Archive B

The Black Abbot (1933)

Is a ghostly figure behind the mysterious kidnapping of a stately home's owner?

Pretty textbook example of a quota quickie film. It passes the time without ever getting involving, and only Davina Craig and Cyril Smith as the comic-relief servants get much worth doing.

Script adapt.: H Fowler Mear. (o.a. Philip Godfrey)

Director: George A Cooper

Players: John Stuart, Richard Cooper, Judy Kelly, Drusilla Wills, Edgar Norfolk, Ben Welden, Cyril Smith, Davina Craig, Farren Soutar, John Turnbull

Black Diamonds (1932)

A miner tries to persuade a politician to finance a film telling of the dangers of mining.

Amateurish, simple-minded and hampered by the ultra-low budget and primitive equipment, nevertheless Hamner - himself a miner - produced a fascinating glimpse into mining conditions. 

Script: Charles Hamner

Director: Charles Hamner

Players: Beckett Bould, Jennie Stevens, Norman Astridge

The Black Hand Gang (1930)

A gang of poor kids mess up a posh party, start a riot in a market and catch a criminal.

Wee Georgie Wood is one of those music hall acts whose name still resonates decades after the halls closed. The "Wee" in his name is a clue to the basis of his act - Wood was 4'9" and played a child in a series of sketches for over 30 years. The Black Hand Gang expands one of those sketches into a short feature.

There's little plot to mention in The Black Hand Gang but each sketch entertains as it unfolds. It's all held together by Wood using every trick in the book to keep the audience on his side. His timing is impeccable particularly in the sequences with Dolly Harmer who plays his mother, as she did throughout his career. They both effortlessly take to the demands of the talkies and pitch their performances appropriately. Much of the credit for this must go to director Monte Banks who was fast developing a reputation as British cinema's go-to man for comedy. Banks also gets decent performances out of the real child actors.

As a film The Black Hand Gang is watchable but forgettable but its real value lies in recording Wood and Harmer's act in its prime.  

Script: Victor Kendall. (o.a. R.P. Weston, Bert Lee)

Director: Monty Banks

Players: Wee Georgie Wood, Violet Young, Dolly Harmer, Lionel Hoare, Junior Banks, Viola Compton, Alfred Woods 

The Black Knight (1954)

Alan Ladd is the chap sent undercover as the Black Knight in order to unmask Peter Cushing as the head of a gang of raiders. It sounds like the plot of a B-Western and the script is in that league but there are plenty of cheap laughs to be had if you're in the mood. Patricia Medina is the perfect fifties maiden: over-made-up, jumping to the wrong conclusions and fainting all over the place. Best of all is Ladd's hairpiece - an uncomfortable-looking quiff in an unnatural shade of blonde.

Script: Alec Coppel

Director: Tay Garnett

Players: Anthony Bushell, Patrick Troughton, Andre Morell, Harry Andrews, Laurence Naismith, John Laurie

Black Limelight (1938)

A beautiful woman is murdered in a lonely beach hut. Her lover is named as chief suspect and goes on the run. Things get worse when the case is linked to a serial child killer - the Dorset murderer. With her house under siege from press, police and the friendly neighbourhood lynch mob, can the fugitive's wife uncover the real killer and put her life back together?

Quota quickies have a terrible reputation. They're seen as badly filmed stage plays thrown together with little care and filled with unreal, middle-class folk delivering stilted dialogue in terribly, terribly posh accents. Sometimes this reputation is deserved. Yes, even Raymond Massey can't save this one.

Yet strangely enough, this isn't a quota film. It's a year too late. Though the play it's based on looks like hoary old rubbish, it was successful enough in its day to be produced in the West End and Broadway. The critics were quite pleased with the result, but today our standards are higher.

There are some interesting aspects to the production. The production design is on the cheap side, but sometimes that can tell you more about a period than you can learn from fancier films. There's a lovely crooked staircase, and a particularly nice 30s fireplace to admire when you lose interest in the action.

Unusually, the police are treated with as much suspicion and contempt as the Press. Indeed, one of them actually lies. Maybe this accounts for the police being neither comic nor posh - almost unique in a film of this period.

What's not unique is the acting style: West End Theatre. Okay, Raymond Massey does fine, but all he has to do is look hunted or anguished. The minor roles are filled adequately, though the performers are all forgotten the moment they step off-screen. Coral Browne as the murder victim brings a rare whiff of sex appeal into the proceedings and Walter Hudd does well with the impossible part of solicitor/killer. However, the burden of the film is carried by Joan Marion as the wife, and the best you can say of her performance is that it would be understood at the very back of the stalls.

It's unkind to pick holes in a plot this ludicrous, but here goes. The identity of the murderer is blindingly obvious. Even if you aren't alerted to his suspiciousness by the fact that he's a lawyer who refuses to charge the family for his services (much harder to swallow than his being a murderer who kills whenever the only source of light is the moon), you have a problem finding any other suspect. There's the police and press of course, but apart from them there's only Elliot Mason as the Nanny to suspect, and she wouldn't become the surprise villain in films until there were Nazi spy rings to break up.

The biggest problem with the plot is that strange moonlight fixation. In the climax, the lights are doused by Joan Marion and the lawyer turns into a nutter as the room is bathed in moonlight. The light from her small torch brings him back. This would be almost credible if it wasn't for the blazing fire in that handsome fireplace we've been admiring all through the film from our front-of-stalls position.

Besides which, the bizarre behaviour of Elliot Mason at this point will have already stretched the patience of a modern audience to breaking point. She knows her mistress is alone with the murderer. So, she goes in search of the policeman who promised to be hiding in the bushes - untruthful swine - but when she can't find him, she gets into a car with two lurking reporters instead of dragging them back with her. Does she want her mistress dead? Possibly. The audience does.

Black Limelight the play could probably be revived as a very camp theatrical evening. Black Limelight the film is best forgotten.

Script adapt.: Dudley Leslie, Walter Summers. (o.a. Gordon Sherry)

Director: Paul L. Stein

Players: Henry Oscar, Diana Beaumont, Dan Tobin, Leslie Bradley, Robert Beatty

Black Memory (1947)

Years after his father was hanged for murder, an orphan returns to his town and tries to live anonymously. But the lad who testified against his father recognises him and wants his help on a warehouse robbery.

Remarkably cheap-looking production which improves in the second half once the plot kicks in.

Script: John Gilling

Director: Oswald Mitchell

Players: Michael Medwin, Michael Atkinson, Myra O'Connell, Jane Arden, Frank Hawkins, Winifred Melville, Betty Miller, Sidney James, Michael Conry, Arthur Brander, Gerald Pring, Valerie Hulton, Maurice Nicholas, Malcolm Sommers

Black Narcissus (1947)

A group of Anglican nuns try to bring a bit of Christian discipline in the Himalayas but fail. It's another unforgettable film from The Archers as English repression comes under the spotlight. Kathleen Byron is the one we all remember going mad with lust for David Farrar (and who can blame her). Deborah Kerr has a good sniff around him as well.

Poster of Black Narcissus

Script adapt. and Direction: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. (o.a. Rumer Godden)

Players: Flora Robson, Sabu, Jean Simmons, Jenny Laird, Judith Furse, Esmond Knight, Shaun Noble, May Hallatt, Nancy Roberts, Edie Whaley Jr., Ley On

Black Orchid (1952)

When a woman is run over, a post-mortem finds poison in her system. Suspicion falls on the husband she's refused a divorce.

Decent enough whodunit, but almost totally unmemorable.

Script: Francis Edge, John Temple-Smith

Director: Charles Saunders

Players: Ronald Howard, Olga Edwards, Mary Laura Wood, John Bentley, Patrick Barr, Russell Napier, Sheila Burrell, Mary Jones

The Black Rider (1954)

Jimmy Hanley is the biker and ageing cub reporter who investigates mysterious ghostly goings-on and uncovers some enemy agents. Only watchable now for the strange echoes of Enid Blyton and Scooby-do.

Script: A.R. Rawlinson

Director: Wolf Rilla

Players: Lionel Jeffries, Lesley Dwyer, Rona Anderson, Kenneth Connor, Beatrice Varley, Valerie Hanson, Edwin Richfield

The Black Rose (1950)

13th century England: and Norman-hating Saxon Tyrone Power is miffed to discover his natural father's will bequeaths him into the service of King Edward. He takes off with chum Jack Hawkins to see Cathay and bring back some of its treasures.

Coming in at just over two hours, this feels like a very long journey indeed. There are compensations, including Jack Cardiff's lovely Technicolor photography, but for the most part it's dull and talky.

Script adapt.: Talbot Jennings. (o.a. Thomas B. Costain)

Director: Henry Hathaway

Players: Cecile Aubry, Orson Welles, Michael Rennie, Herbert Lom, Finlay Currie, Mary Clare, James Robertson Justice, Laurence Harvey, Alfonso Bedoya, Gibb McLaughlin, Henry Oscar, Valery Inkijinoff, Bobby Blake, Torin Thatcher, Hilary Pritchard, Ley On, Carl Jaffe, Madame Phang, Rufus Cruickshank, George Woodbridge, Ben Williams, Peter Drury, Alexis Chesnakov, Alan Tilvern, Thomas Gallagher, John Penrose

The Black Tent (1956)

Anthony Steele fathers a son in Libya during the North Africa campaign, but is killed. Brother Donald Sinden tries to find the boy and take him back to Britain.

Script: Robin Maugham

Director: Brian Desmond Hurst

Players: Anna Maria Sandri, Andre Morell, Donald Pleasence, Ralph Truman, Anthony Bushell, Michael Craig, Anton Diffring, Frederick Jaeger

The Blackguard (1925)

This melodrama, directed by Graham Cutts, is the only surviving complete film on which Alfred Hitchcock worked as art director. Sadly, Hitchcock also wrote the script in which a poor violinist falls for a middle-European princess. When revolution comes to the country he rescues her, but is wounded and so can no longer play. Despite the script, this Anglo-German co-production is a good example of big European film making. The crowd scenes impress and it never looks less than fabulous.

Script adapt.: Alfred Hitchcock. (o.a. Raymond Paton)

Director: Graham Cutts

Players: Walter Rilla, Jane Novak, Bernard Goetzke, Frank Stanmore, Martin Hertzberg, Rosa Valetti, Dora Bergner, Fritz Alberti

Blackmail (1929)

Britain's first all talkie (though there is an excellent silent version). A girl (Anny Ondra) murders an artist who tried to rape her. A blackmailer goes to work. She's easy prey, particularly since her boyfriend is high up in Scotland Yard. 

Hitchcock wrings as much tension as it is possible to get out of her predicament and there's a great finale in the British Museum. The "knife" sequence showed how sound could be used imaginatively, though many of the actors struggle to adapt to the demands of the new technology. Anny Ondra had such a strong European accent she had to mime to Joan Barry standing just off camera.

Still from Blackmail

Script adapt.: Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Bennett, Benn W. Levy, Garnett Weston. (o.a. Charles Bennett)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Players: John Longden, Donald Calthrop, Cyril Richard, Sara Allgood, Alfred Hitchcock

Blanche Fury (1948)

Valerie Hobson is the titular governess in this melodrama that's as lurid as its Technicolor. Michael Gough is the wimpy single parent, Stewart Granger the family bastard. She marries the first but fancies the second. Naturally, it all ends badly for all involved.

This is total tosh but what a load of fun on the way!  The production design is stunning - the script less so, though it's entertaining spotting which bits of plot have been nicked from other films. 

Script: Audrey Erskine Lindop, Hugh Mills, Cecil McGivern

Director: Marc Allegret

Players: Walter Fitzgerald, Maurice Denham, Arthur Wontner

Bleak House (1920)

Maurice Elvey's version of the Dickens classic. Jarndyce V Jarndyce is dumped in favour of the Lady Dedlock story strand, and there's no spontaneous combustion, but it's otherwise a fairly faithful adaptation.

Script adapt.: William J Elliott. (o.a. Charles Dickens)

Director: Maurice Elvey

Players: Constance Collier, Berta Gellardi, Vivian Reynolds, Norman Page, Clifford Heatherley, Ion Swinley, A Hardning Steerman, Anthony St John, Helen Haye, Toddy Arundell, Beatrix Templeton

Blind Date (1959)

Hardy Kruger gets involved with a married woman. When she is bumped off, he is the prime suspect. One of Joseph Losey's more successful British films.

Still from Blind DateStill from Blind DateStill from Blind Date

Script adapt.: Ben Barzman, Millard Lampell. (o.a. Leigh Howard)

Director: Joseph Losey

Players: Stanley Baker, Micheline Presle, Robert Flemyng, Gordon Jackson, John Van Eyssen, Jack MacGowran, George Roubicek, Redmond Philips, David Markham, Tom Naylor, Lee Montague 

The Blind Goddess (1947)

Michael Denison tries to prove his employer has been swindling a charity. No mean feat when the employer is a Lord and played by nice-guy actor Hugh Williams. Good courtroom drama.

Script adapt.: Muriel Box, Sidney Box. (o.a. Patrick Hastings)

Director: Harold French

Players: Eric Portman, Anne Crawford, Nora Swinburne, Raymond Lovell, Claire Bloom, Frank Cellier, Clive Morton, Elspet Gray, Maurice Denham, Phillip Saville, Cyril Chamberlain, Thora Hird, Noel Howlett 

Blithe Spirit (1945)

A classic bit of British fantasy. The plot is familiar: Rex Harrison's dead first wife comes back to haunt him after medium Margaret Rutherford holds a sťance. It's all done in the best Coward style. Harrison, Kay Hammond and Constance Cummings have never been better but it's Rutherford who steals the picture.

Script adapt.: Noel Coward (o.a.), David Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allen, Ronald Neame

Director: David Lean

Players: Hugh Wakefield, Joyce Carey, Jacqueline Clark

The Blue Danube (1932)

A gipsy singer falls for the charms of a countess and loses his true love in the process.

In his autobiography, Herbert Wilcox claims that in The Blue Danube he set out to make a talkie that doesn't talk - essentially to revive the conventions of the silent film in contrast to the talkie but profitable stage adaptations the industry was churning out at the time. The critics hated the result and audiences weren't that keen either, apart from in Sydney Australia where it ran for over a year in one cinema and so covered its costs, according to Wilcox.

For modern audiences, Brigitte Helm is the headline attraction. As a middle-European Countess her English is absolutely fine and she looks a million dollars. Indeed she looks so utterly fabulous you only realise afterwards how little the script gives her to do. Chili Bouchier gets more to do - starting as a jealous gypsy maid and ending up as the jaded wife of an army officer. She also looks fabulous, though her gypsy-style dancing is best described as enthusiastic rather than accomplished. Joseph Schildkraut as Sandor the singer gets the bulk of the acting duties. He does them well enough though it's impossible to conceive he'd go on to win a best actor Oscar within a few years.

Despite Bouchier and Helm getting top billing, this isn't a film that passes the Bechdel Test. It's all about Sandor and his problems. However, this is a rare instance of a film of the period in which the bloke is the "love interest" and he's shot with every bit as much reverence as his female co-stars. He's very much presented as totty for the women in the audience to lust over.

Apart from the silent/talkie thing, Wilcox's other aim was to showcase the Alfred Rode and his Tzigane Band then currently wowing audiences in the UK. They specialised in classics jazzed up with a Hungarian Gypsy twist and they are amazing. The enthusiasm and vigour with which they attack the music still comes across the screen after all these years. This is the band you want playing at your wedding if you want to guarantee a good time for all.

The band on its own is enough to lift the film out of the "interesting failure" category and into "worth spending time on".

Script: Miles Malleson

Director: Herbert Wilcox 

Players: Brigitte Helm, Chili Bouchier, Joseph Schildkraut, Desmond Jeans, Patrick Ludlow, Alfred Rode and his Tzigane Band, Massine and Mikitina

The Blue Lamp (1949)

This is the movie that gave the world Dixon of Dock Green (1955-1976). Of course, Dirk Bogarde's petty crook shot him dead, but the world needed Jack Warner's cosy police sergeant and so a TV legend was born. The film is excellent, with a fab script from T.E.B Clarke, wonderful direction from Basil Dearden and some perfect performances, but the shadow of that TV series hangs over it. Forget I told you Sergeant Dixon gets topped and enjoy the surprise.

Still from The Blue Lamp

Script: T.E.B. Clarke, Alexander Mackendrick

Director: Basil Dearden

Players: Peggy Evans, Jimmy Hanley, Robert Flemying, Bernard Lee, Clive Morton, Dora Bryan, Tessie O'Shea, William Mervyn, Muriel Aked, Glyn Houston, Anthony Steele, Sam Kydd; Basil Radford and Glynis Johns (walk-ons)

Blue Murder at St Trinian's (1957)

The second of the St Trinian's series and sadly only a cameo role for Alastair Sim. This is the one where the girls go on a European tour and get involved with jewel smuggler Lionel Jeffries. It's still fun, particularly when Joyce Grenfell is on screen.

Script: Frank Launder, Sidney Gilliat, Val Valentine

Director: Frank Launder

Players: Terry-Thomas, George Cole, Eric Barker, Richard Wattis, Sabrina, Thorley Walters, Lisa Gastoni, Dilys Laye, Judith Furse, Lloyd Lamble, Kenneth Griffith, Peter Jones, Terry Scott, Ferdy Maine, Cyril Chamberlain, Alma Taylor, Michael Ripper, Lisa Lee, Charles Lloyd Pack, Rosalind Knight, Patricia Lawrence

The Blue Parrot (1953)

A nightclub's shady dealings are put under a spotlight when one of its regulars is murdered.

Yet another 50s whodunit in which an American shows Scotland Yard how to solve its cases.

Script adapt.: Allan Mackinnon. (o.a. Percy Haskins)

Director: John Harlow

Players: Dermot Walsh, Jacqueline Hill, Ferdy Maine, John le Mesurier, Edwin Richfield, Valerie White, June Ashley, Derek Prentice, Richard Pearson, Arthur Rigby, Diane Watts, Cyril Conway