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

Dick Barton at Bay (1950)

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More Barton!
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UK / 68 minutes / bw / Marylebone–Hammer, Exclusive Dir: Godfrey Grayson Pr: Henry Halsted Scr: Jackson C. Budd, Ambrose Grayson, Emma Trechman 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: Stanley Clinton Cast: Don Stannard, Tamara Desni, George Ford, Meinhart Maur, Percy Walsh, Joyce Linden, Campbell Singer, John Arnatt, Richard George, Patrick McNee (i.e., Patrick Macnee), George Crawford, Paddy Ryan, Fred Owen, Yoshihide Yanai, Ted Butterfield.

Although this was the third and last to be released of the three DICK BARTON movies produced by Hammer, it was actually the second to be made. It therefore seems to make sense to discuss it here before Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949), the last to be made. The predecessor of Dick Barton at Bay was Dick Barton: Special Agent (1948), about which I waffled here the other day.

As soon as the credits are over it’s obvious this movie is a cut above Special Agent. There’s a genuinely suspenseful chase as a War Office agent called Phillips (played by an almost unrecognizably youthful Macnee) flees through the docks at Limehouse from two bad guys. They eventually catch him in a phone box and shoot him dead, but not before he’s been able to phone Dick Barton (Stannard) and gasp out an enigmatic message: “Two longs and a short.”

Patrick Macnee as a man on the run.

Dick races to the phone box and discovers the imprint of a three-fingered hand on the glass.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, Continue reading

Escort for Hire (1960)

UK / 64 minutes / color / Danziger, MGM Dir: Godfrey Grayson Pr: Edward J. Danziger, Harry Lee Danziger Scr: Mark Grantham Cine: Jimmy Wilson Cast: June Thorburn, Pete Murray, Noel Trevarthen, Jan Holden, Peter Butterworth, Guy Middleton, Mary Laura Wood, Patricia Plunkett, Derek Blomfield, Jill Melford, Totti Truman Taylor, Catherine Ellison, Bruce Beeby, C. Denier Warren, Viola Keats.

Escort for Hire - 0 opener

An unusual UK B-feature made by the Danzigers, whose imprimatur had roughly the same guarantee of quality as those of firms like Monogram and PRC in the US. What’s unusual about it is that it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. The cartoonish opening credits and the soundtrack suggest it’s going to be some mildly naughty comedy, and that’s what it reads like for the first twenty minutes or so—a sex comedy without the sex, so to speak—but thereafter it rather abruptly becomes darker, albeit no more plausible. It’s held together by good performances from Thorburn, Trevarthen, Blomfield and Butterworth—not to mention a startlingly powerful cameo from Plunkett, making the best of a workaday screenplay—while Continue reading

Case of the Missing Heiress, The (1949)

vt Doctor Morelle; vt Doctor Morelle: The Case of the Missing Heiress

UK / 74 minutes / bw / Edward G. Whiting, Hammer, Exclusive Dir: Godfrey Grayson Pr: Anthony Hinds Scr: Roy Plomley, Ambrose Grayson Story: Dr. Morelle (seemingly first produced 1950; play) by Wilfred Burr Cine: Cedric Williams Cast: Valentine Dyall, Julia Lang, Hugh Griffith, Philip Leaver, Jean Lodge, Peter Drury, Sidney Vivian, John Sharp.

Obnoxious Harley Street psychiatrist and amateur sleuth Dr. Morelle (Dyall) dictates to his dowdy secretary, Miss Frayle (Lang), his account of a case in which she involved him—the disappearance of her friend, the heiress Cynthia Mason (Lodge), from the decrepit mansion Barren Tor, on Dartmoor.

Miss Frayle traveled down to Devon herself to investigate, gaining admission to the house as the new maid, “Amy”. (A plot hiccup is that the real newly hired housemaid never turns up.) She discovered the roost to be ruled, ever since Cynthia’s mother’s death, by Cynthia’s wheelchair-bound stepfather Samuel Kimber (Leaver); an aggressively offensive man, Kimber is immediately her main suspect. The night of her disappearance, Cynthia was planning to run away with impoverished writer Peter Lorimer (Drury), who lives in a cottage nearby; we know, although Miss Frayle doesn’t, that immediately beforehand Kimber had, in guise of conversation, enticed Peter into focusing on the flickering light from Kimber’s ring as Kimber intoned repeatedly that he needed to relax . . .

Case of the Missing Heiress -  3 Batty butler Bensall (Hugh Griffith)

The batty butler, Bensall (Hugh Griffith).

To try to find out what happened to Cynthia, Miss Frayle enlisted the aid of the doddery Barren Tor butler Bensall (Griffith)—not just doddery but extremely eccentric: he trailed the ghost of Continue reading