Permission to Kill (1975)

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Alpine scheming!
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vt Kickback; vt The Executioner
UK, Austria, US / 97 minutes / color with occasional brief bw / Sascha–Film, Jungbluth & Lazek, Warner, Columbia–Warner, Embassy Dir: Cyril Frankel Pr: Paul Mills Scr: Robin Estridge Story: W.I.L One to Curtis (1967) by Robin Estridge Cine: Freddie Young Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Ava Gardner, Bekim Fehmiu, Timothy Dalton, Nicole Calfan, Frederic Forrest, Klaus Wildbolz, Anthony Dutton, Peggy Sinclair, Dennis Blanch, John Levene, Alf Joint, Vladimir Popovic, Ratislav Plamenac, Oliver Schott, Erna Riedl-Tichy.

Released at the height of the Bond era—this came out between The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), a time when the Bond franchise was for legal reasons undergoing a (very) brief hiatus—Permission to Kill could hardly, despite its title, be more distanced from the technical hijinx, passionate encounters, shootemups and protracted action scenes that characterized its glitzy counterpart. Perhaps aspiring to the gravitas of Le Carre, it focuses on intrigue and the interplay between characters. It’s not entirely successful in this, but it does have a fair amount of appeal in its own right.

Alexander “Alex” Diakim (Fehmiu), a charismatic populist leader in exile from his Middle European homeland because of the repressive government there, has halfway decided to go back to lead the struggle for liberation, even at the likely cost of his life.

Dirk Bogarde as Curtis.

For reasons unstated—perhaps just a fear of rocking the boat—the British secret services don’t want him to do so. A controller who calls himself Alan Curtis (Bogarde) is put in charge of the effort to persuade Alex to delay his plans or, if he proves intractable, to kill him.

Curtis, using various means of blackmail and claiming to be working for the nonexistent Western Intelligence Liaison, assembles a disparate group of people important for some or other reason in Alex’s life and Continue reading

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Feet of Clay (1960)

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“So I gave her wings!”
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UK / 56 minutes / bw / Danziger, UA Dir: Frank Marshall Pr: Edward J. Danziger, Harry Lee Danziger Story: Mark Grantham Cine: Jimmy Wilson Cast: Vincent Ball, Wendy Williams, Hilda Fennemore (i.e., Hilda Fenemore), Robert Cawdron, Brian Smith, Angela Douglas, Alan Browning, Sandra Alfred, David Courtney, Jack Melford, Ian Wilson, Howard Lang, Lawrence Ireland, Arnold Bell, Edith Saville.

As with Monogram or PRC in the US, the name of the UK Poverty Row studio Danzigers was rarely a guarantee of any great quality, but often enough you got a perfectly amenable mediocrity and, every now and then, you got a jewel. This was one of the jewels—or, perhaps more realistically, a diamond in the rough.

Vincent Ball as David Kyle.

Wendy Williams as Fay Kent.

When probation officer Angela Richmond (Saville) is stabbed in a dark alley in London’s docklands, the workers within the legal system, from beat cops to judges, are horrified: Richmond was “The Angel of the Police Courts,” the golden-hearted woman who sponsored the release of young offenders from custodial sentences and gave them the opportunity to build a life.

Alan Browning (right) as Inspector Gill.

The constable (Ireland) on patrol near the alley where the murder was committed saw young Jimmy Fuller (Smith) fleeing from the scene, and Continue reading

They Never Learn (1956)

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Recorded in a bathroom?
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UK / 46 minutes / bw / E.J. Fancey Productions, New Realm Dir & Scr: Denis L. Kavanagh, Edwin J. Fancey Pr: Edwin J. Fancey Cine: Hal Morey Cast: John Blyth (i.e., John Blythe), Jackie Collins, Graham Stark, Adrienne Scott, Michael Partridge, Ken Hayward, John Crowhurst, Campbell Singer (voice), Diana Chesney, Geoff Roberts, Brian Goff, Jack Gray, Robert Vince, Joyce Jeffery PLUS, as Holloway inmates, Fay Witmond, Dorothy English, Joyce C. Maloney, Jean Rice, Gladys Clark, June Pennock, Dorothy Budman, Anita Ellery, Pauline Hedgecock, Irene Cast.

A quota quickie that’s so bumblingly amateurish that it’s really quite fun to watch: it’s not a movie that’s “so bad it’s good” (a trope to which I’ve never much subscribed) but one that seems almost puppyishly anxious to please. The incompetence is puppyish too. If you prefer your crime movies to be lean, smoothly powerful Dobermans, then They Never Learn isn’t for you. But, if your heart really belongs to that three-month mongrel pup from the pound that’s wagging its tail in a blur and could well wet the floor in its eagerness to be tickled behind the ears, then you have a treat in store.

Which is all to say that They Never Learn is a thoroughly bad movie but I enjoyed it even so.

Adrienne Scott as WPC Marie Watson.

One oddity is that the sound effects have clearly been added separately. All the dialogue, too, has been very obviously dubbed on afterwards, and not especially adroitly. (It gives the impression, in fact, of having been Continue reading

Traitor Spy (1939)

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Whose torso is it?
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vt The Torso Murder Mystery
UK / 72 minutes / bw / Rialto, Pathé Dir: Walter Summers Pr: John Argyle Scr: Walter Summers, Jan Van Lusil, Ralph Bettison Story: Traitor Spy (1939) by T.C.H. Jacobs Cine: Robert LaPresle Cast: Bruce Cabot, Marta Labarr, Tamara Desni, Romilly Lunge, Edward Lexy, Cyril Smith, Percy Walsh, Eve Lynd, Alexander Field, Hilary Pritchard, Miriam Minetti, Davina Craig, Vincent Holman, Anthony Shaw, Peter Gawthorne, Bernard Jukes, Nino Rossini, Rosarita, Ken Johnson’s West Indian Band.

Carl Beyersdorf (Cabot) is a freelance spy, currently working under the name Jim Healey for the Bideford Marine Engineering Company in Devon, England. (For convenience we’ll call him Jim throughout, even though sometimes he’s in his true guise of Carl.) He’s aiming to get the blueprints of the company’s new antisubmarine patrol craft and sell them to the Germans.

Bruce Cabot as Jim.

And, sure enough, he’s able to steal the prints. Later, when an armed German agent arrives, Jim tries to jack up the price of the purloined documents from £1,000 to £4,000. But the agent, shouting threats, draws his gun. There’s the sound of gunfire and . . .

. . . and the next day a dismembered body is fished out of a reservoir nearby. Evidence leads the cops Continue reading

Crime Over London (1936)

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Thrills in store!
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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)

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A killer in their midst!
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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)

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When the legal system fails, let a court of down-and-outs decide!
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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)

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

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“All right, ya dirty doublecrosser!”
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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)

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