Spookitude? Noirishness? A youthful John Le Mesurier? Who could ask for more?
UK / 38 minutes / bw / IMP, Grand National Dir & Scr: John Gilling Pr: Harry Reynolds Cine: Cyril Bristow Cast: Victoria Hopper, John Stuart, John Le Mesurier, Frank Hawkins, Antony Doonan, Blanche Fothergill, T. Gilly Fenwick, William Douglas, A. Sawford-Dye, Elizabeth Howarth, Pat Ryan.
This short feature, the first in John Gilling’s directorial career, is an intriguing crossover between noirishness and the ghost story. Gilling gives it a somewhat grandiloquent opening scroll:
In presenting the first of my series of psychic mysteries, I merely relate the story of ‘ESCAPE FROM BROADMOOR’ as it was told me. I do not vouch for its truth or accuracy—I do not know if it happened at all, or if it did, whether it happened quite like this—but the story interested me. I hope it will interest you too.
So far as I can ascertain, and please feel free to correct me, there were no further episodes in what Gilling clearly conceived as a series.
Pendicost John Le Mesurier) persuades his acolyte Jenkins (Antony Doonan) to cooperate.
Ten years ago two crooks, Pendicost (Le Mesurier) and O’Gorman, raided a grand London house, Twelvetrees, the residence of Roger Trent (Hawkins). A maid interrupted them, and one of the two men shot her down. O’Gorman was hanged for the murder; Pendicost turned King’s Evidence and was instead judged criminally insane and sent to Broadmoor, the UK’s main maximum-security psychiatric unit. But three months ago Pendicost was released as cured, and ever since then Trent has been terrified that Pendicost might return. His friend Inspector John Thornton of the Yard (Stuart) is, however, skeptical:
“Personally I think the idea that murderers return to the scene of their crime is just pure fallacy. In my experience, they’ll keep as far away as possible.”
This is not to say that Thornton is blasé about the danger from Pendicost. The man’s usual m.o. was to work solo but, on the occasions when he worked in tandem, he had the nasty habit of murdering his accomplices should they get “greedy.” Recently on Thornton’s patch there have been two apparently burglary-linked murders, and he thinks Pendicost’s the man. Also, he’s had a cop named Reynolds (uncredited) tailing a local small-time crook, Jenkins (a splendidly shifty Doonan), whom the cops believe is, for reasons of his own, supplying a holed-up Pendicost, currently operating under the alias Langford, with victuals.
A sneaky Jenkins (Antony Doonan) evades Reynolds.
Reynolds (uncredited) reports back to the Yard.
Trent has a presentiment that tonight might be the night that Pendicost returns to Twelvetrees to complete the burglary that was interrupted all those years ago. Thornton pooh-poohs the idea, and instead takes Trent out for their weekly evening at the club.
Before Thornton arrives, Trent is treated to a diatribe from his housekeeper, Mrs. Midge (Fothergill), also going out for the evening, about the dangers of living on one’s own when there’s a lunatic at large, replete with descriptions of a recent nasty murder or two. By the time she leaves, Trent is thoroughly spooked out; as soon as she’s gone he pours himself a stiff scotch and switches on the radio for company . . . only to find he’s caught the start of a show, The Modern Detective, that’s offering more of the same that Mrs. Midge just gave him! There are two or three sequences in this short movie that carry a whiff of padding, and this is one of them; but it’s so delightful that you wish it could go on longer.
Trent (Frank Hawkins) shudders at the tales Mrs. Midge tells.
As soon as Trent and Thornton are on their way, Pendicost and Jenkins break into the house, having first knocked the cop stationed in the grounds unconscious and possibly off. They’re making slow headway with Trent’s safe when the door opens, the light goes on, and a fey young woman (Hopper) enters. Rather than shriek and run, she begins acting almost flirtily toward the two intruders, taunting them as incompetents. Could she be the current housemaid, Vera (Howarth), who was mentioned earlier in the evening, or is she the ghost of the housemaid whom Pendicost murdered years ago? Well, she says, “Somehow I knew you’d come back if I waited long enough.” And when Pendicost tries to shoot her the bullet goes straight through and kills Jenkins . . .
Is the young woman (Victoria Hopper) a servant or a ghost?
It’s obvious which of the two Pendicost (John Le Mesurier) thinks she is!
The movie’s principal interest is the presence in the lead (whatever the credits say) of John Le Mesurier. He was in his mid-thirties by now, but this was his first major big-screen part—even if it was only in a B-movie cheapie. The character he plays is a far cry from the suavity and often somewhat seedy polish that came to be associated with his later screen incarnations.
Escape from Broadmoor is also of interest as the last movie of Victoria Hopper. She was a fairly major star in the 1930s, especially during those years when she was married to director Basil Dean, who gave her lead roles in three frontline movies, including Lorna Doone (1934), She did movies with other directors, too, including Laburnum Grove (1936) for Carol Reed, but by 1938 she’d moved to TV and by the end of the decade her screen career was effectively over. She attempted a comeback with a further TV role in 1947 and then this movie in 1948, but that was it. She died as late as 2007, at the ripe old age of 97.
This movie has no connection with the 1913 UK short released in the US as Escape from Broadmoor but originally called The Broken Chisel. It’s about a man who breaks out of prison. As any Brit could have told the US distributor, Broadmoor isn’t and never has been a prison, having been built specifically as a psychiatric unit.
On Amazon.com: Escape from Broadmoor