Murder at the Windmill (1949)

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“Always something coming off, always something going on!”
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vt Mystery at the Burlesque
UK / 65 minutes / bw / Angel, Grand National Dir & Scr: Val Guest Pr: Daniel M. Angel Cine: Bert Mason Cast: Garry Marsh, Jack Livesey, Jon Pertwee, Elliot Makeham, Diana Decker, Donald Clive, Jill Anstey, Jimmy Edwards, Margot Johns (i.e., Margo Johns), Genine Grahame, Pamela Deeming, Johnnie Gale, John Powe, Constance Smith, Barry O’Neill, Ron Perriam, Christine Welsford, Peter Butterworth, Ivan Craig, Robin Richmond, and members of the Windmill Theatre Company: Raymond, Anita, Pat, Margot, June and Maureen.

“Wherever it was practical to do so this story was filmed on the actual sites in and around the Windmill Theatre and the parts played by the Girls and Staff of the Theatre were re-enacted by themselves.”

The Windmill Theatre, just off London’s Piccadilly Circus, was famed for two things: the fact that its variety shows (the closest, but I think rather misleading, US equivalent would be burlesque) featured nude tableaux, and its claim (which may have been truthful) that it missed nary a performance all through the Blitz. “We Never Closed!” was the boast—indeed, here it is:

The idea of a murder mystery set within the Windmill and featuring a number of its real-life performers must have seemed irresistible to producers, to director Val Guest and indeed to potential cinema audiences. Of course, the screen censors wouldn’t allow the inclusion of any of the famed tableaux, even though it was censorship that was responsible for the tableaux in the first place: moving performers weren’t at the time permitted to be naked on the London stage, for fear of undue jiggling, heaven forfend, but motionless tableaux featuring classical themes were exempt, being clearly of educational interest.

Which I suppose in a way they were, for at least some of the younger spectators among the Windmill’s audiences. Even so, one of the unusual features of the theatre was that opera glasses were forbidden.

By the time I lived in London, the Windmill was Continue reading

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Paper Orchid (1949)

UK / 85 minutes / bw / Ganesh, Columbia Dir: Roy Baker (i.e., Roy Ward Baker) Pr: John R. Sloan Scr: Val Guest, Arthur La Bern Story: Paper Orchid (1948) by Arthur La Bern Cine: Basil Emmott Cast: Hugh Williams, Hy Hazell, Garry Marsh, Sidney James, Ivor Barnard, Andrew Cruickshank, Walter Hudd, Ella Retford, Hughie Green, Vida Hope, Frederick Leister, Vernon Greeves, Patricia Owens, Rolf Lefebvre, Ray Ellington Quartet.

 

Paper Orchid - 0a other opener

Stella Mason (Hazell), whose journalistic credentials are that she’s the daughter of the editor of a provincial newspaper, the Littlehampton Trumpet, bluffs her way into a job at the Daily National on the pretext that she once saw the National’s proprietor, Lord Croup, in Littlehampton with a floozie. Her tale should have gotten her booted out of the National’s offices but, at her interview with widowered Chief Editor Frank “Mac” McSweeney (Williams), it’s evident that she’s caught his eye:

Mac: Tell me, have you had any experience?
Stella: Oh, yes, I’ve had lots of experience.
Mac: Yes, I’m sure you have, but I mean . . . I mean newspaper experience.

Mac takes her on, on probation, for a month, even though he has severe doubts about employing a female journalist: so far as he’s concerned, journalism is a man’s job. The idea that the newspaper industry is infested with this sexist idiocy is reinforced throughout the movie, with even the proprietor’s widow, Lady Croup (Retford), later pronouncing that Continue reading

Double Exposure (1954)

UK / 61 minutes / bw / Kenilworth–Mid-Century, Rank Dir & Scr: John Gilling Pr: Robert S. Baker, Monty Berman Story: John Roddick Cine: Monty Berman Cast: John Bentley, Rona Anderson, Garry Marsh, Alexander Gauge, Ingeborg Wells, John Horsley, Doris Hare, Eric Berry, Frank Forsythe (i.e., Frank Forsyth), Ronan O’Casey, Alan Robinson, Ryck Rydon, Sally Newton.

Double Exposure 1954 0 opener

Barbara Leyland (Anderson) is a freelance “photo background designer”: she goes around photographing scenes onto which foreground images can be placed for the purposes of advertising. (Think Photoshop, but far clunkier.) One of her clients is Clayton Advertising, where she works with a chief designer called Jones (O’Casey). The company’s owner, Denis Clayton (Gauge), described as “MD of Clayton Advertising, Chairman of Clayton Textiles, Director of Self Finance and a racehorse owner,” has a little problem, as we soon discover: his estranged wife Laura owns the bulk of his various companies, and is in the process of selling them out from under him.

That problem disappears the day—October 4—that Laura plunges to her death from her sixth-floor window in a London street called Galway Court. Accident? Suicide? The cops decide Continue reading

Voice of Merrill, The (1952)

vt Murder Will Out
UK / 80 minutes / bw / Tempean, Eros Dir & Scr: John Gilling Pr: Robert S. Baker, Monty Berman Story: Terence Austin, Gerald Landau Cine: Monty Berman Cast: Valerie Hobson, Edward Underdown, James Robertson Justice, Henry Kendall, Garry Marsh, Daniel Wherry, Sam Kydd, Daphne Newton, Ian Fleming, Johnnie Schofield.

Voice of Merrill - 1 Jean Bridges confronted by her murdererJean Bridges (uncredited) confronted by her murderer.

The handsome building outside which this movie opens and closes is BBC Broadcasting House, in London.

Struggling mystery writer Hugh Allen (Underdown) is introduced one night at the Flamenco restaurant by his publisher, Ronald “Ronnie” Parker (Kendall), to Alycia Roach (Hobson), unhappy wife of the hugely successful, extraordinarily egotistic and thoroughly obnoxious playwright Jonathan Roach (Justice). Hugh’s date, Jean Bridges (uncredited), has stood him up; we very soon learn that she was the young woman whom we saw gunned down by a mysterious figure in the opening moments of the movie.

For Hugh and Alycia it’s quite patently love at first sight.

Voice of Merrill - 2 Alycia and Alan hear that Jean's not coming

Alycia (Valerie Hobson) and Alan (Edward Underdown) hear that Jean’s not going to join the supper party.

They’re not particularly subtle about it, and it seems that Continue reading

Four Just Men, The (1939)

vt The Secret Four; vt The Secret Column

UK / 82 minutes / bw / CAPAD, ABFD Dir: Walter Summers Pr: Michael Balcon Scr: Angus MacPhail, Sergei Nolbandov, Roland Pertwee Story: The Four Just Men (1905) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Ronald Neame Cast: Hugh Sinclair, Griffith Jones, Francis L. Sullivan, Frank Lawton, Anna Lee, Alan Napier, Basil Sydney, Lydia Sherwood, Edward Chapman, Athole Stewart, George Merritt, Arthur Hambling, Garry Marsh, Ellaline Terriss, Percy Walsh, Roland Pertwee, Eliot Makeham, Frederick Piper, Jon Pertwee, Liam Gaffney.

Wallace’s novel was a massive bestseller in its native land, and the assumption of this movie was that viewers were at least vaguely familiar with the book’s premise: that a group of four men, working to secure justice where the cops could not, operated covertly—often taking the power of life and death into their own hands—to defend justice and the British way of life. In the novel they were essentially conspiratorial vigilantes; in the movie, made as Europe trembled on the verge of World War Two, the emphasis is more political.

In 1938 one of the Four Just Men, James Terry (Lawton), awaits execution this very morning in the German prison of Regensberg. Even as he’s being prepared for the ax, an imperious officer arrives with instructions that Terry is to be taken away for further interrogation. Sure enough, as the staff car speeds away, it’s revealed—to the surprise of no one in the audience—that the officer and his driver are two of the other Just Men, respectively distinguished stage actor Humphrey Mansfield (Sinclair) and theatrical impresario James “Jim” D. Brodie (Jones). Back in London, the three reunite with the fourth of the quartet, French couturier Léon Poiccard (Sullivan).

The Four Just Men - 1 Poiccard (Sullivan) has it easy - for now

Poiccard (Francis L. Sullivan) has it easy — but for how long?

Terry, who’s dying of emphysema or some similar illness, managed to discover at Regensberg some further details of a dastardly plot against international peace that the Just Men have been investigating. He’s promptly despatched to the Near East to make further inquiries while Continue reading