Death at Broadcasting House (1934)

vt Death at a Broadcast
UK / 69 minutes / bw / Phoenix, Associated British Dir: Reginald Denham Scr: Basil Mason Story: Death at Broadcasting House (1934) by Val Gielgud, Holt Marvell (i.e., Eric Maschwitz) Cine: Gunther Krampf Cast: Ian Hunter, Austin Trevor, Mary Newland (i.e., Lilian Oldland), Henry Kendall, Val Gielgud, Peter Haddon, Betty Davies, Jack Hawkins, Donald Wolfit, Robert Rendel, Gordon McLeod, Bruce Lester; plus Hannen Swaffer, Vernon Bartlett, Eric Dunstan, Gillie Potter, Elisabeth Welch, Eve Becke, Ord Hamilton, the Gershom Parkington Quintette, Percival Mackey and his Band, all as themselves.

Death at Broadcasting House - 0 opener

A murder-mystery movie filled with evocative shots of BBC Broadcasting House in London (in fact the interiors were recreated elsewhere) and cameo appearances by a number of broadcasting celebrities of the day as themselves—Hannen Swaffer, Vernon Bartlett, Eric Dunstan, Gillie Potter, singers Elisabeth Welch and Eve Becke, and musicians Ord Hamilton, the Gershom Parkington Quintette and Percival Mackey and his Band. The opening shot, heralding the credits, shows the mast atop Broadcasting House in what’s perhaps intended as a parody/homage of the RKO logo.

During the live broadcast from Broadcasting House of Murder Immaculate, a new radio play by Rodney Fleming (Kendall), a cast member, Sydney Parsons (Wolfit), is strangled on air; as he was working in a remote studio and as his character was supposed to be strangled at that point in the play, no one thinks twice about the ghastly cries and gurgles except to remark that Parsons is doing a better job of it than he did at rehearsal. In due course the body is found and Inspector Gregory (Hunter) of the Yard rounds up the suspects in the traditional manner.

Death at Broadcasting House - 1 The strangler creeps up on Parsons

The strangler creeps up on Parsons (Donald Wolfit).

As radio controller Sir Herbert Farquharson (Rendel) remarks to his producer, Julian Caird (Gielgud), “Oh, it’s Continue reading

Spy in Black, The (1939)

vt U-Boat 29
UK / 79 minutes / bw / Harefield, London Film, Columbia
Dir: Michael Powell
Pr: Irving Asher, Alexander Korda (uncredited)
Scr: Emeric Pressburger, Roland Pertwee
Story: The Spy in Black (1917) by J. Storer Clouston
Cine: Bernard Browne
Cast: Conrad Veidt, Sebastian Shaw, Valerie Hobson, Marius Goring, June Duprez, Athole Stewart, Agnes Lauchlan, Helen Haye, Cyril Raymond, George Summers, Hay Petrie, Grant Sutherland, Robert Rendel, Mary Morris, Margaret Moffatt, Kenneth Warrington, Torin Thatcher.

Spy in Black - 0a opener

Spy in Black - 0b opener

In 1917 the German newspapers are full of propaganda to the effect that the country’s U-boat campaign to sink food vessels has brought Britain to the verge of starvation. U-boat commander Captain Ernst Hardt (Veidt) and his second-in-command, Lt. David Schuster (Goring), are all too well aware, though, that food shortages are just as rampant at home. No sooner have they returned to Berlin on leave than they’re sent out on a fresh mission—a secret one to the Orkney Islands, far off Scotland’s northwest tip, where the British destroyer fleet is based. There Hardt is to go ashore and make contact with the new schoolteacher at Longhope, supposedly called Anne Burnett but in fact a German spy called Fraulein Tiel (Hobson).

We see the real Anne Burnett (Duprez)—the name’s spelled Ann in a newspaper report but Anne in the credits—being abducted as 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).