Bait (1949)

Cat and mouse games!

UK / 68 minutes / bw / Advance, Adelphi Dir & Pr: Frank Richardson Scr: Mary Benedetta, Francis Miller Story: Bait (n.d.; play) by Frank Richardson Cine: Ernest Palmer Cast: Diana Napier, John Bentley, John Oxford, Patricia Owen (i.e., Patricia Owens), Kenneth Hyde, Sheila Robins, Willoughby Goddard, Douglas Trow, Richard Gatehouse, Jack Gracey, Wolf Tauber.

Having lost heavily one night at cards, a quartet of seemingly respectable characters hatch a plot to earn some money. Young Tom Hannaford (uncredited, but I think Tauber) has been “escorting” rich and none too bright Nina Revere (Robins) in the temporary absence of her husband. Tonight she was wearing a pair of diamond earrings that his friend Jim Prentice (Hyde), an executive for insurance firm Varley & Varley, values at £12,000.

Nina (Sheila Robins) says goodnight to toyboy Tom (Wolf Tauber?).

Jim (Kenneth Hyde) examines the earrings.

John Oxford as Bromley.

Eleanor (Napier), forceful leader of the quartet, instructs Tom to borrow the earrings on the pretext of getting them cleaned at Cartier. She, Eleanor, will take them to upscale fence John Hartley (Goddard) and extract £8,000 from him for the items. Thereafter, the gang of four—which includes avuncular Bromley (Oxford) in addition to Eleanor, Tom and Jim—will steal back the earrings and return them to Nina.

Tom (Wolf Tauber?) and Eleanor (Diana Napier).

As Eleanor treats with Hartley for the jewels, it’s clear there’s bad blood between them: “We know each other too well,” she tells him. “And we’re both terribly fond of money.”

Eleanor (Diana Napier) really doesn’t like John Hartley.

By coincidence, moments after she’s left, Bruce DuCain (Bentley), Hartley’s long-absent half-brother, arrives with fiancée Anne Hastings (Owens) to claim his half of the family fortune. Hartley tells him there’s none of it left.

Bruce (John Bentley) and Anne (Patricia Owens) arrive at Hartley Manor.

Later that night Hartley tries to kill his half-brother with a poker but, just as he’s about to administer the killer blow, a shot rings out and he falls dead.

To everyone except the cast, it’s perfectly obvious who fired the fatal shot, and why. On the other hand, the cast have the advantage of us over another mystery, which is why Bruce and Hartley, half-brothers through their father, should have different surnames.

Hartley (Willoughby Goddard) prepares to belt Bruce with the poker.

Bruce recovers consciousness just long enough to cunningly conceal the earrings. The next time he wakes, it’s to be dragged off by the cops and accused of Hartley’s murder—though not before Anne has had a chance to dump him in favor of . . . Jim Prentice, to whom she used to be engaged before he tried to pimp her out to Hartley. Now she’s decided ol’ Jim ain’t so bad after all.

Bruce (John Bentley) stashes the earrings.

Or so she pretends. Really she and Bruce are conniving to use the earrings as bait to catch the thieves and, in particular, the killer of Hartley, so that Bruce’s name will be cleared.

According to the opening credits, the movie’s based on a play by director Richardson; I can find no trace of that play ever having been staged. Even so, the screen version retains all the trappings of a theatrical play, with a limited number of sets housing its various extended scenes. The longest sequence—and the use of the word “longest” is not ill advised here—takes place in and around the main room of Hartley’s mansion where, in near-dark, Bruce plays cat-and-mouse with the three male members of the gang as they hunt high and low for the stashed earrings.

One of the most obscure of the 1940s/1950s British quota quickies, this survives only in the direst of prints; the picture’s lousy and the sound worse.

Patricia Owens as Anne.

John Bentley appeared in plenty of minor movies before establishing a prolific career for himself in TV, his last role of substance being as Hugh Mortimer in the longrunning soap Crossroads. The best-remembered cast member here, however, is undoubtedly Patricia Owens. Although she never attained the kind of star ranking that her talent and beauty might have been expected to earn for her, she had the iconic role of Helene Delambre in the classic horror/sf movie The Fly (1958) dir Kurt Neumann.

4 thoughts on “Bait (1949)

  1. Your post prompted me to do a bit of reading on the British “quota quickies”, something I’m not that familiar with. The whole business does remind me of Canada’s CRTC, which says radio & television have to show a certain amount of Canadian content.

    Anyway, this film sounds doesn’t sound like the run-of-the-mill fare – I like the idea of all the double-crosses.

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