Sunday, April 5, 2020
The Small Voice (1948)
Playwright Murray Byrne (James Donald) and his wife Eleanor (Valerie Hobson) are quarrelling. Which is what they do most of the time. It’s not that they’re no longer in love. They just can’t seem to live together. Murray lost a leg during the war and he’s never quite recovered his confidence. He feels like half a man, all that sort of thing. And Eleanor has a lot of male admirers. She’s an actress and a glamorous one. Male admirers come with the territory. She has no intention of being unfaithful but she can’t convince Murray of that. And eventually Murray’s self-pity will drive her into the arms of another man. Eleanor wants to get out before that happens. She’s decided to leave him. Things are pretty tense as they drive home from the railway station.
They’re about to get a lot tenser. Murray and Eleanor are about to encounter three desperate armed fugitives who killed a policeman. Now their car has crashed and they need a place to hide out.
Now the battle of wills starts. Murray thinks that being a playwright specialising in plays about crime he can break Boke’s spirit. Boke thinks he can break Murray’s spirit. Eleanor thinks she can uncover some basic humanity in Boke and persuade him to save the sick boy. It all works because of the nicely understated performances, and because of the well-crafted script.
Of course there’s tension between the fugitives as well. A policeman was killed. Someone is going to hang for that, but it was Boke who pulled the trigger so why should the other two swing for it as well? And there’s the race against time element. The boy has meningitis. Without treatment his chances of survival are very slim and if he dies then Boke’s accomplices can be quite certain of keeping an appointment with the hangman.
There’s some interesting subtle sexual tension between Boke and Eleanor. The relationship between Murray and Eleanor is always believable. They both behave unreasonably at times but no matter how exasperated they are with each other they’re also obviously still in love even if their chances of repairing their marriage seem hopeless.
So we have here a taut suspense thriller laced with emotional drama and both elements work very successfully. Like so many British crime films of this era it’s a very well-made little film. Is it good enough to qualify for neglected gem status? I think it is. Therefore The Small Voice is highly recommended.