Saturday, January 12, 2019
Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949)
The first of the films, Dick Barton: Special Agent, was spectacularly awful. Surprisingly Dick Barton at Bay was reasonably good. Which leaves us with the third film, Dick Barton Strikes Back. This was actually the second movie to be made but was released after Dick Barton at Bay.
Dick Barton Strikes Back begins with the murder of a British secret agent name Creston. Fellow secret agent Dick Barton and the faithful Snowy White are determined to find the killer.
The clever part of the movie is that the evil conspiracy is on a scale that would delight even a Bond villain but it doesn’t require any expensive special effects. It doesn’t require any special effects at all, but it’s still chillingly effective. The conspiracy is in fact very Bond villain-ish. It was made before the first of the Bond novels was published so it’s fair to say that it was inspired by the thrillers of Dennis Wheatley and Sax Rohmer’s Dr Fu Manchu stories (both of which heavily influenced Bond creator Ian Fleming).
The only clues are a tune and a poster for a travelling fair, and a beautiful but dangerous female.
Dick Barton is one of those heroes who gets by on bravery and determination. His judgment is pretty awful and he has an amazing propensity for walking straight into obvious traps. It’s not that he’s stupid. He’s good at figuring things out. He’s just foolhardy. Which of course allows for lots of narrow escapes from certain death.
Don Stannard is a fine plucky hero. My great fear was that his sidekick Snowy would be an irritating comic relief character but fortunately the comic stuff is kept at an absolute minimum. One amusing thing is that they’re both secret agents but when Barton is invited for dinner to Lord Armadale’s house Snowy eats in the kitchen with the servants. I guess that Barton is the secret agent equivalent of an officer while Snowy is strictly an enlisted man and therefore of course not a gentleman, even if he shares all the risks with Barton.
Checkmate) and he was always a delightful larger-than-life presence.
The opening credits make the bold claim that the film was shot mostly on location, which is certainly unusual in a low-budget 1949 film. And it really does seem to feature a lot more location shooting than you’d expect, and the locations are used quite well. The scenes in London Zoo and the completely dialogue-free climactic sequence in the tower are done very well.
Icon Home Entertainment released all three Dick Barton movies on a single DVD. The transfer are not stellar but they’re satisfactory. They’re fullframe which is of course quite correct.
Dick Barton Strikes Back is by no means a serious spy thriller. It’s an unashamed potboiler (with a slight mad scientist element) but it never descends into mere silliness. It’s the best of the three Dick Barton films. It’s harmless but enjoyable. Highly recommended.