Date with Disaster (1957)

UK / 60 minutes / bw / Fortress, Eros Dir: Charles Saunders  Pr: Guido Coen Scr: Brock Williams Cine: Brendan Stafford Cast: Tom Drake, William Hartnell, Shirley Eaton, Maurice Kaufmann, Michael Golden, Richard Shaw, Deirdre Mayne, Charles Brodie, Peter Fontaine, Robert Robinson, John Drake, Robert Mooney, Van Boolen, Hubert Hill

A neat little piece of UK borderline noir that must have been a very welcome second feature back in the day. Indeed, it was B-features of this kind and caliber, not to mention all the EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERIES and Edgar Lustgarten’s cheesy true-crime shorts, that first made me a dedicated cinemagoer. Sad that there’s no room for such stuff in the modern multiplex.

Miles Harrington (Tom Drake) came to the UK for the love of a British girl. She dumped him cruelly but somehow he never quite went home, and now he holds a secret torch for her kid sister Sue Miller (Eaton)—as does she for him. Trouble is, Sue’s going steady with Miles’s business partner Don Redman (Kaufmann).

William Hartnell as Tracey

Shirley Eaton as Sue

Miles and Don run a used-car dealership, Highgrade Autosales, in London. While Miles himself is as straight as a die, the same can’t be said for Don or for Ken Prescott (Shaw), the company’s sales manager. Indeed, the two have been recruited by professional peterman Tracey (Hartnell) for a heist at Maxwells Chemicals, for which the use of a Highgrade Autosales car is for some reason extremely useful. The heist is successful, but during it the Maxwells night-watchman, Bob Johnson (Boolen), is coshed onto the critical list.

Maurice Kaufmann as Don

Almost immediately the cops, in the form of Detective Inspector Matthews (Golden) and Sergeant Brace (Fontaine), suspect Tracey of involvement; they’re just as quick to establish the Highgrade Autosales connection.

Tom Drake as Miles (left) and Charles Brodie as mechanic Charlie

Tracey reckons airhead braggart Don is a danger and suggests Ken takes a terminal precaution. Ken obliges, but not before his girlfriend Judy (Mayne) gets an eyeful of the stolen folding stuff. Ken has notions of running away to the Continong with the lettuce and the recently de-boyfriended Sue, forgetting that Sue might prefer Miles to the Human Octopus and Judy might be resentful.

Big mistakes, both.

Richard Shaw as Ken

As I say, this movie’s a neat little number, and the action moves on apace. The safebreaking sequence builds up some real suspense thanks to the actors, the dialogue, the direction and especially Brendan Stafford’s very noirish cinematography. William Hartnell—best-remembered these days as the first and finest Doctor Who—turns in a bravura performance as the professional thief who maintains an almost friendly relationship with cops like Matthews and Brace: they’re not going to rough him up and, if he’s nicked, there are no hard feelings on his part. Shirley Eaton is almost alarmingly hot as the femme who isn’t actually fatale, in the sense of conniving amorality, but who’s most certainly dangerous to know.

Michael Golden as Inspector Matthews

Yet the movie isn’t without its problemettes.

At times the Highgrade Autosales premises seem almost less like a used-car lot and more like a cross between a garage and a cocktail bar; this allows for an idiotic sequence early on where we’re forced to watch a group of hep cats, equipped with balloons and a Dansette, rock around a small portion of the clock to make sure we fully appreciate that, whatever else this movie might be, it’s not, you know, square.

Deirdre Mayne as Judy

The vicious quadrilateral between Miles, Don, Ken and Sue is often handled extremely clumsily. For example, a sequence in which a hungover Don asserts to Miles his rights to Sue—Miles rightly calls out Don’s sexism—is so hammily done that I couldn’t help but wonder if Don’s hangover wasn’t feigned.

And then there’s the important plot point that hinges on someone mistaking a broken drill-bit for a match, and trying to light his cigarette with it. Even someone who was as hungover as Don was in the previous paragraph would surely have noticed that a cylindrical piece of cold, tempered steel wasn’t quite the same as a wooden matchstick.

I could go on.

Yet the fact is that, for me at least, the strengths of Date with Disaster very much outweigh the weaknesses. Yes, I can find fault but, back when I was a teenager seeing these movies in a triple bill, this was the kind of stuff I applauded at the end.

I discovered, incidentally, that Richard Shaw’s article has been deleted from Wikipedia—a casualty, I assume, of American Wikipedia editors assuming that the USA is the whole of the English-speaking world. He did a lot of work for TV in the UK, and for me is one of those actors whose face is immediately recognizable even if often I can’t immediately put a name to it. Shame on Wikipedia for (in this instance) cultural insularity.

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