Dark Tower, The (1943)

Herbert Lom stars as the malicious mesmerist in the Big Top!

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.

The Dark Tower - 0aThe Dark Tower - 0b

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

Missing Million, The (1942)

UK / 78 minutes / bw / Signet, ABFD Dir: Phil Brandon Pr: Hugh Perceval Scr: James Seymour Story: The Missing Million (1923) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Stephen Dade Cast: Linden Travers, John Warwick, Patricia Hilliard, John Stuart, Ivan Brandt, Brefni O’Rorke, Charles Victor, Marie Ault, Eric Clavering, Valentine Dyall, Arthur Hambling, Albert Chevalier, Aubrey Mallalieu, Jim Donald, Cecil Bevan.

Missing Million - 0 opener

Rex Walton (Brandt) is about to marry Dora Coleman (Hilliard), daughter of treasury official Michael Coleman (O’Rorke). As he and his sister Joan (Travers) visit the Colemans’ stately London house one evening, though, Rex suddenly disappears, and a mysterious phonecall tells Joan that his life is in danger. It proves that there’s a vicious blackmailing gang on the loose, led by a master-criminal—”the prince of blackmailers”—called The Panda because of his habit of Continue reading

Riverside Murder, The (1935)

UK / 64 minutes / bw / Fox Dir & Pr: Albert Parker Scr: Selwyn Jepson Story: Six Hommes Morts (1930) by André Steeman (i.e., Stanislas-André Steeman) Cine: Alex Bryce Cast: Basil Sydney, Judy Gunn, Zoë Davis, Alastair Sim, Reginald Tate, Ian Fleming, Tom Helmore, Martin Lewis, C.M. Hallard, Aubrey Mallalieu.

Steeman’s novel was later filmed again as the far better and more ambitious Les Dernier des Six (1941), dir Georges Lacombe. (There was also a version for the small screen: L’Inspecteur Wens: Six Hommes Morts [1975], an episode of the French/WG TV series Les Grands Détectives [1974–5].) The 1935 version is pretty poor stuff, with a clumsily constructed plot, an extremely tiresome female lead, a waste of Alastair Sim’s talents, and a profoundly silly tagged-on romantic ending.

Someone murders successful financier Robert Norman (Mallalieu) in the library of his riverside home, River House. Inspector Philip Winton (Sydney) of the local constabulary is called in to investigate, which he does with Sergeant “Mac” McKay (Sim) alongside him as his obsequious assistant. It soon emerges that five years ago, after Norman had harmed four of his friends with bad financial advice, he gave each of them cash by way of compensation; the five agreed on The Pact, a sort of faux-tontine whereby they all—or at least all the survivors—would assemble here at an agreed date and share equally among them the wealth they’d earned in the intervening period. With Norman now dead, each of the remaining four will gain one-quarter of his not inconsiderable fortune. That agreed date is now: The Pact has until midnight tomorrow to run . . .

Two of those four have already arrived and are staying in River House: writer Hubert Perrin (Tate) and the rather retiring Henry Sanders (Fleming). Soon a third turns up, the wastrel William Gregg (Lewis); it’s said that the dead man had recently wearied of Gregg’s endless requests for “loans” and had cut off the money supply. Finally the fourth appears, Alfred Jerome (Helmore), freshly arrived from the Far East; he’s plainly terrified, displaying on his shoulder the bullet graze that he apparently received last night when someone took a potshot at him. As he talks about this in Norman’s library to Sanders and Claire Haines (Gunn), a headstrong young journalist who has butted into the case and keeps returning despite the best efforts of Philip and Mac to eject her, he moves nervously to the French windows to close them and is promptly shot down from the darkened garden beyond.

Riverside Murder -

A shot rings out and Jerome (Tom Helmore) clutches his chest . . .

Sanders runs for help. When he returns he finds Continue reading

Face at the Window, The (1939)

UK / 71 minutes / bw / Pennant, British Lion Dir & Pr: George King Scr: A. Rawlinson, Ronald Fayre Story: The Face at the Window (1897 play) by F. Brooke Warren Cine: Hone Glendining Cast: Tod Slaughter, John Warwick, Aubrey Mallalieu, Marjorie Taylor, Robert Adair, Wallace Evenett, Leonard Henry, Kay Lewis, Billy Shine, Margaret Yarde, Harry Terry.

Although many histories claim 1940 as the start date for film noir, the truth is that movies in the idiom were being made years earlier in France, the UK and other European countries as well as in the US. It’s interesting, therefore, to compare some of the movies that used similar tropes and were being made at the same time yet which are quite manifestly not noirish. This old-fashioned mellerdrammer has a villain whose social position makes him, he thinks, untouchable, an innocent man whom he almost succeeds in framing for his crimes, and our hero’s plucky girlfriend, who believes in his innocence and helps him prove it. Just to complete the noirish repertoire there’s a slow-witted cop. Yet the affect could hardly be farther from noir’s, and similarly the subtext . . . if indeed this movie has any.

Paris, 1880, a city that’s been terrorized by the appalling crimes committed by a possibly supernatural monster called Le Loup/The Wolf. Whenever the stabbed victims are found in time, they whisper “The face at the window” before dying; in the air hang the echoes of a ghastly lupine howl . . .

In the latest atrocity, the bank owned by M. de Brisson (Mallalieu) is robbed late at night and one of its clerks is killed; the other late-working clerk, Lucien Cortier (Warwick), hears the howl and finds the body. Lucien loves and is loved by M. de Brisson’s daughter Cecile (Taylor); unfortunately, Cecile has also caught the lecherous eye of the middle-aged Chevalier Lucio del Gardo (Slaughter), who presents himself to de Brisson as the bank’s financial savior . . . on condition de Brisson permits the Chevalier to woo Cecile.

We’re soon aware that the Chevalier is a bad hat and behind The Wolf’s crimes; he hires lowlifes from The Blind Rat, a seedy dive run by the formidable La Pinan (Yarde), to carry out his crimes, although he prefers to do the actual murdering himself. The face that appears at the victims’ windows is, we discover at the end, that of the Chevalier’s hideously disfigured foster-brother (Terry), whom he’s kept caged these past forty years at the request of their mom. Luckily the redoubtable Lucien is able to unmask the dastard, in part thanks to his friend Professor le Blanc (Evenett), who has discovered, Frankenstein-fashion, that if you pass electricity through recent corpses they can be at least briefly reanimated. Needless to say, as the “mad professor” (the cast’s habitual term for him) prepares for his final experiment, a violent thunderstorm begins . . .

Tod Slaughter is often mocked as a dimwitted scenery-chewer, but the truth is that his thud-and-blunder presentations were perfectly knowing, his hammery deliberate. Born Norman Carter Slaughter and initially performing as N. Carter Slaughter, he ran the Theatre Royal for a while, then in 1924 took over London’s Elephant & Castle Theatre, where he revived a string of Victorian melodramas—to great success. The theater was shut down a few years later, for inscrutable bureaucratic reasons; in due course Slaughter took his winning formula to the screen.

Warren’s melodrama had been filmed several times before, in 1910, 1920 and 1932. The 1932 version, starring Raymond Massey and dir Leslie S. Hiscott, is of some interest, and may be included here in due course if I lay my hands on a copy.

On Amazon.com: The Face At The Window & Murder In The Red Barn