UK / 55 minutes / bw / Leontine, Grand National Dir & Pr & Scr: Ronald Drake Story: Gathering Storm (1948 play) by Gordon Glennon, itself based on Envy My Simplicity (1943) by Reyner Barton Cine: Jack Asher, Phil Grindrod Cast: Susan Shaw, Laurence Harvey, Trader Faulkner, Laurence Naismith, Sheila Shand Gibbs, Ethel Edwards, Valentine Dunn, Madge Brindley, John Ainsworth.
On a farm somewhere in England lives the malfunctioning Hardlestone family. Head of it is the intimidating Gran Elizabeth Hardlestone (Edwards), an elderly termagant who frostily admits a soft spot only for her GP, Doctor James (Naismith), and for her younger grandson, Frankie (Faulkner).
So far as Gran’s concerned, Frankie seems to be doing all the right things: he’s fallen in love with lovely local farmer’s daughter Brenda (Shand Gibbs), he has a great way with the animals—even including the bull Trigger, whom no one else can handle—and, if he happens to be a bit of a simpleton, so far as Gran’s concerned that’s a commendable trait as well.
Brenda (Sheila Shand Gibbs) and her mum (Valentine Dunn) watch Frankie (Trader Faulkner) save a cow.
On the other hand, she worries a lot about her older grandson, Ned (Harvey). He has a history of violent behavior toward the farm hands and even Frankie, although he’s never so far lifted a hand to Gran. Ned has taken up with a city girl, Joan Gray (Shaw), and, even though she’s made it plain that she really is a town creature and could never settle down in the country, hopes to marry her and run the farm with her. He’s never had the guts to introduce Joan to Gran, and consequently the overpossessive, Bible-thumping Gran assumes—without ever having met the woman—that Joan is a floozy.
Joan (Susan Shaw) and Ned (Laurence Harvey) avoid Gran’s eagle eyes.
It’s pretty obvious that Ned has issues. He’s convinced that Joan has a hankering to dally with Tony (Ainsworth), the pianist/singer at the local jumpin’ joint, the Olde Manor Road House—and it’s sure that Tony has eyes for Joan (as who wouldn’t?). Ned begins to think that, if only he could knock off Gran and frame Frankie for the crime, he and Joan could inherit the farm, she’d forget all this stuff about not wanting to stand in cowpats, and they could live in connubial bliss for ever after.
Gran (Ethel Edwards), the owner of those eagle eyes.
We first get a real idea of how nuts and dangerous Ned is, as opposed to just a violent yob with anger-management problems, when, complete with the psycho-eyes effect, he tells Joan that
“Gran’s leaving with Frankie. She’s too old. Neither of them are fit to run the farm any more. Frankie walks in his sleep most of the time. They’re both going. I give you my word.”
Joan doesn’t quite pick up on this; you can bet that the rest of us do.
Frankie’s girlfriend Brenda (Sheila Shand Gibbs).
Frankie’s sleepwalking habit offers Ned his opportunity. One night he releases Trigger from his pen, throws away the padlock, and persuades Frankie that he must have done it. Frankie’s misery is compounded by the fact that, in order to deal with the danger of a maddened Trigger rampaging through the night, he had to shoot his “friend” dead.
In Ned’s final act—amid an obligatory thunderstorm!—he gives both Frankie and, most particularly, Gran hefty doses of sedatives in their nightly hot milk, stabs Gran to death, and sets about the work of making out that Frankie’s the guilty one. Luckily Doctor James sees through it all . . .
Ned (Laurence Harvey) prepares the deadly brew.
Perhaps the best line in the movie comes late on, when Joan is standing by her man in all directions and proclaiming loudly that Frankie must be a homicidal madman. Doctor James turns to her quietly and enquires:
“Would you recognize the symptoms of madness if you saw them, Miss Gray?”
There’s a sudden collapse of lovely party.
Perhaps the main interest of this movie is that it’s one of Harvey’s earlier outings. Although there’s a deal here of the manneredness of which he was guilty throughout his career, either he or director Drake (or both) managed to keep it under control. The only place where it really becomes evident is in the “psycho” scene mentioned above, and there it seems quite appropriate.
Frankie (Trader Faulkner) and Brenda (Sheila Shand Gibbs) together at last.
The movie’s also of interest in showing an early performance by the Australian actor Trader Faulkner. Observant readers will have noticed (as I initially didn’t) that he played various parts, but most notably Prince John, in the 1962–3 TV series Richard the Lionheart. Susan Shaw, who inexplicably adopted a stage name different from her birth name, Patsy Sloots, was a major UK heartthrob from the mid-1940s through the mid-1960s; she played Susan Huggett in the short Huggetts series begun with Here Come the Huggetts (1948), and a whole generation of UK males were never quite the same afterwards.
Trivia Korner: (a) The song “Tonight,” performed by John Ainsworth in his role as Tony, the pianist at the Olde Manor Road House, is not just genuinely performed by him: he wrote it. (b)
I’m not sure that Rayner Barton’s novel Envy My Simplicity was ever actually published; I’ve searched without success. If you know otherwise, please let me know! UPDATE: Many thanks to commenter Roger, who has solved this conundrum (see below). I’ve amended the credits accordingly.
On Amazon.com: A Killer Walks [DVD]