Franchise Affair, The (1951)

UK / 87 minutes / bw / Associated British Dir: Lawrence Huntington Pr: Robert Hall Scr: Robert Hall, Lawrence Huntington Story: The Franchise Affair (1948) by Josephine Tey Cine: Günther Krampf Cast: Michael Denison, Dulcie Gray, Anthony Nicholls, Marjorie Fielding, Athene Seyler, John Bailey, Hy Hazell, Kenneth More, Avice Landone, Maureen Glynne, Peter Jones, Moultrie Kelsall, Ann Stephens, Martin Boddey, John Forrest, Patrick Troughton, Victor Maddern.

Franchise Affair - 0 opener

Made at Elstree, a good adaptation of Tey’s famous novel about the rapid descent of the apparently amiable inhabitants of a sleepy rural town into lynch-mob, witch-hunting mentality. The movie itself is styled to reflect this theme, outwardly having many of the genial trappings of a “cozy” mystery while having at its heart a very steely message indeed.

Teenaged schoolgirl Betty Kane (Stephens) goes missing after visiting an aunt, and turns up a couple of weeks later at her adoptive parents’ home having clearly been beaten. She claims that she spent the intervening period as prisoner of spinster Marion Sharpe (Gray) and her elderly mother (Fielding) at The Franchise, a gloomy old manor on the outskirts of the small town of Melford, somewhere in the English Home Counties. The two women, Betty says, beat her in hopes of forcing her to become their maid. Bizarre though Betty’s tale is, the cops are compelled to take it seriously, especially since the girl displays an intimate knowledge of The Franchise, both inside and out.

Franchise Affair - 1 Robert's first sight of Franchise

Robert’s first sight of The Franchise.

Local solicitor Robert Blair (Denison) first hears of this when he gets a phonecall from Marion Sharpe begging for his help; local cop Inspector Hallam (Boddey) and Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Alan Grant (Bailey) ‑‑ ordinarily Tey’s series detective, but here, as in the novel, seen in almost a negative light ‑‑ are at The Franchise and she thinks she and her mother should have a lawyer present, pronto. In vain does Robert explain that his specialty lies more in drawing up wills than in criminal cases.

Franchise Affair - 2 Butter not melting in Betty's mouth

Butter assiduously not melting in Betty’s (Ann Stephens) mouth.

Although the evidence against the two women seems overwhelming, and although they obviously lack money to pay him, Robert takes on their case ‑‑ not just because he’s instantly attracted to Marion (in reality Gray and Denison had been married for over a decade, and they’re charming together) but because he believes a major injustice is about to be perpetrated.

When Betty’s foster-brother and boyfriend Leslie Wynn (Forrest) tells the whole story to the press, the locals pass instant judgement: the two women have lived in the area just a couple of years, since inheriting The Franchise, so obviously they must be guilty. Plus Betty is a respectable girl, you can tell it just by looking at her, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, only someone truly vicious could say a nice girl like that would tell a lie . . . Even Robert’s dotty old Aunt Lin (Seyler), with whom he lives, takes it for granted the Sharpes are guilty. Soon Marion and her delightfully waspish mother are receiving threatening letters and phonecalls, bricks through the windows, daubed obscenities on the walls . . .

Franchise Affair - 3 Aunt Lin expresses her opinion

Aunt Lin (Athene Seyler) expresses her opinion.

Robert enlists his pal Stan Peters (More) from the local garage and Stan’s chum Bill Brough (Troughton, later to be the second Dr. Who) to deal with the last of those, and the men have just completed the task one night when a mob arrives, storming The Franchise, smashing every window in sight, beating Stan and yelling threats. At this point Robert is finally able to persuade Inspector Hallam to start taking the danger to Marion and Mrs. Sharpe seriously, and devote some manpower to protecting them.

Franchise Affair - 4 Bill Brough, Stan Peters, Mrs Sharpe

Bill Brough (Patrick Troughton, standing) and Stan Peters (Kenneth More) find themselves getting on pretty well with the supposedly termagantish Mrs. Sharpe (Marjorie Fielding).

Things get blacker. A girl who once worked as the Sharpes’ maid, Rose Glynn (Glynne), claims that the reason they fired her was that one day she heard screams coming from the upstairs attic where Betty says she was confined. Marion says they fired her was because she stole a valuable wristwatch, but who’s listening to Marion?

Luckily, Robert and the expert London counsel he’s brought in to argue the case in court, distinguished London advocate Kevin McDermott (Nicholls), are doing just that ‑‑ listening to Marion. When the case finally comes to trial they produce two witnesses ‑‑ business traveler Bernard Chadwick (Jones) and his tough-as-nails wife Mary (Hazell) ‑‑ who between them reveal just exactly where Betty was, and what she was up to, during her disappearance.

Franchise Affair - 6 Rose Glynn's testimony starts to fall apart

The testimony of Rose Glynn (Maureen Glynne) starts to fall apart.

Although exonerated, Marion and her mother unsurprisingly determine to turn their backs on Melford . . .

This was remade for TV in 1958 as an hour-long play (dir Wilfred Eades, with Alec Clunes, Martita Hunt and Gwen Watford) in the Armchair Theatre series; in 1962 as a six-part serial (dir Mervyn Pinfield, with Michael Aldridge, Rosalie Crutchley, Veronica Turleigh and Meg Wynn Owen); and in 1988, again as a six-part serial (dir Leonard Lewis, with Patrick Malahide, Joanna McCallum, Rosalie Crutchley and Kate Emma Davies). A riff on the theme can be found in Minette Walters’s novel The Ice House (1992), which was excellently adapted for the screen as The Ice House (1996 TVM) dir Tim Fywell, with Kitty Aldridge, Daniel Craig, Penny Downie, Corin Redgrave and Frances Barber; in this instance it’s the discovery of a corpse in an outbuilding of the rickety old manor where the “odd women” live that sets off the locals. All of these versions have their merits, but the original movie still manages, despite its moments of light romance and flippancy, to pack quite a punch.

Franchise Affair - 5 Marion and Robert in a confessional momentMarion (Dulcie Gray) and Robert (Michael Denison) in a confessional moment.

======

Various editions of the novel are on Amazon.com. This one seems to have the best (used) prices: The Franchise Affair.

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22 thoughts on “Franchise Affair, The (1951)

    • Thanks for dropping by, Kristina!

      Golly! Your knowledge of old movies is so extensive that I’m surprised you haven’t come across this one. Yeah, if you ever come across it, I think you might enjoy it.

      • My interest far exceeds my knowledge of UK cinema, since it can be tough to find these types of titles over here, but I’d love to see much more. I am sure familiar with the reputations of Denison and Gray however.

  1. Cozy crime with a steely message at its heart, I really like the sound of this. If only our DVD rental provider had a copy! Wonderful write-up and pics, John – I always enjoy reading your posts.

    • Good to see you here, Jacqui, and many thanks for the kind words.

      If only our DVD rental provider had a copy!

      Judging by the quality of the screengrabs, I obviously found my copy on the Internet Archive, Jimbo Berkey’s site or even YouTube. I’ve just checked all three but without success, alas. Someone ha put up on YouTube the movie’s first 55 minutes or so; they obviously but up the rest at one point but it’s gone now. There’s also a clip that mentions the movie is now available on DVD, so the DVD does actually exist!

      When I lived in the UK the movie turned up reasonably regularly on t’telly, so you may have luck there.

  2. I have never laid eyes on this one John, and as always applaud you for unearthing yet another film, few have indeed gotten to. Fascinating theme, and a brilliantly written review that had me prisoner first word to last. Remarkable that is was re-done as a play and as a serial. Obviously it has great dramatic potential.

    • Thanks for dropping in and as always for the kind words, Sam.

      This is by no means an obscure movie in the UK, although obviously, from what Jacqui says, it has yet to make it to generally available DVD even there. It’d surprising it should be obscure even here, because it’s evident that Tey has a massive following among classic crime-fiction lovers in the US and this is one of her best known and most highly regarded novels. Obviously worth keeping an eye out for occasional TCM appearances!

  3. Great review, will have to look out for this on those afternoon-movie channels that are so beloved by UK broadcasters 😉 Despite being such a prolific director, I think I’ve only The Upturned Glass and The Vulture – do direct me to your reviews (if indeed you have!) as I’d love to hear your take on them…

    • I cover several in The Book. I’ve just checked and I have

      Deadly Nightshade (1953)
      Man on the Run (1949)
      Suspected Person (1942)
      The Upturned Glass (1947)
      Wanted for Murder (1946) vt A Voice in the Night

      I did think of covering The Franchise Affair as well, but it seemed a bit too tangential. Of course, having rewatched it and written about it for here, I’m beginning to wonder if I should have included it after all . . .

      On this site I’ve so far got, aside from Franchise,.

      Night Boat to Dublin (1946)
      Eight Witnesses (1950)

  4. Missed this article, John, until Sergio redirected me here when I was wondering if the new UK DVD was worth taking a chance on. Going by what you say here, I think it is. Thanks.

  5. Pingback: Night Won’t Talk, The (1952) | Noirish

  6. Pingback: Paper Orchid (1949) | Noirish

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