Friday, May 29, 2020
Arthur Groome (Rex Harrison) is a hardworking bookkeeper and a devoted family man He’s a model of suburban respectability. Well, except for one thing. He’s having an affair with a showgirl named Rose Mallory. When Rose is murdered he finds himself in a very sticky situation. There is a certain amount of circumstantial evidence against him.
Arthur’s wife Mary (played by Harrison’s real-life wife at the time Lilli Palmer) has forgiven him for his dalliance with the showgirl and she’s one of those people who think that if you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear from the police. She thinks the criminal justice system is fair. Perhaps she believes in Santa Claus as well. The fact is that the police have a suspect and they want a result and they see no reason to look any further. A result is a result.
The viewer knows from the start what really happened so this is more a suspense movie than a mystery. The viewer also knows that the story is far from over. There was an earlier murder and there may be another one. We also know of the existence of a vital witness. Groome knows of the witness’s existence as well, as does his defence counsel. But Groome can’t for the life of him remember the man’s name. And what has become of this crucial witness?
The challenge for Lilli Palmer was to make Mary a woman who was prepared to tolerate a straying husband without making her seem like a victim or making her seem pathetic. She manages it fairly well. She convinces us that Mary is a strong woman who is prepared to accept male weaknesses. What she is not prepared to do is to give up on her husband or her marriage. Arthur and Mary Groome are the key characters and it’s the performances of Harrison and Palmer that matter and they deliver the goods.
The movie was based on a novel by Edgar Lustgarten, also noted as an author of true crime books and with a reputation for having a very sound knowledge of the English criminal justice system. Much of the plot hinges on the question of the reliability of circumstantial evidence. Without circumstantial evidence many murderers would go free but the problem is that it can never be entirely conclusive. By its very nature it can only point to someone as the likely criminal. The movie makes this point pretty well. The evidence against Groome seems damning but there’s not a single point of evidence that couldn't have an innocent explanation, however unlikely. Without a confession you can never be entirely certain, and while Groome is prepared to admit to behaving reprehensibly in many ways he absolutely insists that he is innocent of murder.
Network’s DVD is what you expect. No extras but a very good transfer at a reasonable price.
The Long Dark Hall is mostly a gripping crime thriller and a trenchant and effective criticism of the criminal justice system, with fine and subtle performances by Harrison and Palmer. It could have been a very good movie indeed. It’s still pretty good. It could easily have earned a highly recommended rating but as it it’s still recommended.
Friday, May 22, 2020
Young Stanley Stanfield (Onslow Stevens) has inherited a newspaper but his two passions in life are inventing and planning to get revenge on Wade Barnett (Walter Miller), whom he blames for his father’s death. When he meets Barnett’s daughter (played by Ada Ince), who calls herself Gloria Grant, he’s inclined to hate her until he discovers that she doesn’t like her old man either. After that you figure it’s a safe bet they’re going to fall in love.
But let’s for a moment return to the subject of inventing. What Stanfield is working on is an invisibility ray. He’s having a few problems so he enlists the help of an older genius inventor, Professor Carl van Dorn (James Durkin), who just happens to be working on an invisibly ray as well. The problem both men are having is with shadows. They can make a man disappear but they can’t make his shadow disappear.
Professor van Dorn has a whole bunch of other gadgets he’s invented as well. One cute thing about this serial is that while Stanley likes and admires van Dorn he’s slightly disturbed (as we the audience are) by the sheer murderousness of his gadgets, and by the Professor’s apparent willingness to use them. In fact, his keenness to use them.
Of course Wade Barnett has plans of his own and those plans are definitely not going to be to Stanley’s advantage. He frames Stanley for murder. All this happened early in the first episode so I’m not giving away any spoilers.
You might be wondering about the robot. He’s featured in the opening sequence of each chapter but he takes a long time to put in an appearance. But don’t worry, the robot does have a part to play. And he’s like all the Professor’s inventions - the Professor claims that he has lots of peaceful applications but he seems like he’s mostly designed to break things.
There’s a bit more depth to the characters here than you expect in a serial. I’ve already mentioned Professor van Dorn’s combination of kindliness and murderousness. There’s also Wade Barnett. He’s the chief villain and he’s certainly ruthless and immoral, but on the other hand he genuinely loves his daughter.
Gloria is interestingly conflicted. She loves Stanley and she’s thrown in her lot with him. She strongly disapproves of her father. But he’s still her father and she still loves him.
Even Dorgan, Barnett’s chief henchman and an unscrupulous thug, shows in one scene where he discovers something he didn’t know about Barnett that he’s capable of understanding and respecting normal human emotions. He’s a hoodlum but he’s not quite a mere monster.
The acting is slightly more nuanced that usual as well. Walter Miller as Wade Barnett is especially good. He’s a bad guy but he has what seem to be occasional flashes of conscience, and Miller makes them convincing. James Durkin is great as Professor van Dorn he’s disturbingly manic and obsessed.
VCI’s DVD release is reasonably good. Image quality and sound quality are quite acceptable.
Interestingly this was regarded for some time as a lost serial.
The Vanishing Shadow is an above average serial with a nice mix of science fiction and crime thriller elements. And the science fiction elements are not just tacked on but integrated into the plot. The special effects are also quite effective. Highly recommended.
Saturday, May 16, 2020
David Stratton (John Forsythe) is a rising politician with senatorial aspirations. His wife and daughter are out of town at the moment. That doesn’t mean David has been up to no good while they’ve been away. David’s idea of a wild time is a round of golf. And with his political ambitions he is ultra-sensitive to even the slightest breath of scandal (this was 1964). So he’s a little bit disturbed one morning when he glances into his five-year-old daughter’s bedroom and finds a 17-year-old girl fast asleep in the bed. A very attractive blonde 17-year-old girl in a torn nightdress. The girl is Jody (Ann-Margret) and she has a good explanation. She had to run away from home because her mother’s drunken boyfriend tried to get her into bed and being a good girl and being very protective of her virtue well naturally she had to get away. It was just pure good luck that she found David’s front door open. Well actually it was a window and she had to break in but she was really scared and what else could a poor innocent girl do?
For a politician David is rather naïve. He swallows Jody’s story hook, line and sinker. Of course he will try to help the poor girl. He buys her a new dress, gives her some money and puts her on a bus. He’s now feeling very pleased with himself. He handled the situation adroitly and he helped a damsel in distress.
At this point David starts to know how a trapped animal feels. Jody is an adorable kitten but she’s holding the whip and she won’t hesitate to use it.
David’s problems have only just begun. He’s about to take a roller-coaster ride and there’s no getting off. Jody’s friends turn up, there’s a knifing and eventually the crazy circus that David’s life has become ends up in Tijuana where the roller-coaster is going to stop but will there be any survivors?
Writer-director Douglas Heyes is better remembered for his television work. He was responsible for some of the best episodes of The Twilight Zone. The film was shot in black-and-white which works, nicely enhancing the B-movie feel.
The first half of the movie is high camp outrageousness and it’s also very funny. There is some dazzlingly bizarre dialogue. Then the game becomes more dangerous. It’s still outrageously camp but with more and more of a film noir sense of impending doom. But you can never be sure if it’s going to end in tragedy or farce.
Kitten with a Whip is based on Wade Miller’s 1959 novel of the same title which I reviewed here.
Some elements of the novel certainly had to be softened for the film version. In the book David sleeps with Jody and there’s always a touch of lust mixed with his bewilderment and mounting horror of the train wreck that Jody is making of his life. That element is eliminated in the film. An aspiring senator having sex with an under-age girl was not something you were going to get away with in a major studio production in 1964. The surprising thing is that apart from that the movie is a reasonably faithful adaptation and even the ending is pretty close to the feel of the book’s ending.
Ann-Margret pulls out all the stops. She was a competent actress but not exactly subtle. Fortunately subtlety is not required here. What she does manage to do is to make Jody convincingly complex and unpredictable. Jody doesn’t have enough self-awareness to be truly evil. She’s more like a wild animal, frightening because she herself doesn’t know what she’s going to do next, or why. But there is an edge of cruelty. She’s a wild animal but with enough human cunning to be much more dangerous. And she has zero capacity for comprehending the harm she can do. She’s a cat playing with a mouse and David is the mouse.
Kitten with a Whip is deliriously over-the-top but while it’s often dismissed as a so-bad-it’s-good movie that’s not quite fair. It’s consciously and deliberately over-the-top but that’s the only way it was going to work. Had it tried to play things straight it could have been a dreary Social Problem movie instead of the delightful feast of fun and kitsch with a dash of noir that it turned out to be. It’s obviously a must-see for Ann-Margret fans but it’s also amazingly entertaining. Highly recommended.
Saturday, May 9, 2020
It starts with a clever robbery of a jeweller’s shop. The gang kidnaps an elderly female employee whose job it is to lock up at night. She and the owner are the only ones to have keys to both the front door and the safe. A good plan, if only the old lady hadn’t died on them. Now it’s a murder case.
It’s Inspector Sparrow’s case but maybe not for long. His superior, Superintendent Symington, intends to call in Scotland Yard. Sparrow decides to take some leave, although what he really intends to do is to break the case before the Yard can. Like most local detectives he’s somewhat resentful of the way Scotland Yard ends up getting all the glamour. This is a local crime, Sparrow knows the ground and he knows all the local villains. He can see no reason why he shouldn’t solve the case on his own.
It’s all part of a trap Sparrow intends to lay (he can lay the trap because he already has a fair idea of the identity of at least one of the gang members). Of course there’s always the possibility the gang will lay a trap for Sparrow. This is a pretty ruthless gang.
Glyn Houston plays Sparrow. Houston was one of those thoroughly reliable British actors who could play parts like this in their sleep. He does a fine job. Sparrow is a sympathetic character but he’s a bit of a chancer. Both his career and his love life are at a bit of a crossroads. His love life problem could be easily solved if friendly local barmaid Sue was given half a chance. She doesn’t even mind being dragged along when Sparrow is on the job - surely a perfect candidate to be a policeman’s wife.
Director Gordon Flemyng worked mostly in television. There’s nothing spectacular about the job he does here but he keeps the action moving along. Roger Marshall, who had a very distinguished career as a television writer, provided the very serviceable screenplay.
Solo for Sparrow is decent if routine entertainment. Not one of the better movies in this cycle but the strong cast is a definite bonus. If you’re going to buy the boxed set anyway (and you should) then it’s worth giving this one a spin if you don’t set your expectations too high.
Friday, May 8, 2020
Here's the link to my review of L’immortelle At Cult Movie Reviews.
Friday, May 1, 2020
Tony (Derren Nesbitt) and Frank (Keith Faulkner) are a couple of likely lads who’ve come up with a foolproof plan for robbing a bookie as he leaves the greyhound track. All they have to do is knock him on the head as he’s getting out of his car, grab his bag containing his takings and make their getaway in his car. Nothing could be simpler. Only one problem - to prevent just this sort of robbery the bookie has handcuffed himself to his bag. So the lads have to take the unconscious bookie with them.
And the bookie is not looking too good. Maybe Tony hit him a bit too hard. He’s alive but he’s in a bad way.
This movie is like a comedy of errors, except that it’s black comedy. It actually reminds me a little of Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry, except in this case it’s a live body rather than a dead one causing the trouble. It’s not just the difficulty of getting to the money in the bag. What do they do with the guy then? He obviously needs to be taken to a hospital or at least to a doctor but they can’t do that. They come up with a series of schemes to try to get some help for the stricken bookie, or to find a way to get him to a hospital without being seen, but something always goes wrong.
Derren Nesbitt is one of my favourite English actors of this period and this is just the sort of rôle at which he excels. Tony is over-confident and cocky but he’s not as smart as he thinks he is and he’s not as cool-headed as he thinks he is. His quick thinking, deciding that they’d take the bookie with them, has landed them in a nightmare.
They keep ending up back in the car with the bookie in the back seat. That’s where a large part of the action takes place, giving a nice sense of claustrophobia and desperation. It’s as if they’re condemned to drive around London forever with an unconscious possibly (for all they know) dying man as a back-seat passenger. It all happens at night, in true film noir style.
Network’s anamorphic transfer is excellent as always.
The Man in the Back Seat is a very pleasant little surprise, an offbeat and very effective little noir thriller. Very highly recommended.