Traitor Spy (1939)

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Whose torso is it?
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vt The Torso Murder Mystery
UK / 72 minutes / bw / Rialto, Pathé Dir: Walter Summers Pr: John Argyle Scr: Walter Summers, Jan Van Lusil, Ralph Bettison Story: Traitor Spy (1939) by T.C.H. Jacobs Cine: Robert LaPresle Cast: Bruce Cabot, Marta Labarr, Tamara Desni, Romilly Lunge, Edward Lexy, Cyril Smith, Percy Walsh, Eve Lynd, Alexander Field, Hilary Pritchard, Miriam Minetti, Davina Craig, Vincent Holman, Anthony Shaw, Peter Gawthorne, Bernard Jukes, Nino Rossini, Rosarita, Ken Johnson’s West Indian Band.

Carl Beyersdorf (Cabot) is a freelance spy, currently working under the name Jim Healey for the Bideford Marine Engineering Company in Devon, England. (For convenience we’ll call him Jim throughout, even though sometimes he’s in his true guise of Carl.) He’s aiming to get the blueprints of the company’s new antisubmarine patrol craft and sell them to the Germans.

Bruce Cabot as Jim.

And, sure enough, he’s able to steal the prints. Later, when an armed German agent arrives, Jim tries to jack up the price of the purloined documents from £1,000 to £4,000. But the agent, shouting threats, draws his gun. There’s the sound of gunfire and . . .

. . . and the next day a dismembered body is fished out of a reservoir nearby. Evidence leads the cops Continue reading

King of the Damned (1935)

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Liberté, égalité, fraternité on a prison island!
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UK / 74 minutes / bw / Gaumont–British Dir: Walter Forde Pr: Michael Balcon Scr: A.R. Rawlinson, Charles Bennett, Sidney Gilliatt Story: King of the Damned (1934 play) by John Chancellor Cine: Bernard Knowles Cast: Conrad Veidt, Helen Vinson, Noah Beery, Cecil Ramage, Edmund Willard, Percy Parsons, Peter Croft, Raymond Lovell, C.M. Hallard, Allan Jeayes, Percy Walsh.

Noah Beery as Mooche.

Colonel Fernandez (Hallard), commandant of the prison camp on the island of Santa Maria—which is most assuredly not Devil’s Island, for fear of offending the French—is seriously ill, and his daughter Anna (Vinson) flies out to be with him. The friends (uncredited) with whom she travels warn her she may find that her fiancé, who’s also her father’s deputy on the island, Major Ramon Montez (Ramage), has changed a little since last she saw him. Her early time on the island is spent progressively discovering that the man she thought she loved has become a despotic monster:

Anna: “I wish [my father] wouldn’t worry about things when he’s so ill.”
Montez: “Hm. So do I.”
Anna: “Why doesn’t he leave it all to you?”
Montez: “Well, you see, your father and I work on rather different lines. We’ve got three thousand convicts here, and I believe the only way to keep them under is to keep them afraid of us.”

Helen Vinson as Anna Fernandez.

Without Colonel Fernandez’s knowledge, Montez and his sidekick Captain Perez (Walsh) are, to their own considerable profit, dragooning the Continue reading

Dick Barton at Bay (1950)

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More Barton!
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UK / 68 minutes / bw / Marylebone–Hammer, Exclusive Dir: Godfrey Grayson Pr: Henry Halsted Scr: Jackson C. Budd, Ambrose Grayson, Emma Trechman 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: Stanley Clinton Cast: Don Stannard, Tamara Desni, George Ford, Meinhart Maur, Percy Walsh, Joyce Linden, Campbell Singer, John Arnatt, Richard George, Patrick McNee (i.e., Patrick Macnee), George Crawford, Paddy Ryan, Fred Owen, Yoshihide Yanai, Ted Butterfield.

Although this was the third and last to be released of the three DICK BARTON movies produced by Hammer, it was actually the second to be made. It therefore seems to make sense to discuss it here before Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949), the last to be made. The predecessor of Dick Barton at Bay was Dick Barton: Special Agent (1948), about which I waffled here the other day.

As soon as the credits are over it’s obvious this movie is a cut above Special Agent. There’s a genuinely suspenseful chase as a War Office agent called Phillips (played by an almost unrecognizably youthful Macnee) flees through the docks at Limehouse from two bad guys. They eventually catch him in a phone box and shoot him dead, but not before he’s been able to phone Dick Barton (Stannard) and gasp out an enigmatic message: “Two longs and a short.”

Patrick Macnee as a man on the run.

Dick races to the phone box and discovers the imprint of a three-fingered hand on the glass.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, 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