers in a group photograph taken in North Africa.

Much of the story is told in the form of flashbacks to the war years. This technique provides a convenient way to let the viewer know the backstories of both Ginger and the colonel but it does more than that. It gives us the backstories of the various men in that wartime photograph whilst we also get to see those same men ten years later. Some of the men seem little changed while others seem almost unrecognisable. In some cases weaknesses of character already in evidence during the war have been magnified; in other cases those weaknesses have been overcome in surprising ways. 

Colonel Merton of course will also find out more about himself during the course of his search for the elusive Ginger. He is also not the only one on Ginger’s trail. The police are after Ginger as well and Merton hopes to find him before they do.

The wartime sequences are extremely well done. This is a drama but there are some comic moments as well, especially Merton’s encounter with a former corporal turned schoolmaster.

Guy Hamilton is best remembered for the four James Bond movies he directed. He does a fine job here.

Jack Hawkins was a fine actor who played a lot of army officers, a role for which he was ideally suited. Colonel Merton is an affable sort of fellow. He cared about his men during the war and now he finds to his surprise that he still cares about them. The war was an opportunity for men to show themselves at their best, or at their worst. In Merton’s case it is definitely the former. Hawkins is able to make Merton convincingly caring without excessive sentimentality. 

Hawkins gets good support from George Cole as the harassed but well-meaning Lieutenant Summers and Dennis Price as the smooth Captain Pirry, a man who has good cause not to want to remember his wartime career in too much detail. Michael Medwin is quite effective as Ginger.

Modern viewers might find the plot to be a little contrived and melodramatic (it’s hard to imagine how anyone could have as much bad luck as poor Ginger) and the ending won’t please modern audiences.

This is a thoroughly typical Network DVD release, no extras but an excellent transfer at a very reasonable price.

The Intruder is a slightly offbeat film that is worth a look. Not quite a crime film, not quite a war film, but an interesting hybrid. Recommended.

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