Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949)

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The final Barton!
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UK / 68 minutes / bw / Hammer, Ted Kavanagh Associated, Exclusive Dir: Godfrey Grayson Assoc Pr: Anthony Hinds, Mae Murray Scr: Elizabeth Baron, Ambrose Grayson Story: Ambrose Grayson, based on characters created for Dick Barton—Special Agent (1946–51 BBC radio series), devised by Norman Collins and scripted by Edward J. Mason and Geoffrey Webb Cine: Cedric Williams Cast: Don Stannard, Bruce Walker, Sebastian Cabot, James Raglan, Jean Lodge, Morris Sweden, John Harvey, Humphrey Kent, Sidney Vivian, Tony Morelli, George Crawford, Laurie Taylor, Schulman.

This was the third to be made in what Hammer planned to be a long-lasting series of movies featuring the popular BBC radio character Dick Barton, begun with Dick Barton: Special Agent (1948). It proved to be the last, however, because, driving home after the “It’s a Wrap” party, series star Don Stannard crashed his car and was killed instantly. His co-star in Dick Barton Strikes Back, Sebastian Cabot, traveling with him, escaped with only minor injuries. Presumably in an effort to cash in on public interest in the tragedy, Exclusive, the series’ distributor, hurried the release so that this movie came out before its predecessor, Dick Barton at Bay (1950). The next movie in the series was apparently intended to be Dick Barton in Darkest Africa—to judge by the title, a radical departure from the series template.

I mentioned in connection with Dick Barton at Bay that the improvement of its production standards over those of its predecessor was evident within moments of the end of the opening credits. The improvement in standards of the third entry over Dick Barton at Bay is obvious even during the opening credits! Farewell to the strictly functional, rather amateurish credits of the previous two movies; hello to a more sophisticated presentation, complete with cameos of the three principals. A new production team and a new cinematographer—one who was far readier to use noirish techniques of shadow and angle—make a huge difference, but so does the fact that a bit more thought seems to have gone into the story, which, while it follows the basic overall template established by the two earlier movies and is as full of wild-and-woolly plot developments as ever, has an actual dramatic structure, leading up to an extended finale that is cleverly put together and genuinely edge-of-your-seat stuff.

Creston (Morris Sweden, left) tersely briefs Dick (Don Stannard, center) and Snowey (Bruce Walker) at the airport.

Dick (Stannard) and Snowey (Walker, replacing and much improving upon George Ford) go to St. Albans airport, about twenty miles out of London, to meet Special Agent Robert Creston (Sweden), who’s just arrived on the plane from Prague. He’s reluctant to be seen with them, muttering only that “If my guess is correct, the atomic bomb is child’s play compared to this” and arranging to meet them later at Continue reading

The Dummy Talks (1943)

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Who slew the philandering ventriloquist?
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UK / 82 minutes / bw / British National, Anglo–American Dir: Oswald Mitchell Pr: Wallace Orton Scr: Michael Barringer Story: Con West, Jack Clifford Cine: James Wilson Cast: Jack Warner, Claude Hulbert, G.H. Mulcaster, Beryl Orde, Ivy Benson, John Carol, Evelyn Darvell, Max Earl, Gordon Edwards, Manning Whiley, Charles Carson, Derna Hazell (i.e., Hy Hazell), Eric Mudd, PLUS

  • Ivy Benson’s All-Ladies Orchestra
  • Frederick Sylvester & Nephew
  • Tommy Manley & Florence Austin
  • Cecil Ayres with the Skating Avalons
  • The Five Lai Founs

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A wartime morale-booster set inside a London variety house/music hall (about the same as a US burlesque theater, but without the, er, disrobing) and relying heavily on the BBC radio popularity of three of its major cast: Jack Warner, Claude Hulbert and Beryl Orde. The movie presents itself as a murder mystery with the added elements of some flippant humor and quite a lot of stage presentations. Despite some genuinely clever moments, it seems today—although fans of music hall might disagree—a tad leaden in places.

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Joe (uncredited) knows a thing or two.

Comedian Jack “Blue Pencil” Warner (Warner) and impressionist Beryl Orde (Orde) are the current headliners at the variety theater, drawing the crowds because they’re well known radio personalities, but plenty of other high-profile acts are on the bill: Marvello (Carson) and Maya (Hazell) with their mentalist act; ventriloquist Russell Warren (Whiley); and singer Peggy Royce (Darvell), who performs with the big band Ivy Benson’s All-Ladies Orchestra (one of several genuine variety acts to feature). Behind the scenes we have stage manager Marcus (Edwards); the theater’s managing director, Yates (Earl); Joe (bafflingly uncredited), the stage-door keeper; and a stutteringly unorthodox cop, Victor “Vic” Harbord (Hulbert), who hangs around the theater a lot because he and Peggy are—improbably—enamored.

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Vic (Claude Hulbert) and Beryl (Beryl Orde).

Beryl knows the ventriloquist, Warren, of old, and despises him as a heartless womanizer. She also recalls how one time, when they shared a bill up north, Warren beat to a pulp a husband who objected to Warren’s seduction of the luckless man’s wife. Beryl is thus dismayed to notice that Peggy is seeing rather more than is appropriate of the ventriloquist; Vic may be no Adonis, but he has a good heart and a genuine adoration for the singer. The truth is that Warren has learned that Continue reading

Orders to Kill (1958)

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Assassination seemed so easy . . . at first!
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UK / 107 minutes / bw / Anthony Asquith, Lynx, British Lion Dir: Anthony Asquith Pr: Anthony Havelock-Allan Scr: Paul Dehn, George St. George Story: Donald C. Downes Cine: Desmond Dickinson Cast: Eddie Albert, Paul Massie, Lillian Gish, James Robertson Justice, Leslie French, Irene Worth, John Crawford, Lionel Jeffries, Nicholas Phipps, Jacques Brunius, Robert Henderson, Miki Iveria, Lillabea Gifford, Anne Blake, Sam Kydd, William E. Greene.

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“The central story on which this film is based is true,” reads a line in the opening credits of Orders to Kill, an offering that starts out as an orthodox war movie but then ventures far farther into noirish territory, both thematically and in visual style, than do most UK films noirs of the era.

It’s Boston in 1944, and the French officer Commandant Morand (Brunius) conveys to two of his US opposite numbers, Major Kimball (Crawford) and Colonel Snyder (Henderson), that there appears to be a traitor in a Paris cell of the French Resistance. The two US officers determine to send Gene Summers (Massie)—a fighter–bomber pilot recently demobbed because of injury and exhaustion who before the war lived some while in Paris, gaining fluent French—to murder the suspected traitor, a process server named Marcel Lafitte (French).

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Commandant Morand (Jacques Brunius) reports the apparent betrayal . . .

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. . . to Major Kimball (John Crawford, left) and Colonel Snyder (Robert Henderson).

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Gene (Paul Massie) reckons he can easily cope with the challenge.

Overseen by his handler, Major “Mac” MacMahon (Albert), Gene is sent to be trained as a spy and an assassin under the tutelage of an unnamed Naval Commander (Justice). He’s taught how to slay Germans without wasting bullets, how to invent lies that will hold up under interrogation and even torture, and so on.

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James Robertson Justice excels in the role of the unnamed naval commander primarily responsible for training Gene (Paul Massie).

It’s during this section of Orders to Kill that we realize that what we’re watching is less a war movie, however quirky, than a noirish piece. For me the transition became apparent with Continue reading

Witness for the Prosecution (1982 TVM)

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A very good remake of a classic movie!
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UK, US / 102 minutes / color / United Artists Dir: Alan Gibson Pr: Norman Rosemont Scr: John Gay Story: “Traitor’s Hands” (1925 Flynn’s Weekly) and Witness for the Prosecution (1953 play), both by Agatha Christie, and the screenplay for Witness for the Prosecution (1957) by Billy Wilder, Harry Kurnitz and Larry Marcus Cine: Arthur Ibbetson Cast: Ralph Richardson, Deborah Kerr, Beau Bridges, Donald Pleasence, Wendy Hiller, Diana Rigg, David Langton, Richard Vernon, Peter Sallis, Michael Gough, Frank Mills, Michael Nightingale, Peter Copley, Patricia Leslie, Primi Townsend.

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Christie’s play has been filmed several times. The most famous adaptation is quite clearly Billy Wilder’s 1957 movie Witness for the Prosection, featuring Charles Laughton, Elsa Lanchester, Tyron Power and, in what’s effectively an unorthodox version of the femme fatale role, Marlene Dietrich.

Because of the fame of the Wilder adaptation, it’s easy to think it must have been the first. Not so. As far as I can gather, the first movie adaptation was Continue reading

Night Caller, The (1965)

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Noirish Science Fiction?
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vt Blood Beast from Outer Space; vt Night Caller from Outer Space
UK / 84 minutes / bw (though there’s also a later colorized release) / New Art, Armitage, Butcher’s Dir: John Gilling Pr: Ronald Liles Scr: Jim O’Connolly Story: The Night Callers (1960) by Frank R. Crisp Cine: Stephen Dade Cast: John Saxon, Maurice Denham, Patricia Haines, Alfred Burke, Warren Mitchell, Stanley Meadows, Aubrey Morris, Ballard Berkeley, Marianne Stone, Geoffrey Lumsden, Barbara French, Anthony Wager, David Gregory, Romo Gorrara, Robert Crewdson, John Carson, Jack Watson.

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Some while back I came across a reference to this as an intriguing example of a film noir/science fiction crossover. I discovered I’d bought a copy of the thing years ago but never watched it, so out I dug it. And now, finally, the watching’s been done.

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Three scientists at Falsley Park Government Radio and Electronic Research Establishment—they’re just “scientists,” with no specialties itemized—are working away one night at whatever it is non-specialist scientists do that involves a lot of idle oscilloscopes when one of their number, Ann Barlow (Haines), spots something 100 miles above the ground that’s approaching the earth at high speed—over 10,000 miles per hour, in fact. Luckily it slows down, and they’re able to pinpoint where it must have landed.

The other two of the trio are the team leader, Dr. Morley (Denham), and Dr. Jack Costain (Saxon). Ann, being female, is not an out-and-out scientist like the other two. Instead she’s “our analysis expert.” And departmental typist.

Next morning the three go out onto the moors in search of the mystery object, which Ann’s oscilloscope told them must be Continue reading

Hostile Witness (1968)

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Can a brilliant lawyer suppress his arrogance long enough to save his own skin?
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UK / 99 minutes / color / Caralan–Dador, UA Dir: Ray Milland Pr: David E. Rose Scr: Jack Roffey Story: Hostile Witness (1965 play) by Jack Roffey Cine: Gerald Gibbs Cast: Ray Milland, Sylvia Syms, Raymond Huntley, Felix Aylmer, Geoffrey Lumsden, Ewan Roberts, Julian Holloway, Norman Barrs, Richard Hurndall, Dulcie Bowman, Ballard Berkeley, Harold Berens, Percy Marmont, Edward Waddy, Ronald Leigh-Hunt, Sandra Fehr.

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Devastated when his wife was killed during the Blitz, lawyer Simon Crawford (Milland) and his infant daughter Joanna were taken in by Justice Matthew Gregory (Marmont) and his wife Phyllis (Bowman). Years later, Crawford is a prominent QC and Joanna (Fehr) has grown up to become a lovely young woman.

One evening Crawford is visiting Lady Phyllis to toast her birthday when there’s a screech of brakes outside. Joanna has been knocked down by a hit-and-run driver, and will soon die in the hospital. As you’d expect, Crawford says in front of witnesses that he’ll kill the driver if ever he finds him.

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Crawford (Ray Milland) exchanges banter with daughter Joanna (Sandra Fehr).

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Lady Gregory (Dulcie Bowman) looks down at the scene of the accident.

Spool forward a few weeks. The police have got nowhere in finding the driver—all that the witnesses could report was that Continue reading

Dark Tower, The (1943)

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Herbert Lom stars as the malicious mesmerist in the Big Top!
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UK / 93 minutes / bw / Warner–First National Dir: John Harlow Pr: Max Milder Scr: Brock Williams, Reginald Purdell Story: The Dark Tower (1933 play) by George S. Kaufman, Alexander Woollcott Cine: Otto Heller Cast: Ben Lyon, Anne Crawford, David Farrar, Herbert Lom, Frederick Burtwell, Bill Hartnell (i.e., William Hartnell), Josephine Wilson, Elsie Wagstaffe (i.e., Elsie Wagstaff), J.H. Roberts, Aubrey Mallalieu, Reco Brothers’ Circus.

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Phil Danton (Lyon) of Danton’s Empire Circus is in the process of announcing to the circus’s personnel that he can no longer afford to pay them when news arrives that Pasha the lion has escaped from his cage.

The Dark Tower - 3 The lion is loose!

In trying to control the beast, the lion tamer (uncredited) collapses. Luckily, though, a sinister young man, Stephen Torg (Lom), who’d been trying to find a job at the circus, steps forward and, using his mesmeric abilities, cows Pasha. Naturally Phil offers him a job (unpaid) on the spot.

The Dark Tower - 1 Drifter Torg introduces himself to 'Colonel' Wainwright

Drifter Torg (Herbert Lom) introduces himself to “Colonel” Wainwright (Frederick Burtwell).

The Dark Tower - 2 Torg immediately impresses

Torg (Herbert Lom) immediately impresses.

Phil gathers around him his trusted colleagues: his brother Tom (Farrar), who’s his partner in the circus and also the star of the flying trapeze; Miss Mary (Crawford), Tom’s partner on the trapeze and soon to be in life; and Jimmy Powers (Hartnell), the circus’s publicist. Could they perhaps employ Torg as the new lion tamer? But Phil has a far more radical idea:

Phil: What I’m trying to explain is I believe it might be possible for Torg to control Mary’s balance in the act through hypnotism.”

At the end of her act with Tom on the trapeze, Mary slides backward down a sloping wire to the ground. To keep her balance she uses Continue reading

Villiers Diamond, The (1938)

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An early, scream-free role for scream queen Evelyn Ankers!
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UK / 50 minutes / bw / Fox–British, Exclusive Dir: Bernerd Mainwaring (i.e., Bernard Mainwaring) Pr: John Findlay Scr: David Evans, Ernest Dudley Story: F. Wyndham Mallock Cine: Stanley Grant Cast: Edward Ashley, Evelyn Ankers, Frank Birch, Liam Gaffney, Leslie Harcourt, Julie Suedo, Sybil Brooke, Bill Shine, Margaret Davidge, Anita Sharp-Bolster.

You don’t expect much from a movie whose opening credits spell the director’s name wrong, and in this instance not much is what you get. It does, however, feature an early leading role for an actress who’d later become one of the more celebrated Scream Queens at Universal, Evelyn Ankers.

Villiers Diamond - 3 The lovely Joan

The lovely Joan (Evelyn Ankers).

Habitual crook Henry Barker (Harcourt), a suspect in the theft of the never-recovered Villiers Diamond, is released from his latest two-year holiday at His Majesty’s expense and makes a beeline for the home in Shropshire of the faux-respectable “gem collector” who paid him to steal the stone, Silas Wade (Birch). To say that Wade isn’t glad to see him would be an understatement; he’s even less delighted when Barker demands the 150 smackers he should have been paid for the job. (Just £150 for stealing the diamond? Either Barker has the worst business sense of any professional burglar or it’s a far smaller stone than we’ve been led to believe.)

Wade claims he doesn’t have the money, so Continue reading

Third Visitor, The (1951)

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A twisty mystery with a tremendous finale!
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UK / 85 minutes / bw / Merton Park, Elvey-Gartside, Eros Dir: Maurice Elvey Pr: Ernest Gartside Scr: Gerald Anstruther, David Evans Story: The Third Visitor (1950 play) by Gerald Anstruther Cine: Stephen Dade Cast: Sonia Dresdel, Guy Middleton, Hubert Gregg, Colin Gordon, Karel Stepanek, Eleanor Summerfield, John Slater, Michael Martin Harvey, Cyril Smith.

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Adapted from a successful West End play, this is an example of quite how well the postwar UK moviemakers could craft their entertainments using the minimal resources available to them.

Obviously done on a budget, The Third Visitor nevertheless absolutely satisfies its remit, which is to keep us engrossed for an hour and a half or so. The plot’s as twisty as that of the average modern neonoir, and some of the volte-faces are genuinely surprising. Only once or twice do we become aware of Continue reading

Operation Diplomat (1953)

UK / 68 minutes / bw / Nettlefold, Butcher’s Dir: John Guillermin Pr: Ernest G. Roy Scr: A.R. Rawlinson, John Guillermin Story: Operation Diplomat (1952 TV series) by Francis Durbridge Cine: Gerald Gibbs Cast: Guy Rolfe, Lisa Daniely, Patricia Dainton, Sydney Tafler, Ballard Berkeley, Anton Diffring, Michael Golden, James Raglan, Avice Landone, Brian Worth, Eric Berry, Edward Dain, Alexis Chesnakov, Ann Bennett, Jean Hardwicke, William Franklyn, Desmond Llewelyn, Derek Aylward.

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Mark Fenton (Rolfe), a surgeon at St. Matthew’s Hospital in London, is strolling along the Thames one evening when a nurse (uncredited; possibly Jean Hardwicke) leaps out of an ambulance to tell him to come quickly: there’s an urgent case he must attend to. Implausibly—but this is a Francis Durbridge tale—he agrees to climb into the back of the ambulance with her, finding not a patient but a sinister, gun-toting man called Wade (Tafler). Wade tells him they must drive a distance to where the patient is, but declines to yield up any more information.

Operation Diplomat - 1a Fenton is walking by the Thames when . . .

Fenton (Guy Rolfe) is walking by the Thames when . . .

Operation Diplomat - 1b. . . a pretty nurse leaps from an ambulance and urges him to come with her

. . . a pretty nurse (uncredited; possibly Jean Hardwicke) leaps from an ambulance and urges him to come with her.

Hours later they arrive at a mansion. Aided by a doctor who’s been struck off the Medical Register, Edward Schröder (Diffring), by the nurse we’ve already met and by a nurse with swoony eyes, Fenton operates on the man, whom we’ll discover before too long is missing diplomat Sir Oliver Peters (Raglan), Chairman of Western Defence. Afterwards, Wade gives Fenton a tumbler of Scotch, which he Continue reading