Dark Light, The (1951)

UK / 82 minutes / bw / Hammer, Exclusive Dir & Scr: Vernon Sewell Pr: Michael Carreras Cine: Moray Grant Cast: Albert Lieven, David Greene, Norman MacOwan, Martin Benson, Catherine Blake (i.e. Katharine Blake), Jack Stewart, Joan Carol, John Harvey, John Longden.

Yachtsman Roger (Harvey) and his wife Joan (Carol) are sailing near the Thimble Rock Lighthouse when they see that its light is dark. Going ashore with mate Stephen (Longden), they find a Mary Celeste-like situation, the place obviously having been not long abandoned, albeit in orderly fashion . . .

Flashback to the previous day, when the three-strong crew of the lighthouse—young, near-simpleminded Johnny (Greene), older, cynical Matt (Stewart) and skipper Rigby (MacOwan)—rescue the occupants of a dinghy—Mark Conway (Lieven), Linda (Blake) and Luigi (Benson)—who tell a story of their yacht having foundered. We soon find out that in fact the trio are bank robbers on the run, that under cover of fog they scuppered their escape vessel, the Egret, and that during the robbery Luigi fatally shot a cashier.

The Dark Light - 1 'Coo - one of them's a girl' says Johnny of the dinghy

“Coo — one of them’s a girl,” says sharp-eyed Johnny of the dinghy.

Skipper Rigby is adamant that the trio stay aboard until morning, when help can be sought from a passing ship, but unsurprisingly they want to be well away by then. They rope Matt in to aid them in getting to the French coast and then, when it emerges they’ll have to row the whole way, Linda uses lies and half-promises to lure Johnny into joining them. Just before they depart, unknown to the others, Luigi goes back and, after a fight, murders Rigby.

Some miles en route to France the truth of the murder emerges, Luigi pulls a gun, and a fight starts. Conway and Matt go overboard, not to be seen again, while Linda gets hold of the gun and tells Luigi and Johnny to keep rowin’ . . .

The Dark Light - 2 Albert Lieven as gang leader

 Albert Lieven as gang leader Mark Conway.

The first part of the movie’s the best, as the yachters investigate the deserted lighthouse: a nice sense of mystery builds up. However, when we cut to the three lighthouse keepers the spell is abruptly broken by static, stodgy directing and clumsy characterization that rapidly defaults to stereotypes—the salty, ageing sea dog, the big, sexually naive, genial dimwit (with quasi-rustic accent to match), the balding spiv with his eye forever on the main chance. Things don’t much improve with the arrival of the newcomers, although Blake has a charm and a definite screen presence that the rest of the cast-members uniformly lack. There’s a certain poignancy in realizing, after we’ve seen her sexually tease the simpleton Johnny, that at the time the two players were married.

The Dark Light - 3 Catherine Blake (i.e. Katharine Blake) charms

Linda (Katharine Blake) easily charms the simpleton Johnny.

There’s a sly moment in the early part of the movie. As Roger, Stephen and Joan are exploring the deserted lighthouse, a presumedly all-male preserve, they detect a trace of Chanel 5 in the air and find a smear of lipstick on a cloth. “Hm, jolly queer,” says Roger, to which Joan responds, “They must be.”

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3 thoughts on “Dark Light, The (1951)

  1. “The first part of the movie’s the best, as the yachters investigate the deserted lighthouse: a nice sense of mystery builds up. However, when we cut to the three lighthouse keepers the spell is abruptly broken by static, stodgy directing and clumsy characterization that rapidly defaults to stereotypes—the salty, ageing sea dog, the big, sexually naive, genial dimwit (with quasi-rustic accent to match), the balding spiv with his eye forever on the main chance”

    That’s too bad John. Ah well. This is another one I have not seen, though your summary judgement makes it clear that I need not break any promises to rectify that. Again you have come up with a compellingly-written piece on a film that many would still be intrigued at examining.

    • a film that many would still be intrigued at examining

      This one I really don’t think is worth going out of your way for — unless you’re a Hammer or Sewell completist, in which case it’s an interesting curio.

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