Orders to Kill (1958)

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Assassination seemed so easy . . . at first!
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UK / 107 minutes / bw / Anthony Asquith, Lynx, British Lion Dir: Anthony Asquith Pr: Anthony Havelock-Allan Scr: Paul Dehn, George St. George Story: Donald C. Downes Cine: Desmond Dickinson Cast: Eddie Albert, Paul Massie, Lillian Gish, James Robertson Justice, Leslie French, Irene Worth, John Crawford, Lionel Jeffries, Nicholas Phipps, Jacques Brunius, Robert Henderson, Miki Iveria, Lillabea Gifford, Anne Blake, Sam Kydd, William E. Greene.

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“The central story on which this film is based is true,” reads a line in the opening credits of Orders to Kill, an offering that starts out as an orthodox war movie but then ventures far farther into noirish territory, both thematically and in visual style, than do most UK films noirs of the era.

It’s Boston in 1944, and the French officer Commandant Morand (Brunius) conveys to two of his US opposite numbers, Major Kimball (Crawford) and Colonel Snyder (Henderson), that there appears to be a traitor in a Paris cell of the French Resistance. The two US officers determine to send Gene Summers (Massie)—a fighter–bomber pilot recently demobbed because of injury and exhaustion who before the war lived some while in Paris, gaining fluent French—to murder the suspected traitor, a process server named Marcel Lafitte (French).

orders-to-kill-1a-commandant-morand-reports-the-apparent-betrayal

Commandant Morand (Jacques Brunius) reports the apparent betrayal . . .

orders-to-kill-1b-to-major-kimball-and-colonel-snyder

. . . to Major Kimball (John Crawford, left) and Colonel Snyder (Robert Henderson).

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Gene (Paul Massie) reckons he can easily cope with the challenge.

Overseen by his handler, Major “Mac” MacMahon (Albert), Gene is sent to be trained as a spy and an assassin under the tutelage of an unnamed Naval Commander (Justice). He’s taught how to slay Germans without wasting bullets, how to invent lies that will hold up under interrogation and even torture, and so on.

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James Robertson Justice excels in the role of the unnamed naval commander primarily responsible for training Gene (Paul Massie).

It’s during this section of Orders to Kill that we realize that what we’re watching is less a war movie, however quirky, than a noirish piece. For me the transition became apparent with Continue reading

Seven Thunders (1957)

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A serial killer in German-occupied Marseilles!
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vt The Beasts of Marseilles
UK / 96 minutes / bw / Dial, Rank Dir: Hugo Fregonese Pr: Daniel M. Angel Scr: John Baines Story: Seven Thunders (1955) by Rupert Croft-Cooke Cine: John Wilkie Cooper Cast: Stephen Boyd, James Robertson Justice, Kathleen Harrison, Tony Wright, Anna Gaylor, Eugene Deckers, Rosalie Crutchley, Katherine Kath, James Kenney, Anton Diffring, Denis Shaw, George Coulouris, Marcel Pagliero, Gaylord Cavallaro, Leonard Sachs, Martin Miller, Carl Duering, June Cowell, Andreas Malandrinos, Edric Connor, Peter Augustine.

I don’t usually post on a Monday, but today is, according to Aurora and others, National Classic Movie Day (twitterpatable at #NationalClassicMovieDay). So, ever one to leap aboard a passing bandwagon, I bring you this . . .

Seven Thunders - 0 opener

In the book of Revelation, Chapter Ten, there’s reference to seven thunders that “utter their voices”; the title of this movie, then—or more accurately the title of its source novel—refers to matters apocalyptic, and sure enough there’s a small-scale apocalypse served up toward the end when the Germans move in to raze the Old Quarter/Old Port region of Marseilles.

It’s 1943 and the trawlerman Salvatore (Pagliero), a Jean Gabin type with a crusty exterior but a heart of gold, brings to the Old Port slum of Marseilles two escaped British prisoners of war, Dave (Boyd) and Jim (Wright), so they can hide out until a passage can be arranged for them to England.

Seven Thunders - 1 The fisherman Salvatore is a stalwart of the Resistance

The fisherman Salvatore (Marcel Pagliero) is a stalwart of the Resistance.

Very soon they encounter, in the apartment block where they’re hiding, Lise (Gaylor), an orphaned young woman who’s using her wits, among other things, to survive the Nazi Occupation. The first encounters aren’t promising: Dave accidentally 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