River Patrol (1947)

An early Hammer!

UK / 43 minutes / bw / Knightsbridge Hammer, Exclusive Dir: Ben Hart Pr: Hal Wilson Scr: uncredited Cine: Brooks-Carrington Cast: John Blythe, Wally Patch, Stan Paskin, Lorna Dean, Wilton West, George Crowther, Fred Collins, Johnny Doherty, Douglas Leigh, Tony Merrett, George Lane, Dolly Gwynne, Audrey Hibbs, George Kane.

A short and very minor feature that marked the end of the decade-long hiatus in production, because of World War II, for Hammer, the studio later to become famous, of course, as the “House of Horror.” There are no horrors on offer in River Patrol, however, which is a fairly straightforward crime B-movie of the sort that would soon become more associated with the Merton Park studio. The river in question is London’s Thames and the patrols are mounted on it by an institution—I’m pretty sure a fictional one—called the Water Guard.

Robby (John Blythe) phones news of the skirmish in to HQ.

One of the Water Guard’s boats, bearing agent Robby Robinson (Blythe), tries to stop a suspicious-looking craft on the Thames, there’s an exchange of shots, and Robby’s companion Maxwell (uncredited) is killed. If this doesn’t seem implausible enough, rather than radio in the news of the encounter to the Water Guard HQ, Robby has to go ashore and find a phone box.

Robby’s boss (uncredited) reckons the rogue craft must belong to the gang that’s flooding London with contraband nylon stockings smuggled in from France:

“They’re obviously continental nylons. . . . We estimate that nearly 20,000 pairs of nylons were smuggled in last week. The situation is so serious the Home Office have been on the phone wanting to know if we’ve been asleep.”

The Chief puts Robby in charge of the operation to counter the nefarious activities of these smugglers, to which Robby’s response is: “I think I’d better get someone from the women’s section” (or, as he later puts it, the Hen Department). The “someone” proves to be Jean Nichols (Dean), an officer with whom it seems Robby may have shared something of a past. Robby and Jean—that’s the entirety of the force at Robby’s command to comb London for the stocking smugglers aside from Robby’s deskbound assistant Steve (uncredited). Put this alongside Robby’s need for a phone box and we have to conclude that the Water Guard is as woefully underfunded as the movie itself is undersupplied with credits.

Jean (Lorna Dean) is an eager volunteer.

The hunt seems to involve the pair pretending to be an item, going into lots of pubs, knocking back lots of neat whisky (Robby) and neat gin (Jean), casually slipping into the conversation that it’d be nice if Jean had some nylon stockings, and hoping to remain sober enough to remember whatever answers they get. It pays off, though, because they pick up a lead in the form of Joe (uncredited), who clearly knows a thing or two. So does one of the Water Guard’s stoolies, Nicky (uncredited), who is able to identify a particular gambling chip—don’t ask—as having come from that notorious cesspit of vice, the Shoehorn Club.

Jean (Lorna Dean) in disguise as a waitress — saucy, eh?

The Shoehorn, run by the amiable Sid (uncredited), seems about as dangerously vice-packed as the average diner, although somewhat less luxuriantly furnished and rather less lively. Robby shows himself to be no mean hand as a gambler; Jean gets a job waiting table at the club, and starts being saucy and off-the-shoulder in all directions.

The Guv (Wally Patch) prepares for yet another murder.

Although Sid runs the Shoehorn, its owner seems to be a psychopathic gang leader called just The Guv (Patch)—I say “seems to be” because the details are a tad hazy, as if the movie might have been cut a bit. The Guv is also in charge of the stockings-smuggling operation, and soon after we’re introduced to him we see him and his rather world-weary sidekick, Maddox (Paskin), traipse off across the English Channel to pick up a further consignment.

Maddox (Stan Paskin) is The Guv’s seemingly reluctant henchman.

There The Guv knocks off his supplier, Billy (uncredited)—strangling him with one of his own nylon stockings, no less!—on the grounds that Billy has already handed over the stockings but hasn’t yet been paid for them, so it’s a win–win situation for The Guv . . . who clearly lacks sufficient foresight to think about where his next consignment of stockings is going to come from. Pulling his handy swordstick, The Guv then runs through one of Billy’s sidekicks (uncredited), who’s stumbled upon the scene of the first crime.

Real-life cartoonist George Kane does party tricks at The Guv’s wild, bohemian party, where it seems alcoholic beverages are being served.

It will come as no surprise to learn that, after (a) risking life and limb and (b) an epic punchathon between Robby and The Guv, our heroes bring the gang to book and go into a hold-it-for-the-fade clinch. The punchathon is better choreographed than I’d anticipated but all excitement is leached from it by the dreadful (and very obvious) overdubbing of scattered grunts and gasps. Supposedly these are of pain and trauma, but they sound far more like the theatrically phony moans of ecstasy you get in bad direct-to-video erotic thrillers (and your humble scribe has had to sit through quite a few of those, lemme tell you).

There’s a final epic fight, of course, between Robby (John Blythe) and The Guv.

John Blythe went on to enjoy a long screen career, more on TV than in the cinema, but this was Lorna Dean’s sole screen appearance; I don’t know why this should have been, because she turns in a perfectly competent performance here. Wally Patch was a stalwart of the British stage and screen from quite early in the 20th century right up until his death, aged 82, in 1970. Stan Paskin, alas, died before this movie was released.

Although River Patrol is not one of those movies you need feel any pressing urgency to watch, you can do so on the Hammer website.


10 thoughts on “River Patrol (1947)

  1. Perhaps the people without credits were worried about being associated with such a film and refused to give their names?! My, those utter bastards, smuggling stockings, whatever next. And who knew that murder and stocking smuggling went hand in hand? It sounds like a pretty terrible film, but reading your review is endlessly entertaining!

    • It’s certainly not something worth rushing to the top of the to-be-watched list — just a movie that’s quite fun to watch if it comes on tv one night. That sort of thing.

    • The lack of proper credits wasn’t especially unusual among UK B-movies of this vintage. Rather in the way Midsomer Murders does today, the B-movies provided, I think, a steady stream of employment for the UK acting profession. You start to recognize faces in the background, even if you can’t put a name to them.

      By contrast, Merton Park, in the Edgar Wallace Mystery movies, tended to credit everyone, right down to the rat accidentally seen scuttling off the set . . .

  2. Interesting to see a review on a Hammer film before they became the master horror studio. I’ve never seen this minor feature but much appreciated your sterling assessment!

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