Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Girl in the News (1940)

Girl in the News is a fairly early British Carol Reed crime thriller, released in 1940.

Margaret Lockwood stars as Nurse Graham, a young lady with a very unfortunate employment history. She had been employed as nurse to an elderly lady who died of an overdose of sleeping tablets. Nurse Graham was a beneficiary under the old lady’s will. Nurse Graham is charged with murder. She is defended by up-and-coming barrister Stephen Farringdon (Barry K. Barnes). The case against her is purely circumstantial and more than a little flimsy. Farringdon has no great difficulty in securing her acquittal.
This is all very satisfactory since we, the audience, already know that she is innocent.

A nurse who has been accused of murdering one of her patients, even if acquitted, is going to have trouble finding another position. Nurse Graham does eventually get get another job, by giving her name as Lovell. It is a position as nurse to an invalid, Edward Bentley.

Edward Bentley is a rich invalid with a young wife. After a short time Bentley dies, of poisoning, in circumstances that are extraordinarily similar to that earlier case. It’s no great surprise that Nurse Graham finds herself on trial for murder yet again.

Stephen Farringdon has become more than a little fond of Nurse Graham and he is convinced of her innocence. Once again he defends her, at her second trial for murder. The similarity of the two cases obviously suggests that she is guilty. It certainly convinces his friend Bill Mather (Roger Livesey) at Scotland Yard that she is guilty. Farringdon however has the idea that it’s the very similarity of the two cases that proves that Nurse Graham is innocent.

The centrepiece of the movie is the courtroom scene of the second trial. Extended courtroom scenes are a risk. By their very nature they’re talky and static. It helps if you have some charismatic acting. The acting here is perhaps not quite charismatic solid enough but it’s solid enough. It’s also essential to have the defence counsel pull some kind of legal rabbit out of the hat to provide the major courtroom shock. This movie definitely delivers the goods on that count.

Margaret Lockwood was probably the biggest female star in British movies of the 40s. She was particularly good as a bad girl (in movies like The Wicked Lady) or at least as an ambiguous heroine (in movies like The Man in Grey). She gives a good performance here although her character is more passive than the characters Lockwood usually played.

Barry K. Barnes makes a pretty good hero. He’s besotted by Nurse Graham but he’s no fool. When he defended her the first time he was fairly sure she was innocent, but not entirely sure. He ends up believing her to be totally innocent but his belief is by no means purely emotional.

There are plenty of fine British character actors on hand, including Felix Aylmer (one of my favourites). Roger Livesey is outrageous but entertaining, as usual.

Carol Reed’s genius had not yet blossomed to its full effect and while it’s well-made this movie lacks the assurances and the style of later masterpieces like Odd Man Out and Fallen Idol (and of course The Third Man).

This is one of six movies in VCI’s British Cinema Classic B Film Collection Volume 1 boxed set. The transfer of Girl in the News is quite acceptable although it’s certainly not pristine. These are very obscure movies so we should be grateful that they’re available at all, and at a very reasonable price.

Girl in the News is a neat little murder mystery/courtroom thriller. While the identity of the criminal is probably not going to come as any great surprise the plot does have some other interesting features.

Definitely of interest to Carol Reed fans. Highly recommended.

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