Mark of the Phoenix (1958)

UK / 62 minutes / bw / Butcher’s Dir: Maclean Rogers Pr: W.G. Chalmers Scr: Norman Hudis Story: The Phoenix Sings (1955) by Desmond Cory Cine: Geoffrey Faithfull Cast: Julia Arnall, Sheldon Lawrence, Anton Diffring, Eric Pohlmann, George Margo, Michael Peake, Martin Miller, Bernard Rebel, Roger Delgado, Frederick Schreicker.

In Belgium, the scientist Van de Velde (Schreicker) has developed a marvelous alloy that is impervious to nuclear radiation. His lab is invaded by the crooks Emilson (Margo), Koos (Peake) and Fyodor Vachek (Rebel); Koos shoots Van de Velde dead and the trio escape with a small container of the alloy in liquid form. They take the alloy to the Brussels jeweler Brunet (Miller) and demand that he “turn the alloy into metal”—a puzzling request, since the alloy obviously already is metal; they appear to be asking him to transform it from liquid to solid. (Since the alloy is elsewhere described as “atomic” we sense that science was not scripter Hudis’s strong point.) That solid should take the form of a cigarette case in a design that Brunet has been making for sale in his shop. The process complete, they ask him to electroplate the case in silver. The scheme, we’re soon told, is smuggle this sample of the alloy behind the Iron Curtain, where a government customer is prepared to pay $1 million for it.

Meanwhile there arrives in Brussels the international jewel thief Chuck Martin (Lawrence). He calls with the proceeds of his latest heist on his old fence, who just happens to be the jeweler Brunet. Vachek, who clearly has an agenda of his own, engineers the transfer of his own suite at the Plaza Hotel to Chuck, then places the cigarette case inside it. (It’s not 100% clear why he does this, but it serves to get Chuck involved in the plot.)

Chuck calls on shady gem collector Maurice Duser (Pohlmann) with a necklace that he held back from the consignment he gave to Brunet. Duser buys this as a gift for his fiancée, Petra Charrier (Arnall). During the transaction, Duser sees and recognizes the cigarette case Chuck is using; he sends Emilson to Chuck’s hotel room to steal it, but Chuck wins the ensuing punchup . . .

Schell (Anton Diffring) takes Petra (Julia Arnall) into his confidence.

And so this meanders amiably along. Brunet is knocked off by Koos when Duser fears the old man knows too much. Trying to find out why the cigarette case is such a hot property, Chuck manages with ease to break into Brunet’s shop (apparently there’s no alarm system) and Duser’s safe (apparently there’s again no alarm system). Later Koos—a sort of walking lesson in why stupid people shouldn’t be given guns—shoots dead Vachek before Duser and Emilson have learned the information they’ve been trying to torture out of him. Petra dumps Duser with an excellent line—”If I ever want a second-hand ring and you want a second-hand girl, let’s get together”—and her interests are clearly drifting toward Chuck instead. The able Belgian policeman Inspector Schell (Diffring) is hot in pursuit of the bad guys, assisted by police scientist Gavron (Delgado), who speaks the kind of language that B-movie boffins speak: “It is a certainty that Van de Velde had discovered a metal completely unaffected by radioactivity!”

The moronic, trigger-happy Koos (Michael Peake) kills Vachek (Bernard Rebel) just to show he can.

In addition to the scientific puzzlers, there are various other places where you sense that, if Continue reading

Twice Branded (1936)

vt Father and Son

UK / 68 minutes / bw / George Smith, Nettlefold, Radio Pictures Dir: Maclean Rogers Pr: George Smith Scr: Kathleen Butler, H.F. Maltby Story: “Trouble in the House” (n.d.) by Anthony Richardson Cine: Geoffrey Faithfull Cast: Robert Rendel, Ethel Griffies, James Mason, Lucille Lisle, Eve Gray, Mickey Brantford, Neville Brook, Michael Ripper.

Twelve years ago Henry Hamilton (Rendel), deceived and defrauded by a crooked business partner who left him holding the can, was sent to prison. Now his time’s up, to the intense embarrassment of snobbish wife Etta (Griffies) and elder daughter Sylvia (Gray) as well as his whizzkid businessman son, also called Henry (Mason), who’ve been living on the legitimately earned portion of his fortune and telling the world that he died. On his release the trio persuade him to hide that he’s a jailbird and pretend he’s a black sheep brother of himself, Charles, who has for many years lived in South America; the only family member not in on this deception is the youngest, Betty (Lisle), who’s also the only one who treats “Uncle Charles” like a human being rather than an inconvenient presence.

Etta is refusing to let Betty marry her true love, inventor Dennis Hill (Brantford), because he’s a mere garage mechanic; by movie’s end “Uncle Charles” has sorted that out. Also, on discovering that son Henry’s business partner, now calling himself Marcus Leadbetter (Brook), is the same swindler who landed Henry Sr. in prison and is in the process of pulling off an identical trick on Henry Jr., “Uncle Charles” decides he’d be better off back inside than among this nest of shallow, narcissistic, mean-spirited vipers, and takes the rap for his son.

More social satire than protonoir (and certainly not the “prison melodrama” it’s sometimes listed as), this has quite a few comedy routines interspersed among the rest, some quite funny, others drearily labored; among the latter are those featuring, in only his third role, legendary character actor Michael Ripper as a stage thespian slumming it as a stand-in butler.

Mason would of course go on to become one of cinema’s great stars, often playing the same kind of self-serving but ultimately redeemable cad that he does here. Lisle and Brantford, who display a fair degree of charm as the unassuming young lovers, were less fortunate. The Australian-born Lisle, unlucky in her choices of movies, eventually opted for a moderately successful stage and radio career, retiring relatively young in the late 1950s. Brantford would make just a few more movies before leaving the industry after Darby and Joan (1937).