Double Exposure (1954)

UK / 61 minutes / bw / Kenilworth–Mid-Century, Rank Dir & Scr: John Gilling Pr: Robert S. Baker, Monty Berman Story: John Roddick Cine: Monty Berman Cast: John Bentley, Rona Anderson, Garry Marsh, Alexander Gauge, Ingeborg Wells, John Horsley, Doris Hare, Eric Berry, Frank Forsythe (i.e., Frank Forsyth), Ronan O’Casey, Alan Robinson, Ryck Rydon, Sally Newton.

Double Exposure 1954 0 opener

Barbara Leyland (Anderson) is a freelance “photo background designer”: she goes around photographing scenes onto which foreground images can be placed for the purposes of advertising. (Think Photoshop, but far clunkier.) One of her clients is Clayton Advertising, where she works with a chief designer called Jones (O’Casey). The company’s owner, Denis Clayton (Gauge), described as “MD of Clayton Advertising, Chairman of Clayton Textiles, Director of Self Finance and a racehorse owner,” has a little problem, as we soon discover: his estranged wife Laura owns the bulk of his various companies, and is in the process of selling them out from under him.

That problem disappears the day—October 4—that Laura plunges to her death from her sixth-floor window in a London street called Galway Court. Accident? Suicide? The cops decide there’s nothing much to pursue. By coincidence, Barbara was shooting a new set of backgrounds in the immediate location that day.

The problem’s not the only thing to disappear. So does Barbara. Clayton calls in the Daniel Beaumont PI Agency, and Beaumont (Marsh) assigns his operative Pete Fleming (Bentley) to the case. At Clayton’s office, Clayton tells Pete that Barbara seems to have stolen £5,000’s worth of Laura’s jewelry just before her flight. Also, he stresses to Pete that he doesn’t want a prosecution: just Barbara located and the jewels back.

Double Exposure 1954 1 Beaumont

Daniel Beaumont (Garry Marsh), a hardbitten teddy bear of a PI.

Through Barbara’s photo processor, Marriott (Robinson), Pete is soon able to locate Barbara, who’s working for her aunt’s antiques and art supplies shop in Winchester. He needs little persuading by now that she’s innocent of the theft of the jewels. What interests him is whatever she might have caught some important piece of evidence on the photographs she took on October 4, the fatal day when Laura Clayton fell to her death. He becomes even more inquisitive when he’s told first by Beaumont and then by Clayton that his services on the case are no longer required. Clayton claims unconvincingly that he has suddenly discovered he accidentally took the jewels home himself.

Double Exposure 1954 3 Pete confronts Barbara in Winchester

Pete (John Bentley) tracks down Barbara (Rona Anderson) at last, in Winchester.

Barbara has had a few odd little near-fatal “accidents” since October 4—someone pushed her on a Tube platform as she waited for the train to arrive, a car nearly ran her over—and Pete soon tastes some of the same, when Clayton’s roughneck chauffeur Robert Montague Trixon (Rydon)—who has a record for blackmail and racecourse fraud—tries to treat him likewise.

Beaumont’s reluctant to take the case further, but Pete—explicably besotted with Barbara, even to the point of sleeping in his own bath while she virginally hogs his bed—is determined to unearth what’s really going on, if only so that Barbara might be able to live out the rest of her life without forever having to look over her shoulder. Not only do those photos she took near Galway Court show that Clayton’s car, “one of the new Armstrongs,” was parked nearby at the time of Laura’s death, they show a man climbing out of the car and heading toward Laura’s flat.

Double Exposure 1954 4 Clayton tries to oil his way out

Clayton (Alexander Gauge) tries to oil his way out of the case.

By now Pete knows who that man is: in the flat that Barbara shared until recently with Clayton’s secretary Maxine Goldner (Wells)—strictly a matter of convenience since they weren’t friends and rarely interacted much with each other—Pete saw a framed photo signed to her with love from “Mike.” “Mike” is Mike Geraghty (Berry), Clayton’s bookmaker and regular alibi. Could the £5,000’s worth of jewels have been placed with Geraghty by Clayton as security for the latter’s gambling debts?

Pete suggests as much to Clayton, Clayton agrees to meet him later that evening to tell him all, Maxine overhears the conversation . . . and it’s not so very hard for us to work out what’s going to happen next. The cops, in the form of Inspector Grayle (Forsythe) of the Yard, at first assume that it’s suicide when Clayton is found at his desk with a gun in his hand and a bullet through his brain, but Pete knows better . . .

Double Exposure 1954 5 Trixon tries to give Pete a scare

Trixon (Ryck Rydon) tries to give Pete (John Bentley) a scare.

This isn’t a major piece of UK noir—in fact, it’s a bit of a stretch to call it noir at all—but there’s an enjoyably noirish complexity of plot here. There are some great little cameos in the movie, not least one by the redoubtable Doris Hare as Connie, a middle-aged WPC working in the Yard’s Records Department; she initially acts crusty with Pete as he seeks info on Trixon but very soon melts, and it becomes obvious the two have been pals since way back. Newton has a small part as Beaumont’s glam-girl secretary Katie, but makes the most of it. Bentley’s fine as Fleming, bringing to the part a bit more than so many of these UK B-movie detectives, and Marsh is amusing as the clodhopping but goodhearted PI agency boss.

Double Exposure 1954 7 Insp Grayle moves into action

Insp Grayle (Frank Forsyth) moves into action.

Rona Anderson is tremendous here. Adroit at depicting morally ambiguous female characters in UK borderline noirs, she was a part of movies like HOME TO DANGER (1951), BLACK 13 (1953), The FLAW (1955), The HIDEOUT (1956) and SOHO INCIDENT (1956). For me, though, the best noirish role I’ve seen her in was in the 1952 psychological drama Noose for a Lady (1952), where she played the wicked stepdaughter; my account of this movie will be appearing here shortly.

Ingeborg Wells, born Ingeborg von Kusserow in 1919 in the Weimar Republic, came to the UK after the war; I don’t know if she resisted the Nazis or fellow-traveled. Her performance here is not, to be honest, the stuff of legend.

Double Exposure 1954 6 Maxine overhears Pete & Clayton talking at t'races

Ingeborg Wells as Clayton’s femme fatale secretary Maxine Goldner.

Berman’s cinematography is, as usual, very good without ever aspiring to the inspirational. That could be more or less our conclusion about the movie as a whole. It’s as if someone had thrown money at the producers of the EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERIES series (1960–64) and told them to make a movie that was a rung above the usual. The result is a movie that’s well worth a watch if you come across it but not something to seek out as an essential.

Double Exposure 1954 2 Pete

Pete Fleming (John Bentley).

FASCINATING FACTOID: Pete’s flat is just across the street from the place in Brown Street, London W1, where yr humble scribe lived during the school holidays in his youth. When Barbara peeks out through the curtains to check on a lurking Trixon below, the building he’s pacing up and down in front of is one that I recognize well.

Nutford, I think

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7 thoughts on “Double Exposure (1954)

  1. I’ll not seek it out, but will keep one eye open should it ever appear on the small screen. Fun bit of trivia re your landmark!

    • Definitely worth a watch if it comes on t’telly one night.

      Yep, it was quite startling for me when she peeped through the curtains at that little bit of Brown Street — like suddenly being jerked back in time a few decades.

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  3. Look at you – practically living On Location in your youth! It must have been interesting to see the street/building you knew so well on film.

    I like the sound of this complex plot, something that’s been thought out rather than slapped together. Thanks for another recommendation!

    • It was actually really startling for me when she plucked back the curtain — as I noted above to Col, it was as if I’d stepped out of a time machine. I have actually stood very close to where Barbara was supposedly standing.

      What’s fun is that, in the next few minutes, there’s a certain amount of running and driving around in Brown Street. The street’s scene as empty of parked cars. It was never empty of parked cars!

      Anyway, thanks for dropping by and for the kind words!

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