Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Tiger by the Tail (1954)

A couple of years ago I started to notice something about British films of the 50s and 60s. If John Gilling’s name was mentioned in the credits as writer or director the film would generally turn out to be pretty interesting. Gilling made a lot of crime films and then in the 60s did some superb gothic horror movies for Hammer (Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile).

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.

Anna offers him a deal. She won’t ask him about his work and he won’t ask her about hers. Anna is clearly a woman with secrets. She’s unpredictable and mysterious and we get the feeling that she might be dangerous. She has that femme fatale thing about her. Desmond however has become obsessed with her.

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.

And he lands himself in even more trouble and he’s even more confused as to what’s going on. People are asking him questions and he doesn’t know what they’re about or who these people are and he tries lying but he doesn’t know the correct lies to tell.

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.

Lisa Daniely does the femme fatale thing with commendable subtlety. Constance Smith is likeable. The supporting cast is solid.

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.

The Renown Pictures DVD is reasonably good. As is usual with Renown the transfer is decent but it’s not of the quality you’d expect from a company like Network. The DVD case claims that the movie has been restored and maybe it has, but don’t expect a pristine transfer. But it’s a good interesting hard-to-find movie and they’ve made it available to us for a very reasonable price so I’m certainly not complaining.

Tiger by the Tail is a good solid noir-tinged mystery thriller which is worth 80 minutes of your time. Recommended.

Other reviews of John Gilling movies that you might like to check out - The Embezzler (which I loved), Deadly Nightshade (1953),  The Frightened Man (1952).

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