Crime Over London (1936)

Thrills in store!

UK / 63 minutes / bw / Anglo–American, Criterion Dir: Alfred Zeisler Pr: Marcel Hellman Scr: Norman Alexander, Harold French Story: probably Punks Kommt aus Amerika (1929) by Louis de Wohl Cine: Victor Armenise Cast: Joseph Cawthorn, Bruce Lister, Rène Ray, Paul Cavanagh, Basil Sydney, Margot Grahame, David Burns, Edmon Ryan, John Darrow, Danny Green, Googie Withers.

Oxford Street’s department store Selfridges, dressed up as Sherwoods.

A movie that’s littered with noirish tropes and dialogue, plus some noirish cinematography, yet for the most part doesn’t have much of a noirish feel. It nevertheless has lot to interest us, both as a period piece—there are some truly evocative London street scenes—and for some of its cast.

Years ago gangster Eddie “Joker” Finnigan (Sydney) sought career advancement in New York, but now things are getting too hot for him in the States and so he’s come back to London, bringing some of his gang members with him. Although those goons are eager to start pulling off a few heists, Joker insists they bide their time, instead opening up a gambling joint where hostesses Pearl (Grahame) and Miss Dupres (Withers), plus floorwalker Sniffy (Burns), entice the gullible into losing money on the cards.

David Burns as Sniffy.

Googie Withers as Miss Dupres.

Pearl is Joker’s moll, but it’s his sidekick Jim (Darrow) who stokes her fires. The feeling’s mutual, and the two plot secretly and rather clumsily to Continue reading


Murder by Rope (1936)

A killer in their midst!

UK / 63 minutes / bw / Ambassador Film Productions, British & Dominions Film Corporation Dir: George Pearson Scr: Ralph Neale Story: Ralph Neale Cine: Ernest Palmer Cast: D.A. Clarke-Smith, Sunday Wilshin, Wilfred Hyde-White (i.e., Wilfrid Hyde-White), Dorothy Hamilton, Constance Godridge, Guy Belmore, Daphne Courtney, Ronald Read, Alban Conway, Philip Hewland, William Collins.

A movie of two halves—or, rather, a movie of a first one-quarter and a subsequent three-quarters. The opening quarter comprises an extended setup for the main narrative; where Murder by Rope has a problem is that this setup—which has a sort of Edgar Wallace oddity about it—is considerably more intriguing than the rest.

Which is not to say that the movie as a whole doesn’t offer rewards, especially since its closing scenes—after forty minutes of what might best be thought of as country-house-romantic-comedy-with-free-added-murders—once again return to an Edgar Wallace-style eccentricity. Also to enjoy is the spectacle of a Wilfrid Hyde-White young enough to be a plausible romantic hero.

First, that setup.

When the murderer Burford (uncredited) is sentenced to death at the Old Bailey by Justice Sir Henry Paxton (Hewland), the prisoner in the dock disconcerts the court by simply laughing derisively. The secret of why he did so goes with him to the gallows.

The Laughing Murderer (uncredited) smirks as his death sentence is handed down . . .

. . . which makes Judge Paxton (Philip Hewland) vewy cwoss.

Some while later, Scotland Yard receives a letter that’s apparently from the dead man. As the Yard’s Major Walker (uncredited) says Continue reading

Judgment Deferred (1952)

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; Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Mr. Reeder in Room 13 (1938)

“All right, ya dirty doublecrosser!”

vt Mystery of Room 13
UK / 67 minutes / bw / British National, Associated British Picture Corporation Dir: Norman Lee Pr: John Corfield Scr: Elizabeth Meehan, Victor Kendall, Doreen Montgomery Story: Room 13 (1924) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Eric Cross Cast: Gibb McLaughlin, Sara Seegar, Peter Murray-Hill, Sally Gray, D.J. Williams, Malcolm Keen, Leslie Perrins, Robert Cochran, Phil Ray, George Merritt, Rex Carvel, Florence Groves, Bobbie Comber.

Mr. J.G. Reeder, Edgar Wallace’s mild-mannered, self-effacing, accountantly civil servant who covertly clears up crimes for the secret service, appeared in two movies other than this one—The Mind of Mr. Reeder (1939; vt The Mysterious Mr. Reeder) and The Missing People (1939), both rather astonishingly with Will Fyffe in the titular role—as well as a short-lived but well regarded TV series, The Mind of Mr. J.G. Reeder (1969–71), with Hugh Burden as Reeder. So Mr. Reeder in Room 13 represents the character’s first screen appearance; it also captures the character very well, and I suspect that, for the TV incarnation, Burden modeled his portrayal on McLaughlin’s version here.

 Gibb McLaughlin as Mr. J.G. Reeder.

The movie’s ripe for restoration. The only prints available have pretty muddy sound and even muddier picture quality, as you’ll gather from the screengrabs.

Someone is flooding the country with forged banknotes, and Undersecretary Sir John Flaherty (Carvel) pleads with Mr. Reeder (McLaughlin) for help. Reeder tells him he has just the man. Young Captain Johnnie Gray (Murray-Hill) is busting to serve his country in the secret service, busting to the point that he’ll even agree to Continue reading

Trent’s Last Case (1952)

Orson Welles, Margaret Lockwood and Kenneth Williams amid a glittering cast!

UK / 86 minutes / bw / Imperadio, Republic Dir & Pr: Herbert Wilcox Scr: Pamela Bower Story: Trent’s Last Case (1913) by E.C. Bentley Cine: Max Greene Cast: Michael Wilding, Margaret Lockwood, Orson Welles, John McCallum, Miles Malleson, Hugh McDermott, Jack McNaughton, Sam Kydd, Kenneth Williams, Henry Edwards, Ben Williams, PLUS

  • Eileen Joyce
  • Anthony Collins
  • and members of the London Symphony Orchestra

This is the third of the four (to date) screen adaptations of Bentley’s supposedly subversive mystery novel. The other three have been:

  • Trent’s Last Case (1920) dir Richard Garrick, with Gregory Scott, Pauline Peters, Clive Brook and George Foley (silent)
  • Trent’s Last Case (1929) dir Howard Hawks, with Raymond Griffith, Marceline Day, Lawrence Gray and Donald Crisp (silent)
  • Trent’s Last Case (1964 TVM) dir Peter Duguid, with Michael Gwynn, Kenneth Fortescue and Peter Williams

. . . and I’m sure my true love would spifflicate me if I didn’t mention the unrelated (beyond the title)

  • Trenchard’s Last Case (1989 TV) dir Mike Barnes, an episode of the Bergerac TV series (1981–91) starring apparently droolworthy screen idol (there’s no accounting for taste) John Nettles

Philip Trent (Wilding) is a monied artist and amateur sleuth. In the past, the editor (uncredited) of the Daily Record has commissioned from him dispatches written while he’s been investigating his most sensational murder cases, and what could be more sensational than the murder of ruthless international financier Sigsbee Manderson (Welles) in the grounds of his stately Hampshire pied à terre, White Gables?

Or was it murder? So many of the circumstantial details point to suicide.

The dead man’s widow Margaret (Margaret Lockwood) gives evidence to the coroner’s court . . .

. . . where Philip sketches John . . .

. . . and gardener Horace Evans (Kenneth Williams) also gives evidence.

Philip reaches White Gables the day after Manderson’s body has been discovered by the subgardener, Horace Evans (an almost unrecognizably young Williams), and, with the help of the widowed Mrs. Manderson’s uncle, Burton Cupples (Malleson), talks his way into the house, where he discovers his old pal and rival, Inspector Murch (Kydd), heading the Continue reading

Inquest (1939)

One of the earliest Boulting Brothers movies!

UK / 58 minutes / bw / Charter, Grand National Dir: Roy Boulting Pr: John Boulting Scr: Francis Miller, Michael Barringer Story: Inquest (1931 play) by Michael Barringer Cine: D.P. Cooper Cast: Elizabeth Allan, Herbert Lomas, Hay Petrie, Basil Cunard, Barbara Everest, Olive Sloane, Philip Friend, Harold Anstruther, Malcolm Morley, Jean Shepherd, R. Watts-Philipp, Richard Coke, Charles Stevenson, Jack Greenwood, Peter Madren.

Bucolic scenes . . . a cricket match on the village green . . . dozing dotards and their dogs . . . ruminating cows . . . the village pub . . .

And then suddenly the spell is broken as a shot rings out.

In the attic of Cove Cottage a rummaging William Trelease (Stevenson) has Continue reading

A Time to Kill (1955)

Who’s the bad apple?

UK / 62 minutes / bw / Fortress, Associated British–Pathé Dir: Charles J. Saunders Scr: Doreen Montgomery Cine: James Wilson Cast: Jack Watling, Rona Anderson, Russell Napier, Keneth [sic] Kent, Mary Jones, John Horsley, Joan Hickson, John Le Mesurier, Alastair Hunter, Hélène Burls, Alan Robinson, Dandy Nichols, June Ashley.

Downtrodden doctor’s wife Florence Cole (Jones) is having to make blackmail payoffs at the abandoned Brixley Grange to a mysterious hooded figure.

Florence (Mary Jones) makes another payoff.

Her crime? She once had an affair with local analytical chemist and ladies’ man (I never before thought I’d put those two phrases in the same description) Peter Hastings (Horsley). She’s having a confrontation about it all with her pompous husband Julian (Kent)—

Julian: “How often, I wonder? How many others have there been? No . . . I don’t really want to know. If I did, I’d have to kill you.”

—when the phone rings. It is none other than the cad Peter, saying that he and visiting lady friend Madeline Tilliard (Ashley) have been poisoned by strychnine. Julian grabs his little black bag and is soon there—though not soon enough for Continue reading

House of Mystery (1961)

Mordre wol out!

UK / 54 minutes / bw / Independent Artists, Anglo–Amalgamated Dir & Scr: Vernon Sewell Pr: Julian Wintle, Leslie Parkyn Story: L’Angoisse (n.d.) by Pierre Mills and Celia de Vilyars Cine: Ernest Steward Cast: Jane Hylton, Peter Dyneley, Nanette Newman, Maurice Kaufmann, Colin Gordon, John Merivale, Ronald Hines, Colette Wilde, Molly Urquhart, George Selway, Freda Bamford, Roy Purcell, John Abineri, Pearson Dodd.

Vernon Sewell bought the screen rights of the Pierre Mills and Celia de Vilyars stage play L’Angoisse and went on to film it no fewer than four times, of which this was the fourth. The other three were The Medium (1934), Latin Quarter (1945) and Ghost Ship (1952); I’ve already written on this site about Latin Quarter—a far more ambitious effort than this offering. What puzzles me is that, despite supposedly being based on the same play, the two movies—the 1945 one being cheerily Grand Guignol and this one being a fairly straightforward, sub-M.R. Jamesian ghost story of the kind you might expect the BBC to broadcast around Christmas—don’t seem to have a huge amount in common. Moreover, while the seemingly supernatural component of Latin Quarter can be more or less rationalized, that’s far from so in this case.

So why am I talking about the movie here? Is it just because I’m a confirmed Nanette Newman fanboy? Ahem. Heaven forfend. Nothing of the sort. Surely. The raison d’être of this entry is that the movie’s a variant of Latin Quarter, which most certainly is of interest within the broadish parameters of this site.

Nanette Newman as Joan.

Somewhere near Barnstaple in North Devon, in the UK’s southwest, a househunting young couple, Alan (Hines) and his unnamed wife (Wilde), arrive at Orchard Cottage. It’s spacious and lovely and it’s in its own grounds, and it’s remarkably cheap:

Alan: “Darling, this is the one that’s £2,500.”
Wife: “Well, the price is ridiculous. Must be falling to bits or something.”

Later, just to remind us how things have changed a tad since 1961, certainly in the area of house prices, Alan qualifies: “Must be worth at least £6,000.”

They’re met at the door by a rather creepy middle-aged woman whom they assume to be the caretaker. She starts to tell them about the house, and the Continue reading

River Patrol (1947)

An early Hammer!

UK / 43 minutes / bw / Knightsbridge Hammer, Exclusive Dir: Ben Hart Pr: Hal Wilson Scr: uncredited Cine: Brooks-Carrington Cast: John Blythe, Wally Patch, Stan Paskin, Lorna Dean, Wilton West, George Crowther, Fred Collins, Johnny Doherty, Douglas Leigh, Tony Merrett, George Lane, Dolly Gwynne, Audrey Hibbs, George Kane.

A short and very minor feature that marked the end of the decade-long hiatus in production, because of World War II, for Hammer, the studio later to become famous, of course, as the “House of Horror.” There are no horrors on offer in River Patrol, however, which is a fairly straightforward crime B-movie of the sort that would soon become more associated with the Merton Park studio. The river in question is London’s Thames and the patrols are mounted on it by an institution—I’m pretty sure a fictional one—called the Water Guard.

Robby (John Blythe) phones news of the skirmish in to HQ.

One of the Water Guard’s boats, bearing agent Robby Robinson (Blythe), tries to stop a suspicious-looking craft on the Thames, there’s an exchange of shots, and Robby’s companion Maxwell (uncredited) is killed. If this doesn’t seem implausible enough, rather than radio in the news of the encounter to the Water Guard HQ, Robby has to go ashore and find a phone box.

Robby’s boss (uncredited) reckons the rogue craft must belong to the gang that’s flooding London with Continue reading