Third Visitor, The (1951)

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A twisty mystery with a tremendous finale!
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UK / 85 minutes / bw / Merton Park, Elvey-Gartside, Eros Dir: Maurice Elvey Pr: Ernest Gartside Scr: Gerald Anstruther, David Evans Story: The Third Visitor (1950 play) by Gerald Anstruther Cine: Stephen Dade Cast: Sonia Dresdel, Guy Middleton, Hubert Gregg, Colin Gordon, Karel Stepanek, Eleanor Summerfield, John Slater, Michael Martin Harvey, Cyril Smith.

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Adapted from a successful West End play, this is an example of quite how well the postwar UK moviemakers could craft their entertainments using the minimal resources available to them.

Obviously done on a budget, The Third Visitor nevertheless absolutely satisfies its remit, which is to keep us engrossed for an hour and a half or so. The plot’s as twisty as that of the average modern neonoir, and some of the volte-faces are genuinely surprising. Only once or twice do we become aware of Continue reading

Mystery Junction (1951)

UK / 61 minutes / bw / Merton Park, Anglo-Amalgamated Dir & Scr: Michael McCarthy Pr: William H. Williams Cine: Robert LaPresle Cast: Sydney Tafler, Barbara Murray, Pat Owens (i.e., Patricia Owens), Martin Benson, Christine Silver, David Davies, Charles Irwin, Philip Dale, Pearl Cameron, John Salew, Ewen Solon, Denis Webb, Cyril Smith, Sydney Monckton, Stanley Rose.

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Every now and then the UK’s cheapie studio Merton Park could produce a gem, and this is arguably one of them. Mystery Junction may not be a diamond or an opal, but at the very least it’s a fine piece of costume jewelry. In Sydney Tafler, Barbara Murray, Ewen Solon, Patricia Owens, Martin Benson and others it had the kind of cast that most B-movies could only dream of.

Snowy, snowy weather. Elderly spinster Miss Jessica Owens (Silver) is on the train from Pickering to Stanton and points beyond when she realizes that the man sharing her compartment is none other than Larry Gordon (Tafler), author of the thriller to which she has been glued ever since the train left Pickering two hours ago. Of course, he signs her book for her and, with that distinctive smile that authors produce when (a) the good news is that they’re being fawned on and (b) the bad news is that this is likely to be tiresome, he starts answering a few of her questions along the lines of “Where Continue reading

Noose for a Lady (1952)

UK / 70 minutes / bw / Nat Cohen & Stuart Levy, Insignia, Anglo Amalgamated Dir: Wolf Rilla Pr: Victor Hanbury Scr: Rex Rienits Story: Noose for a Lady (1952) by Gerald Verner, itself based on a BBC radio serial Cine: Walter Harvey Cast: Dennis Price, Rona Anderson, Ronald Howard, Pamela Alan, Melissa Stribling, Charles Lloyd Pack, Alison Leggatt, Esma Cannon, Colin Tapley, Robert Brown, George Merritt, Doris Yorke, Gabrielle Blunt, Joe Linnane, Eric Messiter, Michael Nightingale, Ian Wallace, Donald Bissett.

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John Hallam was murdered through being given an overdose of the sleeping drug barbitone (barbital) in his bedtime whisky and milk, and all the circumstantial evidence pointed strongly toward his widow, Margaret Elizabeth “Maggie” Hallam (Alan)—so strongly, in fact, that at the end of her trial she’s found guilty and sentenced to death. Her solicitor (Nightingale) does his best to lodge an appeal, but is turned down. Her only ray of hope seems to be Jill (Anderson), John’s daughter by his first marriage, who promises to labor tirelessly to ensure her stepmother’s exoneration.

Noose for a Lady - 1 Maggie and Jill

Jill (Rona Anderson, right) visits stepmother Maggie (Pamela Alan) in jail.

But then arrives home from Uganda Maggie’s cousin Simon Gale (Price), who Continue reading

Crow Hollow (1952)

UK / 67 minutes / bw / Merton Park, Eros Dir: Michael McCarthy Pr: William H. Williams Scr: Vivian Milroy Story: Crow Hollow (1950) by Dorothy Eden Cine: Robert LaPresle Cast: Donald Houston, Natasha Parry, Pat Owens, Esma Cannon, Nora Nicholson, Susan Richmond, Meadows White, Melissa Stribling, Penelope Munday, Ewen Solon, Denis Webb, Georgie Henschel, Gordon Bell, Janet Barrow, Norman Claridge, Doris Yorke.

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Within days of their meeting, Dr. Robert “Bob” Armour (Houston) has proposed to and been accepted by Ann (Parry), and they marry almost immediately. They plan to live at Crow Hollow, Bob’s ancestral pile somewhere in the Home Counties, with Bob’s three elderly aunts. First, though, the young couple go to visit an aged family friend of Bob’s, Mrs. Wilson (Barrow), who’s ailing in hospital. Briefly alone with Ann, the dying Mrs. Wilson beseeches the young woman: “Don’t let him take you to Crow Hollow!” It’s a moment of high drama that, alas, doesn’t quite mesh with the rest of the plot; luckily this is one of those points that doesn’t occur to you until later.

Ignoring the old woman’s warning—because otherwise there wouldn’t be a story—Bob and Ann go to Crow Hollow as planned. The place got its name because the valley in which the house stands used to be infested by crows, whose presence was regarded as bringing ill luck to the valley’s occupants. Then, about fifty years ago, the crows suddenly departed. It takes no genius to guess that, as the tale progresses, the crows will start returning . . .

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Aunt Judith (Esma Cannon) welcomes Ann (Natasha Parry) and Bob (Donald Houston) to Crow Hollow.

Already embedded in Crow Hollow are the three aunts, sisters of Bob’s late father, all three of whom greet Ann in their different ways, though Continue reading

Floating Dutchman, The (1952)

UK / 76 minutes / bw / Merton Park Dir & Scr: Vernon Sewell Pr: William H. Williams Story: The Floating Dutchman (1950) by Nicolas Bentley Cine: Jo(sef) Ambor Cast: Dermot Walsh, Sydney Tafler, Mary Germaine, Guy Verney, Hugh Morton, Nicolas Bentley, Arnold Marlé, Derek Blomfield, Ian Wilson, James Raglan, Orest Olaff, Ken Midwood.

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One never expected masterpieces from Merton Park, but their cut-price fillers did have their charms—they offered an enjoyable way to spend an hour or so even if they tended to be forgotten within minutes of the A-feature starting. The movies in the long EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERIES series (1960–64) were typical of the studio’s output; even at the time it was the series’ theme tune (written by Michael Carr) that really stuck in the mind, far less so the movies themselves. The Floating Dutchman is one of the better Merton Park offerings, and benefits from having the under-recognized Sydney Tafler in a principal role, plus Arnold Marlé and Ian Wilson among the support. And it’s certainly more memorable than many a Merton Park item: I must have been a child when I last saw the movie, because I can remember being devastated by a particular incident toward the end, yet the very fact that, decades later, I could remember this and occasional other incidents—and the performances of Marlé and Wilson—is testament in itself.

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The great Sydney Tafler as club owner and criminal kingpin Victor Skinner.

A body is fished out of the Thames. The cops, as we learn when Inspector Cathie (Morton) briefs his boss, Gwynn (Raglan), swiftly discover that the man died from a bash on the head, not from drowning, and, thanks to an inquiry from the Dutch police, that he was a shady jeweler called Martinus Vandermeer. On the body was a card from the nightclub Skinner’s, with, scrawled on the back, the telephone number of notorious fence Otto Krohner (Marlé). By following up on this link, Cathie believes, the Yard might Continue reading