Tiger by the Tail, released in 1954, is an early effort.
We start with a guy in a London street and he’s in a lot of trouble. Then we go into the extended flashback that makes up most of the movie. And we get a voiceover narration.
John Desmond (Larry Parks) is a bitter depressed American reporter on assignment in London. He was bitter and depressed already but he doesn’t like England and he’s in a very negative frame of mind. He needs a drink, and going to find that drink turns out to be a fateful move (we’re definitely getting a bit of a film noir vibe at this point).
He meets a woman. Her name is Anna Ray (Lisa Daniely). Desmond is depressed and lonely and Anna is most definitely female and that’s enough to arouse his interest.
Then murder intervenes. Desmond is up to his neck in trouble, he’s too scared to go to the police and he has no idea what he has blundered into. He has a clue, a diary, but it’s in cypher. He does have one sensible idea. He needs someone to talk to and he picks the right someone, his patient English secretary Jane (Constance Smith). He can trust Jane. Probably. He has to trust someone. But then he remembers a certain vital piece of evidence that could link him to murder. He thinks he can retrieve the clue before the police find it.
This isn’t really film noir after all, but it is a mystery thriller with some noir trappings that make it more interesting. There are a couple of amusing comic interludes on a farm and in a hospital, there’s a decent action set-piece in a railway yard and John Desmond finds himself in a chase and he’s the hunted.
Larry Parks was the kind of American actor who turned in British movies in the 50s. His career in Hollywood was on the skids so British production companies could hire such actors without having to pay them exorbitant fees. In this case it wasn’t such a bad break for him - it’s a good part in a good movie and his performance is fine.
And of course the movie has that man Gilling involved, this time as director and co-writer.
Is it film noir? I think it does just about qualify. Structurally, content-wise and even to some extent stylistically it has a fair bit of noirness to it. John Desmond isn’t quite a sufficiently flawed character to be a true noir protagonist, unless you count grumpiness and poor judgment as character flaws.
The plot has sufficient twists and turns and elaborate conspiracies to keep things fairly interesting.
Tiger by the Tail is a good solid noir-tinged mystery thriller which is worth 80 minutes of your time. Recommended.