Devil’s Bait (1959)

UK / 56 minutes / bw / Independent Artists, Rank Dir: Peter Graham Scott Pr: Julian Wintle, Leslie Parkyn Scr: Peter Johnston, Diana K. Watson Cine: Michael Reed Cast: Geoffrey Keen, Jane Hylton, Gordon Jackson, Dermot Kelly, Shirley Lawrence, Eileen Moore, Molly Urquhart, Rupert Davies, Gillian Vaughan, Barbara Archer, Timothy Bateson, Noël Hood, Vivienne Bennett, Jack Stewart, John Abineri, Robert Crewdson, Tom Naylor, David Blake Kelly.

An extremely minor British B-movie that somehow manages—perhaps in part because of its excellent cast—to defy expectations and become, by its end, a remarkably effective piece of suspense.

That’s not what you’d think, though, if you watched only the opening act, which is played almost entirely for comedy, complete with a drunken Irishman and a tight-fisted Scots landlady.

In a provincial small town, baker Joe Frisby (Keen) is being troubled by rats in his flour store, and foolishly calls upon tippling, flaky part-time pest exterminator Alfred Love (Kelly). Despite the laws against using poisons in a food establishment, Love spreads potassium cyanide in his bait, then goes off to the pub to drink his fee.

Jane Hylton as Ellen and Geoffrey Keen as Joe

So much for the comedy. Things turn abruptly darker when Continue reading

Madame Sin (1972 TVM)

UK / 76 minutes / color / 2X, ITC, ABC Dir: David Greene Pr: Julian Wintle, Lou Morheim Scr: Barry Oringer, David Greene Story: Lou Morheim, Barry Shear (creators) Cine: Tony Richmond Cast: Bette Davis, Robert Wagner, Denholm Elliott, Gordon Jackson, Dudley Sutton, Catherine Schell, Pik-Sen Lim, Alan Dobie, Roy Kinnear, Al Mancini, Paul Maxwell, Charles Lloyd Pack, Paul Maxwell, David Healy, Burt Kwouk.

When retired spy Anthony “Tony” Lawrence (Wagner) turns down a recruitment offer made to him by sophisticatedly scuzzy Malcolm de Vere (Elliott), he’s electronically disabled and flown to an island castle somewhere off the Scottish coast that fronts for the hi-tech lair of Ernst Blofeld Madame Sin (Davis).

Bette Davis as Madame Sin.

Madame Sin is a criminal mastermind who’s surrounded herself with scientists, at least one of them officially dead, who’re capable of doing the most alarming things with technology. It’s through using one of their gadgets, an ultrasound gun capable of sending people into a seemingly drugged semi-coma, that de Vere’s henchwomen, disguised as fetching nuns, disabled Tony so de Vere and sidekick Monk (Sutton) can abduct him.

Robert Wagner as Tony.

Denholm Elliott as de Vere.

Tony was lucky, Madame Sin assures him. Turn up the volume on the gadget and it can Continue reading

Delavine Affair, The (1955)

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“And don’t forget: make one silly mistake and she won’t be working with you any more!”
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vt Murder is News
UK / 62 minutes / bw / Croydon Passmore, Monarch Dir: Douglas Peirce Pr: Henry Passmore Scr: George Fisher, J.B. Boothroyd (i.e., Basil Boothroyd) Story: Winter Wears a Shroud (1952) by Robert Chapman Cine: Jonah Jones, Bernie Lewis Cast: Peter Reynolds, Honor Blackman, Gordon Jackson, Valerie Vernon, Michael Balfour, Peter Neil, Laurie Main, Peter Swannick (i.e., Peter Swanwick), Katie Johnson, Mark Daly, Anna Turner, Mai Bacon, Hal Osmond, Vernon Kelso, Christie Humphrey.

Robert Chapman, author of this movie’s source novel, was a Fleet Street journalist and columnist—in fact, I vaguely recollect bringing him a cup of tea when, as a schoolboy in the 1960s, I worked a vacation job as a messenger at Fleet Street’s Daily Express. I tried one of his detective novels some while later and found it Continue reading

Medusa Touch, The (1978)

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John Morlar has a gift for disaster!
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UK, France / 109 minutes / color / Coatesgold, ITC Dir: Jack Gold Pr: Anne V. Coates, Jack Gold Scr: John Briley Story: The Medusa Touch (1973) by Peter Van Greenaway Cine: Arthur Ibbetson Cast: Richard Burton, Lino Ventura, Lee Remick, Harry Andrews, Alan Badel, Marie-Christine Barrault, Jeremy Brett, Michael Hordern, Gordon Jackson, Derek Jacobi, Robert Lang, Michael Byrne, John Normington, Robert Flemyng, Philip Stone, Malcolm Tierney, Norman Bird, Jennifer Jayne, Avril Elgar, James Hazeldine, Wendy Gifford, Shaw Taylor, Gordon Honeycombe, Adam Bridges, Joseph Clark.

I read the Peter Van Greenaway novel upon which this is based—one of the odder of his oddball, semi-fantasticated Inspector Cherry detective novels—quite a few years before I had a chance to watch the movie, but even so I know my viewing was affected by memories of the book. Now that many more years have passed, I was better able to enjoy the movie on its own terms.

Van Greenaway wasn’t the most fluent of writers and one had to work quite hard to read what were billed as thrillers, but I tackled several and became rather fond of them: they certainly had a greater intellectual heft than the vast majority of the crime and thriller novels with which they shared a bookshop shelf. The Medusa Touch was the one I enjoyed the most. In the movie adaptation Inspector Francis Cherry of the Yard is replaced by a French cop called Brunel, improbably working in London on some kind of exchange deal between the Yard and the Sûreté. However, as Brunel was played by Lino Ventura there are no grumbles from anyone among the extensive Noirish staff.

Brunel (Lino Ventura) begins his investigation . . .

. . . aided by the loyal Sergeant Duff (Michael Byrne).

The movie opens with successful novelist John Morlar (Burton) being beaten to death by an unidentifiable figure wielding a handy statuette. Or not quite to death, as investigating Inspector Brunel (Ventura) and his English sidekick Sergeant Duff (Byrne) discover while snooping around Morlar’s apartment. Even though the man’s brains have apparently been spilled out on the carpet and the paramedics have declared him dead, he suddenly Continue reading

Two Wives at One Wedding (1961)

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No, it’s not an Ealing comedy as the title might suggest. Instead it’s a Brian Clemens thriller, with many of his usual quirks.
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UK / 64 minutes / bw / Danziger, Paramount Dir: Montgomery Tully Pr: Edward J. Danziger, Harry Lee Danziger Scr: Brian Clemens, Eldon Howard Cine: Bert Mason Cast: Gordon Jackson, Christina Gregg, Lisa Daniely, André Maranne, Humphrey Lestocq, Viola Keats, Douglas Ives, John Serret, Annette Carell, Steve Plytas, Gertan Klauber, Michael Anthony, Julian Sherrier, Andre Charisse.

Two Wives at One Wedding - 0 opener

Rising physician Tom Murray (Jackson) is celebrating his marriage to Christine “Chris” Ervine (Gregg) when an unexpected guest arrives at the reception: Annette Montand (Daniely), whom Tom knew during his time as an ambulance driver in Normandy during the war. Once they’re alone she drops her bombshell: Tom married her in France and, even though the event is lost to the weeks of amnesia he suffered after being shot up in August 1944 by the Gestapo, she has a marriage certificate and other evidence to prove it:

Annette: “It was not a gay ceremony. Continue reading