Twice Branded (1936)

vt Father and Son

UK / 68 minutes / bw / George Smith, Nettlefold, Radio Pictures Dir: Maclean Rogers Pr: George Smith Scr: Kathleen Butler, H.F. Maltby Story: “Trouble in the House” (n.d.) by Anthony Richardson Cine: Geoffrey Faithfull Cast: Robert Rendel, Ethel Griffies, James Mason, Lucille Lisle, Eve Gray, Mickey Brantford, Neville Brook, Michael Ripper.

Twelve years ago Henry Hamilton (Rendel), deceived and defrauded by a crooked business partner who left him holding the can, was sent to prison. Now his time’s up, to the intense embarrassment of snobbish wife Etta (Griffies) and elder daughter Sylvia (Gray) as well as his whizzkid businessman son, also called Henry (Mason), who’ve been living on the legitimately earned portion of his fortune and telling the world that he died. On his release the trio persuade him to hide that he’s a jailbird and pretend he’s a black sheep brother of himself, Charles, who has for many years lived in South America; the only family member not in on this deception is the youngest, Betty (Lisle), who’s also the only one who treats “Uncle Charles” like a human being rather than an inconvenient presence.

Etta is refusing to let Betty marry her true love, inventor Dennis Hill (Brantford), because he’s a mere garage mechanic; by movie’s end “Uncle Charles” has sorted that out. Also, on discovering that son Henry’s business partner, now calling himself Marcus Leadbetter (Brook), is the same swindler who landed Henry Sr. in prison and is in the process of pulling off an identical trick on Henry Jr., “Uncle Charles” decides he’d be better off back inside than among this nest of shallow, narcissistic, mean-spirited vipers, and takes the rap for his son.

More social satire than protonoir (and certainly not the “prison melodrama” it’s sometimes listed as), this has quite a few comedy routines interspersed among the rest, some quite funny, others drearily labored; among the latter are those featuring, in only his third role, legendary character actor Michael Ripper as a stage thespian slumming it as a stand-in butler.

Mason would of course go on to become one of cinema’s great stars, often playing the same kind of self-serving but ultimately redeemable cad that he does here. Lisle and Brantford, who display a fair degree of charm as the unassuming young lovers, were less fortunate. The Australian-born Lisle, unlucky in her choices of movies, eventually opted for a moderately successful stage and radio career, retiring relatively young in the late 1950s. Brantford would make just a few more movies before leaving the industry after Darby and Joan (1937).

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