House of Mystery (1961)

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Mordre wol out!
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UK / 54 minutes / bw / Independent Artists, Anglo–Amalgamated Dir & Scr: Vernon Sewell Pr: Julian Wintle, Leslie Parkyn Story: L’Angoisse (n.d.) by Pierre Mills and Celia de Vilyars Cine: Ernest Steward Cast: Jane Hylton, Peter Dyneley, Nanette Newman, Maurice Kaufmann, Colin Gordon, John Merivale, Ronald Hines, Colette Wilde, Molly Urquhart, George Selway, Freda Bamford, Roy Purcell, John Abineri, Pearson Dodd.

Vernon Sewell bought the screen rights of the Pierre Mills and Celia de Vilyars stage play L’Angoisse and went on to film it no fewer than four times, of which this was the fourth. The other three were The Medium (1934), Latin Quarter (1945) and Ghost Ship (1952); I’ve already written on this site about Latin Quarter—a far more ambitious effort than this offering. What puzzles me is that, despite supposedly being based on the same play, the two movies—the 1945 one being cheerily Grand Guignol and this one being a fairly straightforward, sub-M.R. Jamesian ghost story of the kind you might expect the BBC to broadcast around Christmas—don’t seem to have a huge amount in common. Moreover, while the seemingly supernatural component of Latin Quarter can be more or less rationalized, that’s far from so in this case.

So why am I talking about the movie here? Is it just because I’m a confirmed Nanette Newman fanboy? Ahem. Heaven forfend. Nothing of the sort. Surely. The raison d’être of this entry is that the movie’s a variant of Latin Quarter, which most certainly is of interest within the broadish parameters of this site.

Nanette Newman as Joan.

Somewhere near Barnstaple in North Devon, in the UK’s southwest, a househunting young couple, Alan (Hines) and his unnamed wife (Wilde), arrive at Orchard Cottage. It’s spacious and lovely and it’s in its own grounds, and it’s remarkably cheap:

Alan: “Darling, this is the one that’s £2,500.”
Wife: “Well, the price is ridiculous. Must be falling to bits or something.”

Later, just to remind us how things have changed a tad since 1961, certainly in the area of house prices, Alan qualifies: “Must be worth at least £6,000.”

They’re met at the door by a rather creepy middle-aged woman whom they assume to be the caretaker. She starts to tell them about the house, and the Continue reading

Latin Quarter (1945)

vt Frenzy
UK / 71 minutes / bw / British National, Anglo–American Dir & Scr: Vernon Sewell Pr: Louis H. Jackson Story: L’Angoisse (n.d. play) by Pierre Mills and C. Vylars Cine: Günther Krampf Cast: Derrick De Marney, Joan Greenwood, Frederick Valk, Joan Seton, Beresford Egan, Lilly Kann, Martin Miller, Valentine Dyall, Anthony Hawtrey, Bruce Winston, Kempinski, Espinosa, Margaret Clarke, Rachel Brodbrar, Sybille Binder.

Latin Quarter - 0 opener

The second of no fewer than four versions that Sewell made of a Grand Guignol play whose title translates as The Anguish. His other three adaptations—all of which differ quite a lot—were The Medium (1934), Ghost Ship (1952) and House of Mystery (1961). All are supernatural thrillers; this one has in addition many aspects reminiscent of historical noir. There’s a sort of quotation of the movie’s premise in Claude Chabrol’s much later POULET AU VINAIGRE (1984; vt Cop au Vin).

Paris, the Left Bank, 1893. Sculptor Charles Garrie (De Marney, who also served as Associate Director) has moved into the old studio of his erstwhile rival Anton Minetti (Egan) and, for enigmatic reasons, has insisted that everything be left exactly as it is—to the annoyance of his model and girlfriend Lucille Lindbeck (Seton). The concierge, Maria (Kann), barely dare step inside the place, for time and again she hears the pipe organ playing when there’s no one there but herself. (What’s an artist’s studio without a pipe organ, after all?) Although Charles publicly pooh-poohs Maria’s accounts, he too has had spooky experiences in the studio, such as the lamp that inexplicably flickers and dies every 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.

Floating Dutchman - 0 opener

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.

Floating Dutchman - 4 Victor

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

Dark Light, The (1951)

UK / 82 minutes / bw / Hammer, Exclusive Dir & Scr: Vernon Sewell Pr: Michael Carreras Cine: Moray Grant Cast: Albert Lieven, David Greene, Norman MacOwan, Martin Benson, Catherine Blake (i.e. Katharine Blake), Jack Stewart, Joan Carol, John Harvey, John Longden.

Yachtsman Roger (Harvey) and his wife Joan (Carol) are sailing near the Thimble Rock Lighthouse when they see that its light is dark. Going ashore with mate Stephen (Longden), they find a Mary Celeste-like situation, the place obviously having been not long abandoned, albeit in orderly fashion . . .

Flashback to the previous day, when the three-strong crew of the lighthouse—young, near-simpleminded Johnny (Greene), older, cynical Matt (Stewart) and skipper Rigby (MacOwan)—rescue the occupants of a dinghy—Mark Conway (Lieven), Linda (Blake) and Luigi (Benson)—who tell a story of their yacht having foundered. We soon find out that in fact the trio are bank robbers on the run, that under cover of fog they scuppered their escape vessel, the Egret, and that during the robbery Luigi fatally shot a cashier.

The Dark Light - 1 'Coo - one of them's a girl' says Johnny of the dinghy

“Coo — one of them’s a girl,” says sharp-eyed Johnny of the dinghy.

Skipper Rigby is adamant that the trio stay aboard until morning, when help can be sought from a passing ship, but unsurprisingly they want to be well away by then. They rope Matt in to aid them in getting to the French coast and then, when it emerges they’ll have to row the whole way, Linda uses lies and half-promises to lure Johnny into joining them. Just before they depart, unknown to the others, Luigi goes back and, after a fight, murders Continue reading