Scarlet Web, The (1954)

UK / 63 minutes / bw / Fortress, Eros Dir: Charles Saunders Pr: Frank Bevis Scr: Doreen Montgomery Cine: Hone Glendining Cast: Griffith Jones, Hazel Court, Zena Marshall, Robert Perceval, Molly Raynor, Ronald Stevens, John Fitzgerald, Stuart Douglass, Robert Moore, Gail Kendal, David Stoll, Michael Balfour, Katie Stuart, Judith Nelmes, Leo Phillips.

Scarlet Web - 1 Jake Winter emerges from prison

“Jack Warren” (Griffith Jones) emerges from prison.

When he’s released from jail after a three-month stretch for breaking and entering, Jack Warren (Jones) finds a beautiful stranger (Marshall) waiting for him. She offers him a lift to London and he accepts. En route she tells him that she’s been searching for a thief to recover a letter that’s being used to blackmail her husband, financial consultant Charles Dexter (Perceval).

What she doesn’t know is that “Jack Warren” is really insurance investigator Jake Winter, and that the time he spent inside was in pursuit of a case. What he doesn’t know is that she’s not Mrs. Dexter; we eventually learn she’s called Laura Vane.

After he’s agreed to meet her and her husband that evening, Jake goes to the HQ of the Imperial Insurance Company, where he discovers that his old boss, the mustachioed Forrester, has been replaced by Susan “Sue” Honeywell (Court). Immediately attracted—she does, after all, look like Hazel Court—he casts various aspersions on her likely abilities as a mere chit of a girl, remarks that she looks ghastly in her spectacles, tells her she suits the nickname “Honey” so that’s what he’s going to call her, and in general behaves in the ways 1950s males thought were irresistibly alluring to the opposite sex. (Sue eventually does ditch the glasses; it’s a mystery as to why she doesn’t spend the later stages of the movie bumping into walls and tripping over furniture.)

Scarlet Web - 2 the fake Mrs. Dexter lures Jake with smoochy dancing and rye

The fake Mrs. Dexter (Zena Marshall) lures Jake (Griffith Jones) with smoochy dancing and rye.

At the Dexter apartment in snooty Albion Mansions, London W1, “Mrs. Dexter” shows Jake a telegram from Charles Dexter saying he’s missed his plane back from Paris; with luck he’ll be home in an hour or so, she tells Jake, and in the interim they could have a few drinkies, no? As one might anticipate, she loads his with knockout drops; when he wakes it’s to discover a ceremonial dagger in his hand and a dead woman—the real Mrs. Dexter—in the adjoining room. Thinking quickly despite his grogginess, he’s able to escape just as Dexter gets home . . .

Scarlet Web - 3 as his consciousness ebbs, Jake realizes the truth about fake Mrs D

As his consciousness ebbs, Jake realizes the truth about “Mrs Dexter” (Zena Marshall).

Soon Jake and Sue are working together to try to find out what’s going on. Sue realizes that just a couple of months ago Dexter and his wife took out massive insurance policies. It doesn’t take our sleuths long to guess that Dexter and the nameless blonde must have plotted to murder Mrs. Dexter for the insurance money, frame a jailbird, and live happily ever after. Going to Dexter’s office and pretending to be a journalist, Jake interviews Dexter’s bossy secretary, Miss Annabel Riggs (Raynor), and discovers from the clerk, Simpson (Stevens), that Dexter’s business is in tatters. Simpson promises to try to find out more about Dexter’s blonde floozy; when Riggs catches him going through Dexter’s files she alerts Dexter, with the result that Simpson is murdered before he can give the info to Jake . . .

Scarlet Web - 4 Jake arrives at Simpson's flat to discover someone else got there first

 Jake arrives at Simpson’s flat to discover someone else got there first.

Scarlet Web - 5 a vital clue found in Simpson's fireplace

A vital clue found in Simpson’s fireplace.

Doreen Montgomery was a screenwriter who tended to produce stalwart scripts that were marked by their complete predictability. (I knew her years later, by which time she was a literary agent for, among others, the kitsch poet Patience Strong. I recall her as tremendous fun and one of life’s great good eggs.) This predictability might have been a disadvantage in more ambitious movies, but to the B-movies for which she normally wrote it brought some benefits; The Scarlet Web, for example, offers us nothing surprising but does give an hour’s worth of good, solid entertainment. There’s only one outrageous coincidence, and even that doesn’t seem too ridiculous in context.

Scarlet Web - 6a Hazel Court, charming as always

Hazel Court as Sue, charming as always.

Of course, the big attraction here is Hazel Court, who charmed her way through dozens of UK movies through the 1950s and 1960s. She was also one of the early Scream Queens, working with the likes of Roger Corman and Hammer Studios. By contrast, Griffith Jones is a pretty lackluster leading man, although Zena Marshall brings a certain pleasing steel to the role of the femme fatale; it’s quite a surprise to learn that she was naturally not a blonde but a brunette. Among the supporting roles, Molly Raynor gives us a turn that deftly melds humor and pathos as the elderly, lonely, unlovely spinster who seems only too aware that she’s let her life slip through her fingers while she’s been concentrating on rules and proprieties. And there’s a great cameo from Michael Balfour as a sympathetic barman.




4 thoughts on “Scarlet Web, The (1954)

  1. Hazel Court is a splendid actress and was happy to see her name here. But otherwise I am not familiar with this short feature, which you give a pretty fair value judgement for. As always an excellently written piece!

    • Thanks as always for the kind words. Yes, as with so many of these old UK crime movies/borderline noirs, this has lots of good elements — like Hazel Court and Michael Balfour — but adds up to nothing memorable, just a moderately pleasurably spent hour or so. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

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