Noose for a Lady (1952)

UK / 70 minutes / bw / Nat Cohen & Stuart Levy, Insignia, Anglo Amalgamated Dir: Wolf Rilla Pr: Victor Hanbury Scr: Rex Rienits Story: Noose for a Lady (1952) by Gerald Verner, itself based on a BBC radio serial Cine: Walter Harvey Cast: Dennis Price, Rona Anderson, Ronald Howard, Pamela Alan, Melissa Stribling, Charles Lloyd Pack, Alison Leggatt, Esma Cannon, Colin Tapley, Robert Brown, George Merritt, Doris Yorke, Gabrielle Blunt, Joe Linnane, Eric Messiter, Michael Nightingale, Ian Wallace, Donald Bissett.

Noose for a Lady - 0 opener

John Hallam was murdered through being given an overdose of the sleeping drug barbitone (barbital) in his bedtime whisky and milk, and all the circumstantial evidence pointed strongly toward his widow, Margaret Elizabeth “Maggie” Hallam (Alan)—so strongly, in fact, that at the end of her trial she’s found guilty and sentenced to death. Her solicitor (Nightingale) does his best to lodge an appeal, but is turned down. Her only ray of hope seems to be Jill (Anderson), John’s daughter by his first marriage, who promises to labor tirelessly to ensure her stepmother’s exoneration.

Noose for a Lady - 1 Maggie and Jill

Jill (Rona Anderson, right) visits stepmother Maggie (Pamela Alan) in jail.

But then arrives home from Uganda Maggie’s cousin Simon Gale (Price), who Continue reading

Q Planes (1939)

vt Clouds Over Europe
UK / 81 minutes / bw / Harefield, Columbia Dir: Tim Whelan Pr: Irving Asher Scr: Ian Dalrymple Story: Brock Williams, Jack Whittingham, Arthur Wimperis Cine: Harry Stradling Cast: Laurence Olivier, Valerie Hobson, Ralph Richardson, George Curzon, George Merritt, Gus McNaughton, David Tree, Sandra Storme, Hay Petrie, Frank Fox, George Butler, Gordon McLeod, John Longdon, John Laurie.

Q Planes - 0 opener

Major Charles Hammond (Richardson), of some MI5-like UK intelligence department, seems to be the only person who’s disturbed by a pattern of disappearances of test airplanes in various parts of the world, always while carrying “valuable experimental apparatus.” The UK manufacturer Barrett & Ward has already lost one plane this way; now it’s planning to launch a test flight of a plane carrying a wonderful new device called the Supercharger, which apparently can allow aircraft to go at supersonic speeds . . . well, not supersonic, exactly, but if you doubled them they’d be getting close. The company’s head, Barrett (a superbly cast Merritt)—described at one point as a “parboiled, pudding-minded myopic deadhead”—is furious 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

Case of the Frightened Lady, The (1940)

vt The Frightened Lady; vt The Scarf Murder Mystery

UK / 80 minutes / bw / Pennant, British Lion Dir: George King Pr: S.W. Smith Scr: Edward Dryhurst Story: The Case of the Frightened Lady (1931 play) by Edgar Wallace Cine: Hone Glendinning Cast: Marius Goring, Penelope Dudley Ward, Helen Haye, Felix Aylmer, George Merritt, Ronald Shiner, Patrick Barr, Roy Emerton, George Hayes, John Warwick, Elizabeth Scott, Torin Thatcher.

In a decaying country pile, Mark’s Priory, live the last of the ancient Lebanon lineage, the widowed Lady Lebanon (Haye), her pianist/composer son William “Willie”, Lord Lebanon (Goring), and the latter’s second cousin, Isla Crane (Dudley Ward), who works as Lady Lebanon’s secretary.

There are many peculiarities about the household. For one, the servants are barred from entering the main portion of the house after 8pm, at which time the two sinister footmen Gilder (Emerton) and Brooks (Hayes) take over. For another, the room in which the late Lord Lebanon spent his last years of illness and eventually died is kept permanently locked. A frequent visitor from London is the sinister physician Dr. Lester Charles Amersham (Aylmer), who seems to have some hold over Lady Lebanon and certainly has been extracting large sums of money from her. And someone has just put a bolt on the outside of the bedroom door of Isla Crane—who’s in consequence the (understandably) frightened lady of the title.

The frightened lady . . . with pursuing shadow . . .

Lady Lebanon is urgently intent that her son marry Isla pronto in order to continue the line. Unfortunately for her plans, Continue reading

They Came by Night (1940)

UK / 73 minutes / bw / TCF Dir: Harry Lachman Pr: Edward Black, Maurice Ostrer Scr: Sidney Gilliat, Michael Pertwee Story: stage play by Barré Lyndon Cine: Jack Cox Cast: Will Fyffe, Phyllis Calvert, Anthony Hulme, George Merritt, Kathleen Harrison, John Glyn Jones, Athole Stewart, Cees Laseur, Wally Patch, Hal Walters, Kuda Bux, Leo Britt, Sylvia St. Claire, Grant Tyler.

A nice noirish title but . . .

Pawky Scottish comedian Fyffe, although largely forgotten now, was very popular in his day. Obviously the makers of this movie wanted to capitalize on his reputation as a comic; at the same time, they had a thrillerish tale to tell. The result is an oddity: not a comedy thriller but a narrative that lurches between dramatic scenes and comedic ones. (I’ve been unable to track down Lyndon’s play, so I’m not sure if this jarring dichotomy was part of the original.)

Only once does one of the comic scenes significantly affect the main plot. In order to discover the secrets of the Turner security system (“Turner’s do not employ anyone who has not signed the Pledge”), Fyffe’s character calculatedly introduces his friend, Bible-thumping Temperance safebuilder Llewellyn Evans (Jones), to the demon alcohol; later, when it matters, the sobered-up Fyffe rather tiresomely can’t remember the details he learned. Another lengthy comic interlude involves the testimony of gossipy witness Mrs. Lightbody (Harrison); the height of its wit is when she asks to be shown where she can “wash her hands”.

As to the plot:

The latest exploit of the gang of jewel thieves led by Carl Vollaire (Laseur) is to have one of their number, skilled conjurer Ali (Bux), spirit away the Taj Ruby from the auction house where Vollaire has just paid for it with a dud check, leaving a replica in its place. When the substitution’s discovered, the cops—in the shape of Insp. Metcalfe (Merritt) and the young Det.-Sgt. Frank Tolly (Hulme)—consult London jeweler James Fothergill (Fyffe) for expert advice. While they’re visiting him, his younger brother Stephen (uncredited), commits suicide, for no immediately apparent reason. It soon emerges that Stephen was in cahoots with the gang, as James discovers when he opens a package that arrives through the mail for his dead brother and discovers within, nestling in a bed of pipe tobacco, the Taj Ruby. James concocts a clever plan to ensnare the robbers while at the same time keeping the perfidy of Stephen from the cops and, more importantly, from Stephen’s young son Davy (Tyler) and older daughter Sally (Calvert) . . . who just happens to be stepping out with young Sgt. Tolly. After the expectable complications, the climax of the movie occurs during a bullion robbery that James manages to thwart.

Calvert was to have her big break the following year in Kipps (1941), where she played Kipps’s true love, Ann Pornick; in They Come by Night, as romantic lead, she exudes appropriate virginity while portraying quite well the girl torn between her cop boyfriend and the adored uncle whom circumstances conspire to persuade her is a criminal. Lyndon would of course go on to become one of Hollywood’s legendary scripters in his own right; his most famous screenplay was undoubtedly The War of the Worlds (1953), but he assembled quite a track record in noir: The LODGER (1944), HANGOVER SQUARE (1945), The HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945) and NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (1948). There’s some casual racism of the kind that must have seemed goodhearted at the time but grates today.