Man in the Road, The (1957)

UK / 83 minutes / bw / Gibraltar, Grand National Dir: Lance Comfort Pr: Charles A. Leeds Scr: Guy Morgan Story: He Was Found in the Road (1952) by Anthony Armstrong Cine: Stan Pavey, Eric Besche Cast: Derek Farr, Ella Raines, Donald Wolfit, Lisa Danielly, Karel Stepanek, Cyril Cusack, Olive Sloane, Bruce Beeby, Russell Napier, Frederick Piper, John Welsh, Alfred Maron.

Man in the Road - 0 opener

Dr. James Paxton (Farr), a prominent scientist (although his specialty’s never identified), is out driving a country lane at night when, turning a corner, he finds a man lying in the middle of the road. He gets out to offer help, whereupon he’s immediately knocked unconscious. His clothes are swapped with those of the dead man, whose corpse is put into Paxton’s car and the vehicle set alight.

Days or longer later, we find him waking in a nursing home, Downview Hall, near Medworth, run by the sinister Professor Cattrell (Wolfit). Cattrell and his staff—Dr. Manning (Beeby) and the saucy Nurse Mitzi (Danielly)—use a mixture of drugs, hypnosis and, in Mitzi’s case, blandishment to persuade him that he’s really a faceless accountant called Ivan Mason, found lying in the middle of a country road having obviously been run down in a hit-and-run accident. “Ivan” is persuaded—especially by Mitzi, with whom he becomes infatuated and who pretends to reciprocate the feeling—that, yes, indeed he must be suffering amnesia after his accident.

Man in the Road - 1 Dr Cattrell & his hypnotic cig lighter

Dr. Cattrell (Donald Wolfit) wields his hypnotic cigarette lighter.

It doesn’t strike Ivan as strange that Cattrell is going to odd lengths to try to reconstruct his past, such as ferrying out from London Ivan’s supposed old Clapham Common landlady, Mrs. Lemming (Sloane) and tracking down the man at the Soviet Embassy, Dmitri Balinkev (Stepanek), who supposedly has been giving Ivan bits of—perfectly legitimate—work. It seems, although Ivan has—as with everything else—no memory of this, that he was planning soon to go to the USSR to visit his dear old mother, who has taken a turn for the worse, poor dear.

Man in the Road - 2 Mrs Lemming acts plausible

Mrs. Lemming (Olive Sloane) acts all plausible.

There’s a loose cannon in Downview Hall in the shape of Dr. Charlie Kelly (Cusack); at one point Ivan says he can’t work out if Kelly is on the staff or a patient, and it’s a confusion we share. Certainly Kelly’s a qualified physician; certainly also he’s an alcoholic who requires treatment. Kelly manages to set up a rendezvous at a local pub with Ivan, and there explains to him that the injuries Ivan supposedly received in the accident were trivial, most of them being faked after Ivan had been brought unconscious to Downview Hall. Also, Kelly’s pretty certain that “Ivan” is not really our hero’s name . . .

After dropping a drunken Kelly back near Downview Hall, Ivan makes the acquaintance of local resident Rhona Ellison (Raines), a professional mystery novelist and daughter of a diplomat at the US Embassy. She’s wary of him, assuming he’s an escaped loony, but it’s obvious they’re attracted.

Man in the Road - 3 Ivan reckons Mitzi is the one he can trust

Ivan (Derek Farr) reckons Nurse Mitzi (Lisa Danielly) is the only one he can trust.

When Ivan discovers that Kelly has been found dead, supposedly the victim of yet another hit-and-run accident, he decides it’s time to go on the lam from Downview Hall. Improbably escaping pursuers and dogs, he makes it to Rhona’s cottage, where she swallows her fears and becomes his staunch ally. Together they go to London, where she enlists the aid of Superintendent Davidson (Napier) of the Yard while Ivan is with some ease coaxing out of Mrs. Lemming that she was lying through her teeth when she identified him as her ex-lodger Ivan Mason.

Rather than hole out in London, the pair imbecilically head back to Medworth where, obviously, they’re immediately seized by Cattrell and the rest of the gang of Commie spies who want to get James Paxton behind the Iron Curtain so they can squeeze all his scientific secrets out of him. But the bad guys reckon without the resourcefulness of our hero and heroine, not to mention that of Superintendent Davidson . . .

Man in the Road - 4 Charlie Kelly, in characteristic pose

Charlie Kelly (Cyril Cusack), in characteristic pose.

Aside from the major imaginative hole at the plot’s center—exactly what are these scientific secrets that the Russkies want to get from James Paxton?—this is a movie, albeit a minor one, that has many strengths.

One joy is to see Wolfit in a role that he can get his teeth into: the part of Cattrell is hardly a gem from Shakespeare but, looking at so many of the dead-end supporting movie roles this distinguished stage actor was generally offered (plug his name into the Search box on this site for at least a couple), he’s at least able to give us a hint of his capabilities.

This was by some years the last big-screen hurrah for Ella Raines. She’d had a distinguished career in Hollywood, notably in film noir. It seems odd to see her looking so much older here than in her classic roles—like PHANTOM LADY (1944), The STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945), The SUSPECT (1945), The WEB (1947), IMPACT (1949), and A DANGEROUS PROFESSION (1949)—but she undeniably retains her wonderful onscreen charm and likability; it’s no wonder Ivan falls head-over-heels for her, even though he’s just emerging from Mitzi’s clutches. At the same time, I felt more than a frisson of annoyance that Rhona’s apparently distinguished career as a mystery novelist seems all but submerged by her desire to become, sometime after the end-credits, Mrs. James Paxton.

Man in the Road - 5 Rhona begins to realize Ivan may be a runaway loony

Rhona (Ella Raines) begins to realize that Ivan (Derek Farr) may be a runaway loony.

I can’t remember where first I came across reference to The Man in the Road during the long period of research for my Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir; as far as I could work out, the movie appeared to have been lost, and eventually I gave up all hope of finding a copy I could view for inclusion. And then, in February 2015, up suddenly pops Jimbo Berkey’s site with an mp4. I’m not sure, now, that the movie would have made the cut—it has lots of noirish tropes but at the same time it’s not avowedly a noir. Even so, I’m glad that finally I can add it to, as it were, the database.

The standard brief synopsis that appears on Wikipedia and elsewhere—”A brilliant scientist suffering from amnesia is hunted by Communist agents in search of a secret formula”—is nonsense.

There are some fun moments in the screenplay. As Ivan and Rhona are on the train up to London they go through a stack of newspapers to see if there’s any coverage of Ivan’s escape from Downview Hall. As Ivan picks up a tabloid, Rhona says with a laugh, “Don’t kid yourself, mister. You wouldn’t be in that one unless you had a 37-inch bust.” Foreshadows of Rupert Murdoch’s flagship, the Sun. And there are also a few Choprafundities like, from Cattrell, “For those who are chosen there is no choice.”

There’s a certain Nigel Balchin feeling to the movie, were it not for that dreadful lacuna noted above: the science is missing. Even if the science at the heart of a Balchin tale was often dodgy (he was, after all, interested less in the science than the scientists), it was still actually there. Here we’re supposed just to take it for granted. “Oh, yah, he’s a scientist, a scientist, no wunner them Russkies’d want to seize him and, ah, yah, right.”

There are similarities between this and A STRANGE AWAKENING (1958), a movie based on a Patrick Quentin novel that likewise has a hero trying to come to terms with fake amnesia after an accident, while those around him are doing their best to persuade him he’s someone else. The Man in the Road is the better of the two movies, hands-down.

Man in the Road - 6 closer

 

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19 thoughts on “Man in the Road, The (1957)

  1. Speaking of lost films, in my own noir and “noirish” database, I have a column for films that are “not confirmed extant” based on my (slight) researches at the IMDB and other sources. Many of them are B Brit-noirs. For example, here are the films with titles beginning A-E that I’m not sure have been found. Perhaps you have seen or located some of these?

    The Accused (1953)
    Alive on Saturday (1957)
    Blind Man’s Bluff (1952)
    Bungalow 13 (1948)
    But Not in Vain (1958)
    The Checkered Coat (1948)
    Chelsea Story (1951)
    Crosstrap (1961)
    Deark Interval (1950)
    Deadly Record (1959)

    More to follow…

    • That was “Dark Interval,” of course. You never know what will turn up. In recent years, a number of lost films and “noir holy grails” have surfaced: Escape (1948), For You I Die (1948), Fugitive Lady (1951), Incident (1948), Man of Courage (1943), The Man Who Returned to Life (1942), Shed No Tears (1948). I was shocked when Art Ford’s 1954 Johnny Gunman surfaced on DVD – I hadn’t even been sure that film existed in a completed state. I am terribly interested in lost films in general, not just noir ones. The BFI has a great list of films they are looking for, some of them surprisingly recent.

      Here are my unaccounted-fors in the F-M range of the alphabet.

      The Golden Link (1954)
      The Great Plane Robbery (1950)
      The High Powered Rifle (1960)
      I Cheated the Law (1949)
      I Cover Big Town (1947)
      The Last Express (1938)
      Lonnie (1963)
      Man on the Prowl (1957)
      Murder Will Out (1939)

      • I checked the BFI 75 Most Wanted, as well as their updates on what had been found, including four films that had been on my doubtful list: Deadlock (1943), Double Confession (1950), Three Steps in the Dark (1953), The World Owes Me a Living (1945). I also discovered at the IMDB that Noose for a Lady (1953) had been found. All good. Four films I mentioned earlier are on the BFI list – Alive on Saturday, But Not in Vain, Crosstrap, Murder Will Out.

        Here are my entries for the N-Z range of the alphabet.

        The Night Invader (1943)
        The Patient Vanishes (aka This Man Is Dangerous) (1941) (on BFI list)
        A Public Affair (1962)
        Scandal Incorporated (1956)
        Sleep Is Lovely (1968) (on BFI list)
        Squadron Leader X (1943) (on BFI list)
        Street of Darkness (1958)
        Valley of the Redwoods (1960)
        Watch the Birdie…Die! (1968)

        • Third batch: Again I can’t help! Street of Darkness seems very familiar (but it’s such s generic title I could easily be thinking of something else!) and I’m pretty certain I saw Watch the Birdie . . . Die.

      • Sorry, Patrick, I’m flagging here: this cold is getting worse, not better, alas . . .

        I’ve now checked your second batch against my own databank, and again can’t be helpful; I thought I actually had a copy of I Cover Big Town, but no such luck. Once again, I’d guess I’ve seen some of these (Plane, Prowl, Murder) in my youth — I spent far too much pocket money/allowance on a little rerun theater in town — but I can recall no details.

    • I haven’t seen any of your first batch, and wouldn’t know where to laty hands on copies. A couple of the titles resonate, so it may very well be that I saw those movies in my youth.

      I’ll check your second batch later. I’m struggling with a fluish cold and deadlines this weekend.

      • No rush! I just thought, if ANYONE has seen them, it would be you or Michael Keaney. Unfortunately, I don’t have your book or his books here with me in Mexico – I will have to remedy that at some point.

  2. Thanks for this enjoyable review of a film I saw recently. And let’s hear it for Jimbo Berkey for making so many rare noirs, that I used to pay large-ish sums for on Ebay and iOffer for generally very poor, almost unwatchable copies, available for FREE, and often in a quality good enough for a large screen. I saw this film projected onto a wall at 60 inches, and I’ve seen worse prints at the NFT. Only this week, the much-sought-after ‘Flying Scot’ aka ‘The Mailbag Robbery’, which was in Selby’s Worldwide Film Noir Tradition Book (a book at once invaluable and infuriating because of the sparsity of information, and the plethora of misprints) turned up for download.

    Re: the sauciness in the screenplay:
    “You’re a wonderful nurse. You’ve only got to lift your little finger and compound fractures get up and…”
    “And what?”
    “When I’m mobile I’ll show you.”

    This exchange is quoted in Brian McFarlane’s book (yes, an entire book!) on Lance Comfort, that much-ignored provider of 50s and 60s Britnoir. There are two pages on this film alone, and references to it littered throughout.

    In answer to your question: He was a scientist specialising in SCIENCE. I hope that clears up any confusion, ahem. And they were after the WHATCHAMACCALLIT that would save the THINGUMMYJIG for the WHOSITS.

    And cheers to Patrickmurtha for adding yet another mysterious ten titles to my list of ‘missing noir’.

    All right. They’ve spotted me. I have to go back to my padded cell and pretend to be who they say I am…

    • I haven’t got that book of Selby’s either, and really need to pick it up, as well as Robin Buss’s French Film Noir, Andrew Spicer’s European Film Noir, and similar titles. My database of noir and noirish titles is up to 3,000 entries now, as well as more than 200 television series, and I haven’t even tried to include neo-noirs on a comprehensive basis yet.

      • The Buss book is very useful, although his plot synopses tend to be bit nonspecific. Spicer’s European Noir is good, and his historical dictionary is pretty useful too (although he doesn’t include many entries on individual movies). Keaney’s books are invaluable, although his British vol includes a few movies that I couldn’t persuade myself were even noirish. There are a few others I’d recommend — and I’ll try to remember to do so when my head isn’t so stupid from this bloody cold.

        Now off to dose myself with some of that foul-tasting orange stuff . . .

    • Many thanks for the long and helpful comment!

      I don’t know the Selby book at all — obviously it slipped under my radar. I’d better have a look at it at some point.

      And let’s hear it for Jimbo Berkey for making so many rare noirs

      I couldn’t agree more. It’s become an incredibly useful site.

      In answer to your question: He was a scientist specialising in SCIENCE. I hope that clears up any confusion

      Yes, that’s really helpful. It’s interesting, though, that the baloney “synopsis” I mention is so widespread. I haven’t checked, but my guess would be that its origin is AllMovie, whose reviewers have often very obviously not seen the movie in question, but are just guessing from insufficient data.

  3. I did a closer scan of the BFI 75 for relevant titles, and found a few. Two of them, The Diamond (1954) and Salute the Toff aka Brighthaven Express (1952) have been confirmed extant. I believe the other three are still missing – The Golden Madonna (1949), Hammer the Toff (1952), and Farewell Performance (1963). Adding those three to the 28 I listed earlier gives a total of at least 31 relevant and apparently missing films (but I’m certain that I’ve overlooked some). Of course, I would be delighted to REMOVE films from the list, since that is the whole point of it! I suspect that most of them are in fact “out there” somewhere, because several of the titles I listed earlier as having turned up were long thought to be impossible to find.

    If we dig into international noir, the list of what needs to be located will become MUCH longer.

  4. Wow, what a review and fabulous comment section!! The theme reminds of a few other notable amnesia dramas, and looks like this is worth a look-see, based on what you say about “fun moments in the screenplay.” Great job!!

    • It’s certainly well worth a look-see, and of course a delight that it has come back into the public view.

      Many thanks for dropping by, and as always for the encouragement.

  5. Pingback: Silent Dust (1949) | Noirish

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