Pointing Finger, The (1933)

UK / 67  minutes / bw / Real Art, Ambassador Dir & Scr: George Pearson Pr: Julius Hagen Story: The Pointing Finger (1907) by “Rita” Cine: Ernest Palmer Cast: John Stuart, A. Bromley Davenport, Leslie Perrins, Michael Hogan, D.J. Williams, Clare Greet, Henrietta Watson, Viola Keats.

At the time of the Reformation, Henry VIII took the estate of Edensore away from the Church, giving it to one of his supporters, who became the first Earl of Edensore. The abbot, murdered in his own church, died with a curse on his lips:

Seventh eighth and one before
Curst be the race of Edensore
After that and nevermore
Curst be the race of Edensore

—a rhyme that may not match the best of Tennyson but has at least the right cursely verisimilitude in being cryptic to the point of meaninglessness. Arthur, the elderly Earl of Edensore (Davenport), explains all this to his son and heir, Ronnie, Lord Rollestone (Stuart), on the eve of the latter’s departure to Africa for a big-game-hunting expedition. The Earl adds that the prophecy is generally taken to mean that the eighth Earl—in other words, Ronnie when he inherits—is going to have a tough time of it. Hanging over them in the hall is a portrait of the abbot, pointing an accusatory finger . . .

The abbot accuses . . .

Ronnie is engaged to his cousin, Lady Mary Stuart (Keats), daughter of the old Earl’s sister Lady Anne Stuart (Watson), although the two young people have a far more sibling than romantic relationship: as Mary puts it, they’re going to go on “being just a couple of chums” for the rest of their lives.

Another cousin, the scapegrace Captain the Hon. James “Jimmy” Mallory (Perrins), would inherit the title and the estate if anything happened to Ronnie, and he determines that something indeed shall. He offers £1000 to an old daredevil friend of his, Patrick Lafone (Hogan), to join Ronnie’s party in Africa and make sure he doesn’t come back. “For a thousand quid I’d go from here to Hades,” says Pat. “And I wouldn’t be too particular either about what I did on the way.”

We’re treated to a brief African interlude that seems more like an extended out-take from one of the later (and cheaper) Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies than anything else. While Ronnie and Pat are deep in the bush, their party is attacked by hostile savages. Pat flees, leaving Ronnie to what Pat assumes is a certain death.

Yet not long afterwards Ronnie arrives home at Edensore, just in time to witness his father’s demise. Yet is it truly Ronnie? He looks and sounds like him, and knows all sorts of details that you’d expect only Ronnie to know, yet he’s strangely ignorant about other things, as when Mary calls him by her old nickname for him, Curlymop, and he clearly thinks it’s a name she coined on the spot. He can read without glasses whereas before he always needed them. He can’t recall his father telling him the secret of the family curse. And so on.

The scabrous Mallory is horrified to discover Ronnie’s apparently still alive, and accuses Pat of double-dealing. Pat decides both to blackmail the crew at Edensore and to cooperate with Mallory in trying to find out if “Ronnie” is really Ronnie. When Mary offers Pat money to try to find out the true identity of “Ronnie”, his heart suddenly melts for her and suddenly he’s on the side of the angels. Discovering that “Ronnie” is indeed an impostor—he lacks a homemade tattoo on his little finger that the real Ronnie showed Pat in Africa—he keeps the information from Mallory but tells Mary.

And then a man is found delirious in London, apparently having made it home from Africa only to be rolled for whatever possessions he had. This is the real Ronnie and, as he clings to life by a thread, Mary rushes him to Edensore while Pat holds Mallory in London at gunpoint. When the impostor, Ronald, is confronted by Ronnie he tells the story of what really happened in Africa.

Ronald was likewise on an expedition through the bush. On hearing that an Englishman had been seized by a hostile tribe, Ronald and his party released him. It proved that Ronald and Ronnie were half-brothers, Ronnie being the progeny of the Earl’s first, short-lived marriage—a son the Earl never knew he had. Ronnie pointed out that Ronald was in fact the true heir to the title. Since Ronnie would rather stay in the territory he loved, Africa (so much for the depths of his friendship with Mary!), he suggested Ronald should go back to Edensore in his place . . .

It’s easy to point at all the flaws in this movie—the clumsiness of the screenplay (the infodump at the start is painful, as the elderly Earl explains to Ronnie all sorts of stuff he already knows), the woodenness of much of the acting (although Hogan’s fine and Keats, with her beanpole seductiveness, is likewise), the somewhat leaden pacing and the lack of either chill or thrill—yet it remains really quite watchable and leaves a pleasant enough taste in the mouth. In genre terms, it has next to nothing to do with the US film noir tradition, yet the connection between this and later borderline UK noirs—such as those in the EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERIES series—is quite evident.

This version is a remake of the UK silent The Pointing Finger (1922) dir George Ridgwell, with Milton Rosmer, Madge Stuart, Joseph R. Tozer and Teddy Arundell. The earlier movie was scripted by Paul Rooff, and Rooff is often credited as having written a novel, Rita, upon which his screenplay was based. The true situation can be seen in the credits above: the novel was called The Pointing Finger and was written by an author who used the nom de plume “Rita” (complete with the quotes. Neither movie bears any relation to the US silent The Pointing Finger (1919) dir Edward A. Kull and Edward Morrissey, with Mary MacLaren, David Butler and John Cook, a romantic drama about an orphan girl making good in the world despite the villainy of the man who used to run the orphanage in which she was incarcerated.

On Amazon.com: The Pointing Finger

Amazon has various editions of the book. They’re all ludicrously expensive, though. You’d be better off begging your local library to go that one step further.

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2 thoughts on “Pointing Finger, The (1933)

  1. I am most intrigued with this description and the subject matter John, but until now this is another one that has alluded me. In fact the original silent it was based on is another than has never been on my radar. Great introduction, superlative review!

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