An Edgar Wallace yarn about a man addicted to the geegees . . . and to the curves of Greta Gynt!
UK / 77 minutes / bw / Gainsborough, GFD Dir: Arthur Crabtree Pr: Antony Darnborough, Sydney Box Scr: Geoffrey Kerr Story: The Calendar (1929 play) and The Calendar (1930), both by Edgar Wallace Cine: Reg Wyer, Cyril J. Knowles Cast: Greta Gynt, John McCallum, Raymond Lovell, Sonia Holm, Leslie Dwyer, Charles Victor, Felix Aylmer, Noel Howlett, Sydney King, Barry Jones, Diana Dors, Claude Bailey, Desmond Roberts, Fred Payne.
A modest but rather jolly screen adaptation of one of Edgar Wallace’s plays, which he subsequently rewrote as a novel. In fact, this wasn’t the first adaptation; it was preceded by The Calendar (1931; vt Bachelor’s Folly) dir T. Hayes Hunter, with Herbert Marshall, Edna Best and Anne Grey, which I haven’t seen. This, the 1948 remake, while in theory a thriller has in practice many of the attributes of a bedroom farce, although it’s not really a comedy either: just a piece of entertainment.
Captain Garry Anson (McCallum), a compulsive better on the ponies, owns a string of racers; his trainer is the lovely Lady Mollie Panniford (Holm), who, as a woman, is a rarity in the male-dominated horse-training world of the time. “What you mean is that, as a girlfriend, I’m a pretty good trainer,” she observes ruefully to him at one stage. The reason for the rue is that he’s besotted with Wenda (Gynt), to whom he’s been engaged for many a yonk. Then the news comes that the will of his recently deceased aunt has brought him nothing more than a string of pearls which, while it’s worth a small fortune (£20,000), the will constrains him from selling until he’s lost his last shirt on the horses.
Wenda does not take this well:
Wenda: “I don’t know whether you know it, Garry, but there are two kinds of women.”
Garry: “Yes, of course there are—you, and all the others.”
Wenda: “No, I mean women who can do without money, and women who can’t. I’m one of the ones who can’t. It’s awful, it’s contemptible, but there it is.”
By the smugness with which she says this we can tell that the spoilt, mercenary minx doesn’t think herself awful or contemptible at all. Still, as noted, Garry’s besotted with her—she does look remarkably like Greta Gynt, after all—and sees none of the danger signs that are only too obvious to the rest of us. After Wenda breaks the engagement, the poor sap even lends her the string of pearls to wear until he needs them back.
Wenda marries Mollie’s oafish brother Lord Willie Panniford (Lovell), while maintaining her friendship with Garry.
The new Lady Panniford (Greta Gynt) on the phone to Garry.
Meanwhile, Garry’s favorite racehorse, Wilderness, has had to be put down in the aftermath of a bad fall. As he drinks heavily in an effort to console himself over the loss, it’s a bit of a toss-up as to whether he’s more put out by the death of Wilderness or his jilting by Wenda. No, on second thoughts, it’s not a toss-up at all. The loss of the horse wins by a landslide.
This is something of a weakness in the dynamic of the movie. Garry is prepared to do all kinds of stupid and foolish things because of his love for Wenda, and his devotion to her supposedly blinds him to the very great charms of an all too adoring Mollie, yet at other times he seems to be completely offhand about the woman who’s dumped him. This gives the screenplay a bit of a Noel Cowardy feel. Shallow characters are of course fine in Noel Coward. I’m not sure, though, that it was sensible to adopt the same approach in an Edgar Wallace drama, or why that decision was taken. It was also rather a waste of McCallum (the husband of Googie Withers), who was quite capable of more demanding roles.
Garry’s butler, a reprobate ex-burglar, ex-forger called Hubert Hillcott (Dwyer)—and not “Sam,” as elsewhere listed—tries to shake him out of his drunken doldrums:
“For ten days you’ve been moping like a girl who trusted a sailor.”
Hillcott points out that Garry has another potential champion race horse in his stable, a mare that Mollie has been training up: My Darling (although at one point Mollie calls her “My Princess”). At the upcoming Coronation Cup at Epsom, the bookies’ favorite is a rival horse called Silver Queen. The way to make money, Hillcott observes, is to ensure that My Darling does rather poorly at Epsom; thereby, the odds will be far better for her at the forthcoming Ascot Gold Cup, where the greater distance will favor her.
Hillcott (Leslie Dwyer) presents the nefarious scheme to Garry (John McCallum).
Drunkenly Garry agrees, and even instructs his jockey, Andy Lynn (Payne, in a nicely seedy turn), to “pull the filly.” He also sends a telegram to Wenda, warning her not to bet on My Darling:
Unsurprisingly, the name of the horse leads to all sorts of confusion when Lord Willie’s incorrigible sponger friend Tony Trail (King) gets hold of the telegram and shows it to him.
Mollie’s naturally appalled by all this. So too is Garry himself, when he wakes up in the morning. Hangover or no hangover, he does his best to put things right . . . which only makes things worse. My Darling loses by a head at Epsom, which essentially bankrupts Garry, although (improbably) bookie-with-a-heart-of-gold John Dory (Victor) tries to bale him out. Garry goes to get his pearls back from Wenda only for her to lie that she thought they were a gift; she has long since sold them to pay for all the fripperies Willie refused to buy her. Willie, in a fit of muddleheaded wrath, gives the telegram to the stewards at Ascot. Wenda, the claws now fully unsheathed, tells lies to make matters look even worse for her ex-lover . . .
Jockey Andy (Fred Payne) ain’t averse to a bit of rigging.
And we run smack into a plot hiccup. Garry’s defense is that he arranged the bit of fixing while drunk and, as soon as he sobered up, retracted the order. A major piece of evidence in his favor is that it was his £2000 bet on My Darling at Epsom that wiped him out. Dory, with whom he made the bet, can’t produce written evidence of this because the bet was placed at the very last moment. However, Wenda also bet on the horse, and for that bet Dory would have had proof. Were he merely to mention this, that would give the lie to Wenda’s claim that she never received a later note from Garry telling her that My Darling was going to go flat out.
Normally when one sees the name Edgar Wallace on a movie, one expects it to have at least some minor noirish interest; not so here. The only other connection to noir is of course the fact that there’s a definite femme fatale, and that Gynt was cast in the role. She’s as alluring as ever, and it’s easy to imagine why Garry might have been infatuated with Wenda. And there’s quite a lot of skill in the way that Gynt at first subtly and then quite blatantly informs us that Wenda’s a heartless sociopath, in the game only for her own mercenary gain. Even Willie, at the end, welcomes with open arms Wenda’s threat to divorce him.
Tony (Sydney King, standing) and Willie (Raymond Lovell) try a spot of snooker to calm their nerves.
Among the rest of the cast, Leslie Dwyer and Sonia Holm stand out. I’m not usually a great fan of Dwyer’s work: it seems he constructed for himself a persona that he then used willy nilly in whatever role he happened to get. That persona, however, just happens to be spot on for the crook/butler Hillcott. The final moment of the movie (which for obvious reasons I’m not going to describe) is Dwyer’s, and he carries it off quite perfectly.
As noted parenthetically above, Fred Payne’s in great form as the jockey Andy Lynn; I even did some quick research to see if perhaps he was a jockey, moonlighting, but nope.
Sonia Holm was a very fine English actress whose movie career was far shorter than it should have been—as indeed was her life: she died at the age of just 54. She brings to The Calendar an accent one could cut with a knaife and, astonishingly, a screen presence that actually challenges Gynt’s. When, late in the movie, Mollie squares up to give her sister-in-law a dressing-down, it’s an even bet as to which of the two women is going to come out of this one alive. Normally Gynt would so dominate the screen that you’d know there was no contest; not so here.
Mollie (Sonia Holm) watches as things go from bad to worse for the man she loves.
There are other strengths to the movie. Willie and Tony spend much of the time doing a sort of Charters and Caldicott act, and doing it quite creditably. Diana Dors has an early role as the Pannifords’ pert maid, Hawkins. And there’s also the footage of the various horse races, seemingly shot by the movie’s secondary cinematographer Cyril J. Knowles. I’m by no means a racing fan, but even I found these scenes pretty exciting, and at one point caught myself, fists aloft, yelling for My Darling to win.