After Dark (1933)

Cattermole-Brompton by name, Cattermole-Brompton by nature!

UK / 44 minutes / bw / Fox British Pictures Dir & Pr: Albert Parker Scr: R.J. Davis, J. Jefferson Farjeon Story: After Dark (1932 play) by J. Jefferson Farjeon Cine: Geoffrey Faithfull Cast: Horace Hodges, Hugh Williams, George Barraud, Ian Fleming, Gretha Hansen, Henry Oscar, Pollie Emery, Arthur Padbury.

The name that stands out in the credits of this short feature, aside from that of the versatile cinematographer, is J. Jefferson Farjeon, the prolific Golden Age crime novelist and playwright who returned to the limelight in 2014 when the British Library reissue of his 1937 novel Mystery in White became a surprise Christmas bestseller. I (re)read this a couple of years ago and was less impressed than most readers, so it seemed reasonable to check out this screen adaptation of one of his plays.

I should perhaps have chosen to rewatch Hitchcock’s NUMBER SEVENTEEN (1932), which is likewise based on a Farjeon play, because to be honest After Dark is not very good. Mind you, the Hitchcock movie isn’t one of the maestro’s greats, either.

Hugh Williams as Dick and Gretha Hansen as Alva.

Richard “Dick” Morton (Williams), bringing three valuable emeralds to England from South America on behalf of his company, falls in love with Alva Lea (Hansen) on the boat. Neither Dick nor Alva knows that Alva’s Uncle Henry (Fleming), traveling with her, is a crook. Before the trio board their train to London, Uncle Henry phones his fence, George Harvey (Barraud), from the dock at Plymouth to alert him to the presence of the emeralds. That night aboard the train (a sleeper in those days, apparently!), having more or less prized the young lovers apart with a crowbar, Uncle Henry plies Dick with drugged liquor.

Ian Fleming as Alva’s Uncle Henry.

When Dick wakes in the morning he discovers he has both a monstrous hangover and no emeralds. He does, however, still have Alva’s address, which she gave him the night before, so off he trundles to the Lea home to see if either she or her uncle might have seen something that could offer a clue as to what has happened to the gems. Spotting Uncle Henry in the street, he follows him. Uncle Henry ducks into an antique shop and secretes the emeralds in the rear of an undistinguished old clock.

George Barraud as George Harvey.

A little later, back at the house, Dick is predictably getting hit over the head and tied up by Uncle Henry and George Harvey. Meanwhile, at the shop, cantankerous elderly fusspot Thaddeus Cattermole-Brompton (Hodges) is buying the clock from antique-shop owner Sam Higgins (Oscar) to take home—home being somewhere suitably remote in Cornwall.

Uncle Henry and Harvey get Cattermole-Brompton’s address from Higgins, but then argue, because Alva, having discovered the tied-up Dick and her uncle’s perfidy, has persuaded Uncle Henry to abandon crookdom and help Dick recover the jewels. Off heads Harvey by fast car to Cornwall; in pursuit, by fast train from Paddington, come Dick, Alva and Uncle Henry.

Horace Hodges as Thaddeus Cattermole-Brompton, Arthur Padbury as Wilfred and Gretha Hansen as Alva.

What has been a moderately okay crime filler becomes, with the arrival of the motley crew at Cattermole-Brompton’s home, more of a comedy—a sort of Whitehall Farce, complete with the running in and out of doors and so on but without the risqué jokes. Or, indeed, any laughs at all. Cattermole-Brompton has a blustery but affectionate relationship with his housekeeper, Hannah Thirkettle (Emery), and her grandson, Wilfred (Padbury), that we’re obviously supposed to find hilarious; in reality it’s rather tiresome, although Padbury—portraying the penny-dreadful-addicted boy as a sort of Just William character—gives it his best shot.

Arthur Padbury as Wilfred.

All’s resolved in the end, of course, but by that time we’re so fed of hearing Cattermole-Brompton saying “What a boy, what a boy!” and leaving a pause for a laugh that doesn’t come, of finding doors locked that were unlocked and unlocked that were locked—of the whole blasted business, in short—that it’s hard to care whether or not Dick’s got the girl and his emeralds back.

Henry Oscar as Sam Higgins.

Ian Fleming was an actor whose name (for obvious reasons) is far easier to remember than his face; he appeared in scores of supporting roles but never, so far as I’m aware, as a star. Henry Oscar, on the other hand, had a name that meant nothing to me but a face that I recognized the moment I saw it; he too had a long career in supporting roles. Horace Hodges has lead billing here and was obviously a much-loved “character” of the time, but seems almost entirely forgotten today. Gretha Hansen, who, despite the fact that here she deploys an uppercrust English accent of the kind that has most of us screaming for mercy, was Irish-born, died tragically young, in 1939; I don’t know the cause of death, but she was just 27.


Gretha Hansen as Alva.

Hugh Williams had a more distinguished stage and screen history than the others, and was still working almost until his death, in 1969. From a noirish viewpoint, his most noteworthy appearance was probably in TAKE MY LIFE (1947), where he starred opposite the immortal Greta Gynt.

3 thoughts on “After Dark (1933)

  1. Ah, Mystery in White – I knew I recognised the name J. Jefferson Farjeon from somewhere! What a pity this movie didn’t quite come together in the end. Maybe a little more focus in the storyline would have helped?

    • To be honest, I don’t think the storyline’s necessarily the problem per se: I could imagine enjoying the stage-play version of this enormously. It’s the kind of thing that rep companies like the Fol-de-Rols would put on really well, and have audiences rolling in the aisles. And maybe the movie worked equally well in the cinemas of its era. Today, though, it seems to me to be really just an intriguing curio for fans of Farjeon’s written work. (I prefer his sis Eleanor’s fiction, from what I’ve read of both!) But others may enjoy it more than I did.

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