snapshot: The Net (1953)

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UK / 82 minutes / bw / Two Cities, Rank Dir: Anthony Asquith Pr: Antony Darnborough Scr: William Fairchild Story: The Net (1952) by John Pudney Cine: Desmond Dickinson Cast: Phyllis Calvert, James Donald, Robert Beatty, Herbert Lom, Muriel Pavlow, Noel Willman, Walter Fitzgerald, Patric Doonan, Maurice Denham, Marjorie Fielding, Cavan Watson, Herbert Lomas, Cyril Chamberlain.

Behind the net—the wire fencing—of secret UK research establishment Port Amberley, the team led by Michael Heathley (Donald) has finished developing the experimental supersonic nuclear-augmented jet aircraft code-named M7. All that remains is to test-fly the prototype, something Michael wants to do immediately, in conjunction with pilot Brian Jackson (Doonan). But the site’s boss, Professor Carrington (Denham) is cautious, and insists it’s too early to risk human lives, that there should be remote-controlled test flights first.

 

Maurice Denham as Carrington.

But then Carrington dies as a result of a mysterious accident and Michael decides, over the objections of several of his colleagues, to 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

Cottage to Let (1941)

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Alastair Sim stars in a tale of spies and scares in wartime Scotland

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UK / 86 minutes / bw / Gainsborough, Gaumont, BPC Dir: Anthony Asquith Pr: Edward Black Scr: A. de Grunwald, J.O.C. Orton Story: Cottage to Let (1939 play) by Geoffrey Kerr Cine: Jack Cox Cast: Leslie Banks, Jeanne De Casalis, Carla Lehman (i.e., Carla Lehmann), Alastair Sim, John Mills, George Cole, Michael Wilding, Frank Cellier, Muriel Aked, Wally Patch, Muriel George, Hay Petrie, Catherine Lacey.

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A somewhat lightweight spy mystery based on a play written before the full horrors were known of what was going on in Europe; it was first staged at Wyndham’s Theatre in London in 1939–40, when opinion on the war’s wisdom was still (just) up for debate in the UK. Another sign of the piece’s date is that, in the screen adaptation, a central character even pronounces the term “Nazis” incorrectly, as “Nazzies” rather than “Natzies.”

Somewhere in Tayside, Scotland, Mrs. Barrington (De Casalis) of the big house is letting out one of the estate’s cottages; the only trouble is that, in typically scatterbrained fashion, she’s agreed to rent it to more than one tenant. Miss Fernery (Aked) is expecting to billet some evacuee children from London in it; Dr. Truscott (Petrie) is expecting to use it as an emergency hospital; while the eccentric Charles Dimble (Sim) is expecting to make it a temporary home. The latter tries to remind his new landlady of this in an exchange that has “stage play” written all over it:

Dimble: “I’m Dimble.”
Mrs. Barrington: “Oh, are you? I’m so sorry.”

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Dimble (Alastair Sim) exercises his native charms on Mrs. Barrington (Jeanne De Casalis).

She airily offers a compromise: Dimble can have a room in the cottage, Truscott can have the rest of it for his patients, and she’ll Continue reading