Midnight Episode (1950)

UK / 77 minutes / bw / Triangle, Columbia Dir: Gordon Parry Pr: Theo Lageard Scr: Reeve Tyler, Rita Barisse, Paul Vincent Carroll, David Evans, William Templeton Story: Monsieur La Souris (1938) by Georges Simenon Cine: Hone Glendining Cast: Stanley Holloway, Leslie Dwyer, Reginald Tate, Meredith Edwards, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Joy Shelton, Natasha Parry, Raymond Young, Leslie Perrins, Sebastian Cabot, Campbell Copelin, Helena Carroll, Darcy Conyers, Edna Morris, William Simons, Joseph Chelton, Molineros and his Rhumba Band.

Midnight Episode - 0 opener

Loquacious street entertainer Kelvin Landseer Prince (Holloway)—”The Professor”—scrapes a living through delivering orotund recitations from The Greats to theater queues in London’s West End while occasionally, in hopes of a tip, opening car doors for arrivals at the nearby Silver Slipper Club. One night he opens just such a car door to discover the driver apparently dead. He runs to fetch the Silver Slipper’s doorman, “The General” (Copelin), but just as they return the car drives off; The General clearly thinks The Professor has been at the bottle, but the latter notices that a wallet has fallen out of the car, and pockets it.

Back at the hovel he shares with his best friend Albert (Dwyer), another street entertainer, he plans what to do. There’s a fair amount of money in the wallet. The Professor decides to hand some of this in to the cops while keeping a “commission” as well as the wallet itself, which he hides inside a torn cushion at the grungy café he and Albert frequent, run by caricature Italian Benno (Cabot). Curious, the Professor goes to the address shown on a prescription inside the wallet to ask the pharmacist, Mr. Knight (Hyde-White), if he knows where the prescribee might live, and discovers that Knight is in fact the landlord of the dead man, Robert Arnold, his wife Sheila (Shelton) and his son Michael (Simons). Touched by Sheila’s sweetness and her ignorance that she’s become a widow, The Professor decides not to enlighten her.

Midnight Episode - 1 Prof explains his find to Albert

The Professor (Stanley Holloway) explains his find to Albert (Leslie Dwyer).

The car and the corpse are pulled out of the Thames, and the deceased is identified not as Robert Arnold but as Charles Mason. It soon proves, though, that Mason (Perrins) is merely the car’s owner; he claims he lent it to Edward Harris, the owner of the Silver Slipper, who earlier that night had sold the club to him.

By now Chief Inspector Lucas of the Yard (Tate) and his sidekick, Detective Sergeant Taylor (Edwards), are on the job. Their attention focuses both on The Professor, whom they reckon knows where the wallet and its contents are, and on the Silver Slipper, where the young manager, David Miller (Young), and Harris’s daughter, Jill (Parry), seem to be behaving rather suspiciously. Miller claims the dead man lent him £500 just before going out that fatal night.

So both Mason and Miller desperately want the wallet to be found, the former because it contains proof of his purchase of the club, the latter because it contains the IOU for the £500 that’d show he hasn’t merely embezzled the money. But do either of them want it badly enough that they’d hit The Professor over the head in order to search his clothing and then later, harder, in order to search his shared hovel? The Professor quite likes his spells in hospital—a comfortable bed, a nurse (Carroll) to chat up, etc.—but by the end of the second stay he’s frightened, especially since he has worked out who the killer is. The trouble is that, in his fear, he manages without realizing it to deliver himself right into the killer’s hands . . .

Midnight Episode - 2 Albert advises Prof

Albert (Leslie Dwyer) gives the Professor (Stanley Holloway) a bit of advice.

Simenon’s novel had been filmed before, in France, as MONSIEUR LA SOURIS (1942) dir Georges Lacombe, with Raimu, Raymond Aimos, Gilbert Gil, Bergeron, Paul Amiot, Aimé Clariond, Micheline Francey and Marie Carlot. The UK version treats its subject matter as a sort of tragicomedy, although by no means simply as a piece of light entertainment.

In this it’s anchored by perhaps the best Stanley Holloway performance I’ve ever seen. He makes The Professor, for all his occasional risible failings, almost a force of nature: yes, the man’s pompous and self-important, especially for one who has so little, but soon he earns our respect and we start to accept that he’s fully entitled to the dignity that earlier might have made us smile. For all that his honesty is only an approximation, The Professor is in most ways an admirable old boy . . . and Holloway captures this with absolute perfection, from the posture to the intonation to the phrasing to even the movements of the eyes. Ably supported by Dwyer, Holloway pulls us right into the tale to the extent that we almost forget that we came here for a mystery movie: our concern becomes overwhelmingly for The Professor and his welfare. When we finally part company with him it’s in a moment of great poignancy.

This isn’t to say that Holloway isn’t given occasional comic material to work with. The best of the relevant scenes occurs when The Professor goes to Benno’s restaurant determined to retrieve the wallet from the torn cushion and discovers the cushion in question being sat upon by a plump woman (Morris) who steadfastly tries to read her newspaper while The Professor, with appallingly obvious “subtlety”, tries to investigate the cushion.

And what about the mystery and detection aspect of the movie? The solution is in fact very ingenious, the killer’s motive being none of those hinted at above and Lucas’s big breakthrough coming when he realizes that, while all this time the cops have been trying to find out who would want to kill Harris, really they should have been investigating who might want to kill his alter ego, Arnold. Besides, why had Harris/Arnold chosen to lead a double life?

The score, by Mischa Spoliansky, manages to mix the normal “light classical” of the standard 1950s movie with flourishes of London street music.

Midnight Episode - 3 Harris's daughter Jill

Jill Harris (Natasha Parry), daughter of the murdered club-owner.

One odd facet of the movie is that Jill Harris doesn’t seem too affected by her father’s death; in one scene, for example, Lucas is interviewing both Jill and Miller and everyone talks of Harris as if he were some stranger, or at best a casual acquaintance. Jill is played by Natasha Parry, the daughter of Midnight Episode‘s director Gordon Parry. She had already appeared in a couple of movies and would go on to have a successful career in cinema, latterly on TV. She wed Peter Brook the year after Midnight Episode‘s release; the couple are still married.

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10 thoughts on “Midnight Episode (1950)

  1. Must see this! I bet Stanley Holloway is a-maz-ing in this. And the premise sounds really good, too.

    Are film noir distributors paying you a commission for getting everyone excited about these lesser-known films? They should, you know.

    • Many thanks for dropping by, and for the kind words. Especially these:

      Are film noir distributors paying you a commission for getting everyone excited about these lesser-known films?

      That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me all week! Oh, but I wish it were true: Do feel free to encourage distributors to send me hefty bundles of cash.

      What puzzles me is why some of these movies have become “lesser known”. Holloway’s a fairly major star (well, far from insignificant, anyway); this is a Simenon adaptation; so why the obscurity?

      There is, by the way, a very good book on lesser-known noirs, if you haven’t come across it (which I imagine you have but I can’t resist giving it the plug): Arthur Lyons’s Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir. In my own book on noir I tried to pick up as many of the obscure ones as possible, but I missed quite a few, like Midnight Episode — hence this website.

  2. Your incredible praise for Holloway’s work here is certainly eye-opening and reason alone to see it. Sorry to say I have not, and until now wasn’t even aware of the film. As always your writing makes for a most engaging review. Sounds the mystery elements trump all else.

    • Thanks for popping by, and as always for the kind words. Oddly enough, what I remember most about the movie after a period of months is not the mystery (aside from the setup, which is wonderful) so much as Holloway’s characterization of The Professor and his interaction with the others, especially Dwyer.

  3. Pingback: Crow Hollow (1952) | Noirish

  4. Hi – great to see your article on an enjoyable (if minor) 50s film which I’ve just watched. It’s certain that it is the craft of Holloway, Dwyer and Edwards which make it so watchable though the script is clever and well constructed. The 1950s England you see in this and other films of the time, like The Happy Family, (I was born in the early 50s so don’t quite remember this), is so dark and dirty that it seems like ancient history – but it’s within living (i.e. my mum’s!) memory. Great stuff!

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