Monday, May 10, 2021
Mike O’Kelly (Rod Cameron) is an American private eye living in London. He often does work for Ben Conner’s enquiry agency. Mike has been asked to help on a case that Ben thinks is too big to handle alone. On his way to Conner’s office, in heavy fog, Mike encounters a number of men obviously in an extreme hurry either to go somewhere or get away from something. One of them drops a passport, in the name of Amedeo Sacchi.
When Mike arrives at Conner’s office he finds Conner dead, and the office has been rifled. Mike decides to needs to know more about Amedeo Sacchi.
He gets even more interested when he meets Orlando Syms (Clifford Evans). Syms runs a group called the International League for World Peace (and writes spy thrillers in his spare time). Syms has been informed that the league has been infiltrated by a secret group. Syms had hired Ben Conner to uncover the truth about this secret group. Now he wants Mike O’Kelly to continue the investigation.
Not everybody in the League is happy about the investigation. Arrogant Harley Street specialist Dr Randolph (Douglas Wilmer) is dead set against it.
And there have now been two murders. O’Kelly knows he’s onto something big but he’s about to realise, in a very painful manner, just how nasty the people he’s up against really are. They have more ingenious methods than mere crude violence for dealing with meddling private enquiry agents.
O’Kelly is in possession of a vital clue, if only he knew what it meant. It would also help if he had some idea what this secret group within the league was all about but that’s something else he doesn’t know.
The Saint and Gideon’s Way.
Kenneth R. Hayles and Norman Hudis wrote the screenplay, based on the novel by Irish spy fiction writer Paddy Manning O’Brine (who was rumoured to be a former British spy).
Craggy-faced Canadian Rod Cameron later starred in the short-lived but rather interesting American private eye series Coronado 9 in which he plays a character not unlike Mike O’Kelly - a big shambling gruff tough guy (in fact very tough) but kind of likeable in his own way.
Lois Maxwell as Diane Boyd makes a pretty good femme fatale type.
There are some noirish visual touches - lots of fog and shadows and some good night scenes. While there’s nothing particularly noir about the story there is plenty of paranoia.
Passport To Treason is one of the nine feature films in the Renown Pictures Crime Collection Volume 1 boxed set (an excellent value-for-money set). The transfer is reasonably good.
Passport To Treason is a very decent little spy thriller of the pre-Bond films era. Highly recommended.
Thursday, May 6, 2021
John North (Richard Todd) and Susan Wilding (Christine Norden) are running away together. They’re both married, but not to each other. John North is an aspiring writer and he’s leaving his wife Carol because she wants him to give up this writing nonsense and get a proper job. John and Susan catch an express train from Paddington Station but then John has second thoughts about leaving his wife. It occurs to him that Susan may have no more patience with his dreams of being a writer than his wife. He decides he has to get off the train.
John’s change of mind has momentous consequences.
He finds himself in a very awkward situation and has some explaining to do, and not just to his wife. He will also have to explain certain things to Clayton, the man from the railways investigation branch.
John North is not an easy character to have much sympathy for. He’s not a bad man but he is rather weak and rather unwilling to take responsibility for his actions. Even when those actions led to disaster he seems to be more afflicted by self-pity than remorse. Richard Todd was a solid if unspectacular actor and his performance is reasonably effective - he makes us have mixed feelings about the character and that’s necessary if the film is to work.
The British film industry in the 40s and 50s had an endless supply of fine character actors who were remarkably good at playing policemen. Tom Walls fulfils that function here and does so very competently, playing Clayton as an avuncular type but with an obviously sharp mind.
Michael Pertwee, elder brother of actor Jon Pertwee, wrote the script.
The Night Won’t Talk.
Everything is moving along nicely until we get to the ending, and then it’s a case of a perfectly good movie being completely and utterly ruined. The ending isn’t just disappointing, it’s catastrophically bad. I have seen it argued that the ending isn’t a complete surprise, and there is some substance to that argument, but even taking that into account for me it was still catastrophic.
The Interrupted Journey has some very good ideas but ultimately it’s a bitter disappointment. At the end of this journey I wanted my money back and I wanted that 80 minutes of my life back. Not recommended.
Sunday, May 2, 2021
The film series went rapidly downhill after her departure. Attempts were made to revive it on television in the 50s and as a TV movie in the early 70s, with a noticeable lack of success. There was just no way to make the formula work without Edna May Oliver.
To Inspector Oscar Piper (James Gleason) it all seems straightforward. Miss Withers is not so sure. She was the one who first spotted the body. She was at the aquarium with her class and had already done some crime-fighting, having apprehended a pickpocket. The pickpocket has Harper’s watch in his pocket so he could be a suspect. Bertrand B. Hemingway, the director of the aquarium, might also be a suspect - he blamed Harper for ruining him. Even Hildegarde is a suspect at one point. But Gwen and Seymour seem to be Inspector Piper’s favoured suspects. Gwen’s lawyer Barry Costello (Robert Armstrong) hopes Miss Withers can clear her.
Hildegarde also gets some help from the aquarium’s penguin. He finds a vital clue.
To be honest the mystery plot, while serviceable, isn’t particularly outstanding. Most of the success of the movie is due to the performances of James Gleason and (especially) Edna May Oliver, and the fine comic repartee between the two of them. The other performances are all solid. Plus it has penguin cuteness.
I haven’t read Stuart Palmer’s novel so I can’t say how well it compares to the movie. I’ve only read one Hildegarde Withers novel, The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla, which (like this movie) combines comedy and mystery but with the mystery elements being just a little weak.
The Penguin Pool Murder would have been a fairly average mystery movie but the two wonderful leads are enough reason to give it a recommended rating. Lightweight fun but nowhere near as good as the contemporary Charlie Chan mysteries.
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Eddie Coyle (Mitchum) is a small-time Boston gangster with a problem. The problem is that he’s facing three to five years in New Hampshire for driving a truck filled with stolen goods and he can’t face the prospect of going inside again. The only way out is to turn informer. If he does that then maybe he can cut a deal and escape prison. Cop Dave Foley (Richard Jordan) hasn’t exactly promised him that but he has promised to do what he can. But only if Eddie can give him some really worthwhile information. The trick for Eddie is to give Foley enough to get a deal without getting himself killed by the people on whom he’s informing.
Eddie’s main line of work at the moment is buying the guns that are getting used in a series of bank robberies.
Eddie isn’t the only one acting as an informer. This is an incredibly bleak and cynical look at the world of crime. Everybody will sell everybody else out if they have to. There’s no honour among thieves here. It’s just a matter of making sure you’re careful so you don’t pay the price of informing. That’s Eddie’s challenge. He doesn’t want to go to prison but he doesn’t want to get killed either.
There’s an overwhelming sense of futility in this film. These criminals really are losers. They’re not big-time gangsters. They’re not making enough money to live in mansions. They’re not living glamorous lives. Their lives are seedy and squalid. The guy selling the guns makes a deal to sell some machine-gins, which carries a mandatory life sentence if you get caught. And he’s getting two thousand dollars for the guns. He’s maybe making $1,500 profit. Not much money for which to risk a life sentence.
The job that Eddie did in New Hampshire that caused all his present woes was similarly futile. Eddie’s in his fifties, he knows he’s too old to do any more time, but he got mixed up in a job that just didn’t offer a big enough payoff to make it worthwhile. He didn’t make enough money to spend the rest of his life sitting on a beach in Rio. With the money he’s making from crime Eddie is just barely keeping his head above water financially.
All of these criminals seem to know that eventually they’re going to get caught, and they seem to just accept that. You wonder why they bother. They just seem to be too dumb to figure it out. They just accept their fates.
Mitchum gives a superb but very understated performance completely at odds with his tough guy persona. Eddie Coyle is an incredibly passive character. He just drifts along from minor disaster to minor disaster and seems resigned to being a failure.
Peter Boyle is excellent as Eddie’s friend Dillon. Dillon runs a bar and he’s a small-time crook and an informer as well. Eddie doesn’t know Dillon is an informer and Dillon doesn’t know that Eddie is an informer. Richard Jordan as Foley and Steven Keats as Jackie Brown are also impressive.
The Eureka Masters of Cinema offers the film on both Blu-Ray and DVD. The extras include a very sharp appreciation of the film by critic Glenn Kenny, a lengthy interview with Peter Yates and a 44-page booklet that includes an essay on the film.
Most successful neo-noirs deliberately avoid going for classic noir visuals because the noir visual style is just about impossible to achieve in colour. This film (along with Farewell, My Lovely) demonstrates that it can be done. The Friends of Eddie Coyle might just be the greatest of all neo-noirs.
Very highly recommended.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Nicholas Whistler (Dirk Bogarde) is a writer. In other words he’s unemployed and unemployable. Or at least he was until the day he walked into the Labour Exchange and, to his amazement and horror, they offered him a job. As a junior executive in a glass-making firm. But actually he’s being offered a very different kind of job. As a spy. You see one of MI6’s top agents (a fellow with the codename 007) has unfortunately passed way and a replacement is needed. Whistler of course has no qualifications for a job as a secret agent except for one thing - he speaks Czech and MI6 desperately needs someone who speaks Czech for a mission to Prague.
Actually he’s not quite intended to step into 007’s shoes. The job is very routine. Just a courier job really.
Whistler is a nice chap but rather naïve - he genuinely has no idea he is acting as a spy. Being a writer he has no experience of the real world so he figures that maybe the world of international business really is rather secretive. He does suspect that he may be involved in industrial espionage.
The Czech government has assigned him a driver to take him around Prague. Vlasta Simoneva (Sylva Koscina) is young and pretty so that part of his assignment is quite pleasant.
Whistler of course is a total washout as a spy and finds himself on the run. He may not be a good spy but he is a survivor and he manages to keep one step ahead of the secret police. But if he’s ever going to see England again he’s going to have to reach the British Embassy and that will be more of a challenge. Much depends on whether he can trust Vlasta. They’ve fallen in love (naturally) but she doesn’t want to betray her country and he doesn’t want to betray his.
While this movie was obviously cashing in on the Bond movie craze it isn’t really a Bond spoof. It’s more a spoof of the older style of spy thriller. There are no gadgets and no spectacular action sequences. The comedy 9and this movie is definitely intended as a comedy) is mostly sly and witty and gently satirical rather than outrageous. But it is funny.
We never do find out what was in the secret document that Whistler was supposed to bring back and that’s part of the point of the movie. It simply doesn’t matter. It’s just a game.
Rather surprisingly Dirk Bogarde made quite a few spy movies, including the very underrated and hard-to-find Sebastian in 1968 and the notorious Modesty Blaise in 1966. Bogarde was superb at this kind of light comedy. He plays Nicholas Whistler as a naïve but basically thoroughly decent sort of chap, a self-confessed coward but very likeable.
Sylva Koscina was one of the classic eurobabes of the 60s and she’s charming.
The byplay between Robert Morley and Leo McKern as the opposing spymasters is a major highlight - two wonderful actors having a great time with their rôles.
The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.), Derek Fowlds (from Yes, Minister), Eric Pohlmann and Richard Vernon.
Along with Carry On Spying (released in the same year) this is one of the better spy comedies of its era.
Network’s DVD release offers a very good anamorphic transfer. The only extras are some image galleries.
Hot Enough for June is fine entertainment. It might be low-key but it’s consistently amusing. Highly recommended.
Thursday, April 15, 2021
The movie is set in 1898 with the Cuban revolution against the Spanish providing the historical background. Cash Adams (Ladd) is a former US Army officer who was dishonourably discharged. He now makes his living as a gun runner. He’s being paid to deliver a consignment of guns to Tampa where Cuban revolutionaries will be waiting with $100,000 for him.
The job is much more complicated than he expected. Firstly he and his men are attacked by hijackers before they even reach Tampa and then he discovers that the deal has been changed - he has to deliver the guns all the way to Cuba. The Cubans do agree to double his price which is some consolation.
I don’t claim to know much about nautical matters but I have to say that the riverboat really doesn’t look like it would last five minutes in the open sea.
The second complication is that the riverboat will be taking a second consignment of guns, along with rival gun runner Clay Pike (Lloyd Nolan) and his cohorts. Cash and Pike have hated each other for years so neither man is happy with this development.
There’s yet another complication - they have to deliver a Cuban revolutionary to Cuba as well. The revolutionary is the young and beautiful Doña Isabella (Rossana Podestà).
As you might expect Cash Adams and Pike clash numerous times during the voyage, culminating in a couple of all-in fist-fights. Their clashes have something to do with their pasts but also quite a bit to do with the fact that they both take a shine to Doña Isabella.
And new obstacles just keep on appearing. The gun runners start to wonder just how much they’re going to have to go through to get their money, and whether they’ll live to collect it.
Lloyd Nolan is of course marvellous as the thoroughly amoral Pike. Rossana Podestà may have been a bit miscast here but she’s OK. Chill Wills is fun as the riverboat captain who seems to have spent the whole of an adventurous life on the losing side. I liked Paul Fix as Cash’s old army buddy Trasker.
Gordon Douglas directed. Douglas had a varied career which included some pretty interesting movies including a couple of very good private eye thrillers with Frank Sinatra (Tony Rome and The Lady in Cement), the spy spoof In Like Flint and the sci-fi classic Them! Martin Rackin wrote the screenplay (his other credits include the underrated noirish crime thriller A Dangerous Profession).
What’s interesting is that rather than idealists fighting for a good cause what we have here are bad men fighting (rather reluctantly) for a good cause.
The Warner Archive presentation is extremely good with a fine anamorphic transfer.
Santiago isn’t that bad. It doesn’t quite catch fire the way it should but it looks great. It’s worth seeing if you’re an Alan Ladd or a Lloyd Nolan fan. It’s not one of the adventure classics but it’s reasonable entertainment.
Friday, April 9, 2021
Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness) is a brilliant young scientist with a special interest in textiles. He works in a textile mill. Well, he doesn’t exactly work there, he’s just bluffed his way into getting access to the mill’s laboratory. Everyone just assumes he’s one of the scientists working in the laboratory.
Now he’s made an amazing discovery. He has invented a new artificial fabric with some interesting properties. It never wears out and it never gets dirty. It actively repels dirt. Sidney believes it will revolutionise the textile industry and he’s convinced the owner of the mill, Mr Birnley (Cecil Parker) of that as well.
It doesn’t take long for Birnley’s competitors, and the trade unions, to figure out just exactly how devastating Sidney’s invention will be. They decide that he must be stopped. They try to buy him off but it doesn’t work.
But somehow Sidney Stratton must be stopped.
There’s a great supporting cast - Cecil Parker as Birnley, Michael Gough as rival mill owner Michael Corland, Howard Marion-Crawford as another mill owner and Vida Hope as good-natured union activist Bertha. Joan Greenwood plays Birnley’s daughter who is in love with Corland but plays an important part in launching Sidney’s ill-fated career.
The Ladykillers. He then went to Hollywood where he directed Sweet Smell of Success. It’s now recognised as a truly great movie and one of the most impressive late entries in the American film noir cycle but at the time it bombed at the box office and pretty much ruined Mackendrick’s career. Mackendrick seemed to like making comedies with a bit of bite to them. This film confronts some important issues - progress is a good thing but it can come at a terrible price, sometimes the status quo really should be maintained, innocence can be more dangerous than cynicism, good intentions can lead to disaster. But The Man in the White Suit never falls into the trap of becoming preachy or didactic - it remains sparkling light-hearted fun.
This is a real science fiction film and it deals with some of the enduring themes of the genre - scientific progress as a two-edged sword, the dangers of worshipping science.
This is clever intelligent satirical filmmaking and it’s consistently funny. At times the comedy has an edge to it but it’s much too good-natured to be considered a black comedy. We can’t help liking Sidney but sometimes we just want to slap some sense into him.
Everything in The Man in the White Suit just works. Highly recommended.