When the legal system fails, let a court of down-and-outs decide!
UK / 84 minutes / bw / Associated British-Pathé Dir & Pr: John Baxter Scr: Geoffrey Orme, Walter Meade Story: screenplay for Doss House (1933) by C.G.H. Ayres Cine: Arthur Grant Cast: Hugh Sinclair, Helen Shingler, Abraham Sofaer, Leslie Dwyer, Joan Collins, Elwyn Brook Jones, Harry Locke, Marcel Poncin, Wilfrid Walter, Martin Benson, Bransby Williams, M. Martin Harvey, Harry Welchman, Maire O’Neill, Fred Griffiths, Harold Goodwin, Bud Flanagan, Edmundo Ros and His Latin American Orchestra.
A tale that shares elements with M (1931) dir Fritz Lang (remade by Joseph Losey in 1951 as M) and with Margery Allingham’s novel Tiger in the Smoke (1952), filmed as TIGER IN THE SMOKE (1956) dir Roy Baker, and owes a very great deal to the movie Doss House (1933), which was directed by John Baxter himself and whose scripter, C.G.H. Ayres, is acknowledged in the opening credits of Judgment Deferred. The narrative’s embellished with a few comic interludes (mercifully few) and some musical numbers, including a cameo by Bud Flanagan and a couple of songs from Edmundo Ros; unfortunately these don’t add much and have the effect of deflecting the narrative flow, turning what might have been a minor classic into, well, just another B-movie, albeit one that rewards watching.
Wilfrid Walter as the Judge.
Fred Griffiths as Bob Carter.
At the Old Bailey, a stern judge (Walter) sentences Robert “Bob” Carter (Griffiths) to three years for the grievous crime of drug trafficking. The only people who seem to care very much are the homeless old geezers who frequent the church-crypt-based homeless shelter that Carter supported out of the proceeds of his grocery shop. Even Carter’s daughter, Lil (Collins), doesn’t seem much concerned—and resists vituperatively any suggestion that the real culprit responsible for the crime her father’s being punished for mighty be the rich fancy man she’s been clandestinely swanning around with. As we’ll in due course discover, that fancy man is Henry Edward Coxon (Brook Jones), owner of a swank niterie, The Galatea.
Joan Collins as Lil, still freshfaced at this stage of the tale.
Two years later, and Bob Carter escapes from Parkmoor Prison (a portmanteau of the names of Parkhurst Prison and the high-security psychiatric unit at Broadmoor). The underworld is full of rumors that Carter has vengeance in his heart—vengeance against the man who stitched him up: Coxon!
Hugh Sinclair as David.
One person who takes an unusual interest in the matter is Daily Post reporter David Kennedy (Sinclair). Not only did he cover the original case, he owes his very life to Carter, who saved him from certain death during the war. David goes undercover, and soon finds his way to the crypt, whose occupants generally accept him as just another wanderer like themselves. A few, however, ringleaders like Haycroft, nicknamed The Chancellor (Sofaer), and Dad (Williams), mark him down as a phony and soon dig out who he really is—although it’s not until they ascertain that he’s on their side that they confront him with this.
Bransby Williams as Dad.
The Chancellor and Dad have recruited other members of their little community, such as
- George Hardman, nicknamed Flowers (Dwyer) because he sells them to theatergoers,
- Bert (Locke), who in many ways can be seen as the movie’s viewpoint character,
- Doc (Welchman), a man with medical experience (a struck-off GP, perhaps?) who’s capable of giving at least first aid to the derelicts and may be doing more behind the scenes,
- and an unnamed technical whiz (Goodwin), who somewhat improbably has access to a microphone and reel-to-reel tape recorder for use in bugging,
to help them in a complex and somewhat idealistic plan to take down Coxon and clear Bob Carter’s name.
Leslie Dwyer as Flowers.
Abraham Sofaer as The Chancellor.
Harry Welchman as Doc.
Matters are complicated by the return to the scene of Lil Carter, raddled by two years of excessive alcohol consumption and who knows what other unnamed (at least in the screenplay) vicissitudes. She too wants revenge on Coxon, who dallied with her just long enough to stitch up her dad before (strangely, given the obvious circumstances) casting her aside to sink or swim. Luckily David and his understanding wife Kay (Shingler) are able to rescue Lil from the jaws of iniquity.
Maire O’Neill as Mrs. O’Halloran, kitchen staff at the Galatea and a contact of David’s.
A couple of the other crypt crew deserve note. The Stranger (Poncin) is a musically gifted Frenchman—a chevalier, no less—who was psychologically destroyed by the war and took refuge in London; much is made later of the fact that, during the conflict, he saved the life of Pierre “Frenchie” Desportes (Benson), Coxon’s main sidekick. And Martin (Harvey) is a man who lost his family to the Blitz and now awaits their occasional visits from Heaven.
Harry Locke as Bert (left) and Marcel Poncin as The Stranger.
M. Martin Harvey as Martin.
The scheme that The Chancellor has conceived and now enacts is to bring down Coxon’s drug-trafficking empire and then abduct the man himself to the crypt where, with the very same judge who sentenced Bob Carter presiding, he can be tried—in the manner of the trial in M—in front of the crypt’s population.
This was only Collins’s second screen credit in a feature movie, and the first in which she had anything like a prominent role. It must have been clear even at the time that she was destined for the stardom that would arrive the following year with Our Girl Friday (1953) dir Noel Langley, where she starred opposite George Cole and the splendid Kenneth More. Even at the age of 18 or 19, as she must have been at the time of making Judgment Deferred, she shows herself perfectly capable of blistering both the celluloid and the front three rows.
Joan Collins as Lil, raddled by the years and experience . . .
. . . but our friends get her sobered up to look presentable as she bears testimony.
The standout performance here, though, is arguably that of Elwyn Brook Jones as the sluglike Coxon, a character whom you instinctively loathe on first sight and even more so as soon as he opens his mouth. It’s not just what Coxon is saying that makes him such a Backpfeifengesicht; very cleverly, Brook Jones always speaks a trifle too fast, so that you’re constantly playing catch-up on his meaning. And, when he curls his lip in a sneer, Lip Know It Been Curled.
Elwyn Brook Jones as Coxon.
Edmundo Ros sings . . .
. . . and Bud Flanagan clowns.
Various of the other faces in the cast are immediately recognizable if you’ve watched many UK movies of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s—character actors like Harry Locke, Leslie Dwyer and Harold Goodwin; there’s even a fleeting glimpse of Sam Kydd (as a stretcher-bearer). For me these actors bring a cozy sense of familiarity to the proceedings.
Harold Goodwin as the technogeek.
I was surprised I didn’t have the same reaction to the sight of Helen Shingler. Her part here is—despite her second billing—not a very large one but she acquits it quite memorably and with a great deal of what can best be described in old-fashioned terms as straightforward charm. Shingler had a fairly short movie career, its acme perhaps being when she starred alongside Clement McCallin and Sheila Burrell in a very, very different role, as the paralyzed Liz in The Rossiter Case (1951) dir Anthony Hinds, which I covered here back in 2014.
Helen Shingler as Kay.
Like so many of director John Baxter’s output, Judgment Deferred is worth its ninety minutes or so but leaves the impression of balking at the heights it might have been expected to hit.