My Death is a Mockery (1952)

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Hanged for a lamb?
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UK / 65 minutes / bw / David Dent, Adelphi Dir: Tony Young Pr: David Dent Scr: Douglas Baber Cine: Phil Grindrod Cast: Donald Houston, Kathleen Byron, Bill Kerr, Edward Leslie, Liam Gaffney, Kenneth Henry, Felix Felton, Sheila McCormack, Christopher Quest, Michael Voysey, Vincent Holman, Meadows White, Christmas Grose.

An extremely neat little movie, obviously made on a very tight budget, that uses its small cast, simple plot and limited resources to excellent effect. It’s linked tangentially to a celebrated real-life murder (or was it?) case that played a major role in the United Kingdom’s eventual abolition of the death penalty.

Donald Houston as John Bradley.

John Bradley (Houston) served during WWII in the Royal Navy and continues his love affair with the sea by running a trawler with his wife Helen (Byron) and crew Jim (Grose) and Stan (uncredited). However, the business is failing fast and, having laid off the two crew members, he heads to London to try to Continue reading

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

Silent Passenger, The (1935)

UK / 63 minutes (but see below) / bw / Phoenix, Associated British Dir: Reginald Denham Pr: Hugh Perceval Scr: Basil Mason Story: Dorothy L. Sayers Cine: Jan Stallich Cast: John Loder, Peter Haddon, Mary Newland (i.e., Lilian Oldland), Austin Trevor, Aubrey Mather, Donald Wolfit, Leslie Perrins, Ralph Truman, Gordon McLeod, Ann Codrington, Dorice Fordred, Annie Esmond, George de Warfaz, Vincent Holman.

A relatively early screen example of the inverted mystery story ‑‑ wherein, rather than try to puzzle out whodunnit, we know the truth from the outset and watch as the detective deduces what we already know ‑‑ this was Lord Peter Wimsey’s first screen outing. Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote the original story upon which it was based, apparently hated it both because of what she felt was a travesty of an adaptation and because her darling Lord Peter was portrayed as an aristocrat of very considerable vacuity. In this latter complaint she was in one respect absolutely correct ‑‑ the movie was obviously designed to be a vehicle for Haddon, whose specialty was effete, upper-class, seemingly perpetually squiffy twits, like Guy Bannister in Death at Broadcasting House (1934) ‑‑ but in another she was either being duplicitous or blinding herself to the true nature of her creation. At least in the early novels, Wimsey is depicted as, whatever his true intellectual abilities, an outwardly vacuous Bertie Wooster-like buffoon, and that’s more or less how he’s been characterized on screen ever since.

And let’s not forget that at one point toward the end a character says: “You know, I don’t think Lord Peter’s quite such a fool as he looks.”

Maurice Windermere (Perrins), a professional blackmailer, has persuaded married Mollie Ryder (Newland) to run away with him to the Continent. However, while they’re waiting in London at the station hotel to catch the boat train that’ll take them to the cross-Channel ferry, she has second thoughts. He forces her to continue with the scheme by holding over her head some compromising letters she was foolish enough to send to him. He then goes up to his room ‑‑ Room 9 ‑‑ to finalize the packing.

Silent Passenger - 1 Mollie, 'You have to give me those letters back'

Mollie Ryder (Mary Newland/Lilian Oldland) tells her blackmailer, “You have to give me those letters back!”

Wimsey (Haddon) is planning to be on that train too. While he’s chatting up the desk clerk (Codrington) he notices a porter carrying a Continue reading

Shadow, The (1933)

UK / 71 minutes / bw / Real Art, UA Dir: George A. Cooper Pr: Julius Hagen Scr: H. Fowler Mear, Terence Egan Story: The Shadow (1932? play) by Donald Stuart (i.e., Gerald Verner), novelized by the author as The Shadow (1934) Cine: Sydney Blythe Cast: Henry Kendall, Felix Aylmer, John Turnbull, Ralph Truman, Dennis Cowles, Vincent Holman, Cyril Raymond, James Raglan, Gordon Begg, Viola Compton, Jeanne Stuart, Elizabeth Allan, Charles Carson.

London is enduring a rash of suicides of prominent figures, which suicides can be linked to their being blackmailed by an enigmatic figure called The Shadow: either they pay up on time or he’ll reveal their dreadful secrets. In the early minutes of the movie we see The Shadow deliver this ultimatum to the lawyer Sir Edward Hume (Carson), who at least has the gumption to phone Scotland Yard before putting a bullet through his brain.

The Yard’s Chief Inspector Elliot (Truman) reckons he’s worked out the identity of The Shadow, and is given reluctant permission by Sir Richard Bryant (Aylmer), Scotland Yard’s Chief Commissioner, to tackle the man on his own; the result is that Elliot is shot dead. When the cops arrive, they find that Elliot is clutching an unusual gold-and-platinum charm made in the shape of a clenched fist.

Shadow -

The Shadow spies darkly through the window of Sir Richard’s stately pile.

The dead Elliot’s place as chief investigator is taken over by Chief Inspector Fleming (Cowles), who introduces some new ideas to the investigation: he suggests The Shadow could be a woman (“All [blackmail] requires is cunning and, as far as cunning is concerned, women, in my opinion . . . well, gentlemen, you’re all married, I think?”), or could even be not an individual but an organization. These interesting ideas are unfortunately soon forgotten.

Sir Richard decides, oddly, to spend the weekend at his country house rather than pursuing the most urgent case on his blotter. Similarly odd is that Fleming has a hunch that The Shadow will be among Sir Richard’s weekend guests: Continue reading