UK / 47 minutes / bw / Highbury, GFD Dir: Slim Hand Pr: John Croydon Scr: W.E.C. Fairchild Cine: Walter Harvey Cast: Ralph Michael, Peggy Evans, Christopher Lee, Diana Dors, Frederick Piper, Olaf Pooley, Ethel Coleridge, Sam Costa, Dennis Vance, Shaun Noble, John Lorrell, Philip Saville, Peter Madren, Duncan Carse.
Scotland Yard investigator Henry Pownall (Noble), on returning to the UK from the Continent with information on Gateway to Freedom, an organization dedicated to helping Nazi war criminals escape justice, is murdered en route from the airport to the Yard. In charge of the Gateway to Freedom investigation, and thus now of the murder case, is Detective Inspector Michael Carson (Michael), whose secretary Molly James (an almost unrecognizable Dors) shares a flat with Penny Justin (Evans), the model for the daily newspaper comic strip Penny, drawn by artist Jonathan Blair (Lee). The aim of the strip, as Penny explains to Blair’s cleaning lady, Mrs. Hodgson (Coleridge), is to show her always in danger of becoming naked, so that readers daren’t skip an episode in case they miss something.
Molly James (Diana Dors) and her boss Superintendent Michael Carson (Ralph Michael).
Penny has been rebuffing Blair’s suggestion that they go to Spain together next Friday for a couple of weeks, ostensibly to draw a new strip set there but, she suspects, in hopes of, well, you get the general idea.
Addicted to the Peter Craxton gumshoe novels, Penny is fascinated by Molly’s job, and worms out of her the elements of the Pownall case. When, next day at Blair’s studio, someone calls to see him and mentions the name Pownall, Penny is all ears; she goes straight to the Yard and tells Molly. Learning that Carson is planning to send an undercover investigator next Friday to Spain to pick up where Pownall left off, she puts two and two together and, alas, makes five; she agrees to the Spanish trip.
Penny (Peggy Evans) in characteristic pose.
As we’ve already realized, Blair isn’t the special operative: he’s the Gateway to Freedom mastermind, and has been using a code in the strip’s drawings to send messages to his Nazi accomplices on the mainland. One of those accomplices, as Penny eventually discovers in Madrid, is the ruthless Colonel von Leicher (Pooley). By then she’s realized Blair is a bad guy. Rescuing Carson from von Leicher’s clutches, she agrees to spy on Blair for him . . .
Penny spies on Blair (Christopher Lee) as he engages in dark doings.
Penny and the Pownall Case gives every indication—even in its title—of being the first in a series, but as far as I can establish there was never a further episode. It’s hard to understand why because, although this short feature is hardly an ambitious piece and has “B-movie” written all over it, it’s entertaining and has really quite a lot of appeal, despite a plot that seems more designed for a comic strip than a movie (which may have been the intention). One substantial hole in it is that Pownall could perfectly easily have phoned in the information he chose to bring in his briefcase and for which he was murdered.
Blair (Christopher Lee) tells Penny that ze Var is nicht over yet!
The very lovely Evans makes a most fetching star, and in keeping with her drawn character spends quite a lot of time prancing around in her underwear. Lee and Dors were rising stars, and Michael an established one (albeit not on the first tier). The soundtrack was composed by Elisabeth Lutyens, no less, and played by the Philharmonia Orchestra of London conducted by John Hollingsworth. All in all, then, although the project was given to a first-time director—in fact, this would be Hand’s sole directorial outing—it seems obvious the studio had high hopes for the character.
Penny (Peggy Evans) faces Superintendent Michael Carson (Ralph Michael) with a feather in her cap.
The Christopher Lee in this movie is a far cry from the later Dracula-style persona that’d become associated with him; in fact, for a while we think he might be playing the romantic lead. Likewise Dors, here with dark hair that’s coiffed into a ludicrous structure, plays a character far divorced from her later Blonde Bombshell image: she’s a rather mousy secretary.