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

Man in Black (1949)

UK / 74 minutes / bw / Hammer, Exclusive Dir & Story: Francis Searle Pr: Anthony Hinds Scr: John Gilling Cine: Cedric Williams Cast: Sidney James, Betty Ann Davies, Sheila Burrell, Hazel Penwarden, Anthony Forwood, Valentine Dyall, Courtney Hope, Lawrence Baskcombe, Mollie Palmer, Gerald Case.

Man in Black 1949 - 0 opener, Dyall as MiB

Valentine Dyall is The Man in Black.

This was a Hammer-produced spinoff from the BBC radio series Appointment with Fear, which ran for ten seasons 1943–5 and then reappeared for a single season as The Man in Black in 1949. Each episode comprised a half-hour tale introduced by a character called The Man in Black—much as the character The Whistler introduced the US radio series The Whistler (1942–55) and the series of eight WHISTLER B-movies spun off from it (see the Encyclopedia for more details of these). In these original Man in Black series the “storyteller” was played by Valentine Dyall, as he is in this movie; when the radio show was resuscitated much later by the BBC, first as Fear on Four (1988–92) and then as The Man in Black (2009–11), the “storytellers” were, respectively, Edward de Souza and Mark Gatiss.

All of which background is to a certain extent irrelevant because really, aside from Dyall’s brief introduction to the tale and even briefer concluding remarks, essentially this is Continue reading