Once a Thief (1935)

UK / 67 minutes / bw / Ambassador Dir: George Pearson Pr: Anthony Havelock-Allan Scr: Basil Mason Story: Robert William Dargavel Cine: Francis Carver Cast: John Stuart, Derek Gorst, Frederick Culley, Nancy Burne, Lewis Shaw, Lola Duncan, Joan Kemp-Welsh, Ronald Shiner.

An enjoyable little filler that has a noirish situation at its core even though the only crime involved is distinctly white-collar in nature.

Chemist Roger Drummond (Stuart) returns to London from South Africa with the secret formula for a more efficient paint spray in his pocket alongside almost no money. The evening before a job interview he’s been offered by George Marston (Gorst), manager of leading paint manufacturer Chirwin’s, he encounters a young woman, Marion Ashley (Burne), who’s been taken ill at the wheel of her car. While Roger runs to fetch a doctor, two cops turn up and drive Marion safely home.

John Stuart as Roger.

Roger discovers he thoughtlessly pocketed Marion’s purse when she dropped it. Although he feels guilty, he borrows a few pounds from it to buy himself a new suit for the interview. The job gained, he pops the purse in the mail to the Lost Property Department at Scotland Yard, having replaced the “borrowed” money but little realizing that Alf (Shiner), boyfriend of a maid at Roger’s boarding house, has stolen a valuable bracelet from it.

Derek Gorst as Marston.

Marion turns out to be the niece of Sir John Chirwin (Culley), boss of the paint company. When she identifies Roger as the man who “stole” her bracelet, he gets a year in jail and the crooked Marston gets the credit for inventing the spray, royalties for which he embezzles.

But the day comes when Roger’s released . . .

Nancy Burne as Marion.

John Stuart’s career was marked by its longevity. Born in 1898 in Edinburgh, he actually had a bit part as an elder in the early superhero movie Superman (1978), the year before he died—not bad for someone whose first couple score movies were silents. His specialty, if he had one, was playing fundamentally decent chaps caught up in circumstances. Derek Gorst’s specialty, in a very significantly more restricted career, was playing hypocritical scumbags, of whom George Marston in this movie is a completely typical example; this was his first screen appearance and may have set the pattern.

Frederick Culley as Sir John.

Lewis Shaw as Frank.

Ronald Shiner, who has a small part here, made it big on the British stage as a comic actor in the 1940s and then in the 1950s was frequently voted among the most popular screen actors in the country.

Once a Thief shows signs of its limited budget, and some of the pacing is poor, likewise some of the editing cuts (although, to be fair, this may have been a problem with the print I watched). Even so, it swings along very watchably, two notable moments being Marion’s first appearance in her swerving car on a darkened London street and then, a few moments later, Roger and the doctor (uncredited) whom he’s summoned discovering that she’s disappeared.

Ronald Shiner as Alf.

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