My Death is a Mockery (1952)

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Hanged for a lamb?
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UK / 65 minutes / bw / David Dent, Adelphi Dir: Tony Young Pr: David Dent Scr: Douglas Baber Cine: Phil Grindrod Cast: Donald Houston, Kathleen Byron, Bill Kerr, Edward Leslie, Liam Gaffney, Kenneth Henry, Felix Felton, Sheila McCormack, Christopher Quest, Michael Voysey, Vincent Holman, Meadows White, Christmas Grose.

An extremely neat little movie, obviously made on a very tight budget, that uses its small cast, simple plot and limited resources to excellent effect. It’s linked tangentially to a celebrated real-life murder (or was it?) case that played a major role in the United Kingdom’s eventual abolition of the death penalty.

Donald Houston as John Bradley.

John Bradley (Houston) served during WWII in the Royal Navy and continues his love affair with the sea by running a trawler with his wife Helen (Byron) and crew Jim (Grose) and Stan (uncredited). However, the business is failing fast and, having laid off the two crew members, he heads to London to try to Continue reading

Villiers Diamond, The (1938)

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An early, scream-free role for scream queen Evelyn Ankers!
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UK / 50 minutes / bw / Fox–British, Exclusive Dir: Bernerd Mainwaring (i.e., Bernard Mainwaring) Pr: John Findlay Scr: David Evans, Ernest Dudley Story: F. Wyndham Mallock Cine: Stanley Grant Cast: Edward Ashley, Evelyn Ankers, Frank Birch, Liam Gaffney, Leslie Harcourt, Julie Suedo, Sybil Brooke, Bill Shine, Margaret Davidge, Anita Sharp-Bolster.

You don’t expect much from a movie whose opening credits spell the director’s name wrong, and in this instance not much is what you get. It does, however, feature an early leading role for an actress who’d later become one of the more celebrated Scream Queens at Universal, Evelyn Ankers.

Villiers Diamond - 3 The lovely Joan

The lovely Joan (Evelyn Ankers).

Habitual crook Henry Barker (Harcourt), a suspect in the theft of the never-recovered Villiers Diamond, is released from his latest two-year holiday at His Majesty’s expense and makes a beeline for the home in Shropshire of the faux-respectable “gem collector” who paid him to steal the stone, Silas Wade (Birch). To say that Wade isn’t glad to see him would be an understatement; he’s even less delighted when Barker demands the 150 smackers he should have been paid for the job. (Just £150 for stealing the diamond? Either Barker has the worst business sense of any professional burglar or it’s a far smaller stone than we’ve been led to believe.)

Wade claims he doesn’t have the money, so 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