Body Vanished, The (1939)

UK / 48 minutes / bw / Venture, Worton Hall, New Realm Dir: Walter Tennyson Scr: Ian Walker Cine: Desmond Dickinson Cast: Anthony Hulme, C. Denier Warren, Ernest Sefton, Eve Foster, Frank Atkinson, Wilfred Noy, Hamilton Keene, Frederick Keen, Charles Paton, Fred Withers.

Inspector Rodney Paine (Hulme) and his Watson-like journalist pal Pip Piper (Warren) of the Daily News—until recently Aunt Edie of the agony column, but now set for higher things—arrive for a fishing holiday in rural Middle Wickering, where they put up at the Cricketers Inn. The two men have hardly started their inaugural pints at the bar when Cuthbert Snelling (Noy), butler at the local manor Grey Towers, arrives at the pub in search of dimwit local cop Sergeant Hopkins (Sefton); Snelling has just discovered his boss, Mr. Gosling, apparently murdered by poison on the living-room couch. But when Hopkins and Snelling get to Grey Towers, followed almost immediately by Rodney and Pip, the body has . . . vanished.

Next day a corpse is found in a nearby hedgerow, and at first it’s assumed to be that of Gosling; in fact, though, it’s local taxi driver George Billings (Withers). The search goes on for Gosling . . .

Also staying at the Cricketers are enigmatic young Miss Casson (Foster) and retired serviceman Captain Hallam (Keene), another angler here on a fishing holiday. Miss Casson, to whom Rodney takes an immediate shine, seems to have been the last person to have seen Mr. Gosling alive; she came down from London for an interview at Grey Towers for the post of Gosling’s private secretary. She’s obviously a suspect; less obvious until after he has departed is Captain Hallam, who has left an unpaid fishmonger’s bill behind him—clearly he was buying rather than catching those fish he so proudly showed off at the Cricketers.

The breakthrough comes when Rodney and Pip discover that mounted on the rear side of the frames of the pictures hanging in the Grey Towers drawing room are paintings of much greater value—six van der Burgs stolen some years ago from Alton Castle. The police have long suspected international art thief Victor Carter (Keen) of that robbery. Rodney suspects that Gosling may be Carter in disguise, and that he may not be dead after all. But how to smoke him out . . .?

Even by the standards of the school of UK cinema that would soon become that country’s distinctive style of noir, this movie seems resolutely lightweight, with the comic relief—supplied by Pip, Hopkins and yokel codger Hobbleberry (Atkinson)—shoveled almost obsessively on top of what’s actually quite a decent little mystery. There’s nothing memorable here, but the piece is entertaining and surprisingly easy to watch.

Body Vanished 1939

A dastardly scheme exposed – valuable stolen Van der Bergs are hidden on the backs of other, worthless paintings in the stately rural pile Grey Towers.

Dirk van der Burg (1721–1773) was a Dutch artist. I’ve not been able to ascertain if the painting we see is actually one of his (in reproduction, at least!), but it seems to be more or less in his style.

On The Body Vanished