Archive D

Dead Men are Dangerous (1939)

Failed author swaps identities with a dead man, but finds death follows him.

Unlikely thriller with fun moments.

Script adapt.: Victor Kendall, Harry Hughes, Vernon Clancey. (o.a. HC Armstrong)

Director: Harold French

Players: Robert Newton, Betty Lynne, Peter Gawthorne, John Warwick, Merle Tottenham, John Turnbull, Aubrey Mallalieu, P Kynaston Reeves, Ian Fleming, Charles Mortimer, Winifred Oughton

Dead of Night (1945)

If you had to pick a portmanteau film, this would be most people's choice. It's a classic collection of creepy stories held together by Mervyn John's recurring dream. Standouts are Michael Redgrave and his ventriloquist dummy and Googie Withers' haunted mirror. 

Script adapt.: Angus Macphail, John V. Baines, T.E.B. Clarke. (o.a. E.F. Benson, Angus Macphail, John V. Baines, H.G. Wells)

Director: Alberto Cavalcanti, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer, Charles Crichton

Players: Sally Ann Howes, Roland Culver, Frederick Valk, Mary Merrall, Renee Gadd, Miles Malleson, Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne, Elisabeth Welsh

Deadly Record (1959)

A pilot is suspected of his wife's murder.

Standard B-movie whodunnit with a very obvious who for anyone with a passing interest in the genre.

Script: Vivian A Cox, Lawrence Huntington

Director: Lawrence Huntington

Players: Lee Patterson, Barbara Shelley, Jane Hylton, Peter Dyneley, Geoffrey Keen, John Paul, Everley Gregg, Edward Cast, George Pastell, Ferdy Mayne, April Olrich, Percy Herbert, Geoffrey Tyrrell, Peter Dolphin, Doreen Dawne

Dear Murderer (1947)

Tangled tale of adultery and murder as Eric Portman bumps off his wife's lover, only to find she's already moved on to another. Gainsborough tries film noir and pulls it off.

Script adapt.: Muriel Box, Sydney Box, Pete Rogers. (o.a. St John L. Clowes)

Director: Arthur Crabtree

Players: Greta Gynt, Maxwell Reed, Dennis Price, Jack Warner, Hazel Court, Andrew Crawford, Jane Hylton, John Blythe, Ernest Butcher, Charles Rolfe, Helen Burke, Valerie Ward, Vic Hagan, Howard Douglas

Death at Broadcasting House (1934)

Fun whodunit in which someone strangles Donald Wolfit live on radio. It looks fab and has some fascinating glimpses into how the BBC was in the 30s since the original novel was co-written by noted radio producer Val Gielgud. 

Script adapt.: Basil Mason. (o.a. Val Gielgud, Holt Marvel)

Director: Reginald Denham

Players: Ian Hunter, Henry Kendal, Austin Trevor, Mary Newland, Jack Hawkins, Val Gielgud, Peter Haddon, Betty Davies

Death Drives Through (1935)

Motor racing tale whose main claim to fame is that John Huston had a hand in the script.

Script: Gordon Wellesley

Director: Edward L. Cahn

Players: Robert Douglas, Dorothy Bouchier, Miles Mander, Percy Walsh, Frank Atkinson, Lillian Gunns

Death on the Set (1935)

When you're short of money to make a film it's always tempting to set it on the lot and save money on scenery. This is another quota quickie from Julius Hagen's Twickenham studios in which film makers get mixed up with gangsters. Henry Kendall plays both a director and his gangster double in this silly thriller.

Script adapt.: Michael Barringer. (o.a. Victor MacClure)

Director: Leslie Hiscott

Players: Eve Gray, Joann Stuart, Garry Marsh, Wally Patch, Ben Walden  

A Defeated People (1946)

Life in the British sector of Germany is examined in this documentary. There is fascinating footage of the devastation in the country and a sense of the people emerging from the ruins to start normal lives, but it is too short to do much more than raise a few questions about the process of de-nazification. 

Director: Humphrey Jennings 

Narrator: William Hartnell

The Demi-Paradise (1943)

A Russian inventor visits England before and during the war, and notices the changes. Another curious war-time movie that gently sends up the values we were fighting for.

Script: Anatole de Grunwald

Director: Anthony Asquith

Players: Laurence Olivier, Leslie Henson, Marjorie Fielding, Margaret Rutherford, Felix Aylmer, Penelope Dudley Ward, George Thorpe, Guy Middleton, Michael Shepley, Edie Martin, Joyce Grenfell, Jack Watling, Muriel Aked, Everley Gregg, Aubrey Mallalieu, Johnnie Schofield, John Laurie, Brian Nissen, Hay Petrie, Miles Malleson, John Boxer, Marian Spencer, Margaret Withers, Josephine Middleton, Wilfrid Hyde White, Alexis Chesnakoff, Harry Fowler, George Cole

Demobbed (1944)

A group of soldiers are demobbed and get work at a factory.

Mancunian put up a decent cast of variety acts to do their clowning and if you're in the mood it's top-notch, low-brow stuff. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the film is its date: the war's still on but already people are expecting the end.

Script: Roney Parsons

Director: John E Blakeley

Players: Nat Jackley, Norman Evans, Dan Young, Jimmy Plant, Betty Jumel, Tony Dalton, Anne Firth, Neville Mapp, George Merritt, Fred Kitchen Jr, Gus McNaughton, Arthur Hambling, Marianne Lincoln, Kay Lewis, Fred Watts, Sydney Bromley, Edgar Driver, Noel Dainton, Marjorie Gresley, Angela Glyunne, Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, Felix Mendelssohn and His Hawaian Serenaders

Department Store (1935)

An idle man-about-town is tasked by his uncle to go undercover at the department store he owns to look for dodgy dealings. Fortunately/unfortunately the crooked manager confuses an ex-con for the nephew who gets a real glimpse of how the store is run.

A decent cast do their best with the material but it's hard work. The chief interest lies in seeing Geraldine Fitzgerald in her pre-Hollywood days.

Script: H. Fowler Mear

Director: Leslie Hiscott

Players: Sebastian Shaw, Jack Melford, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Garry Marsh, Eve Gray, Patric Curwen, Henry Hallett, Hal Walters

Desert Mice (1959)

Rotten ENSA troupe get into trouble in the WWII desert campaign.

A farce that was probably more fun for those who were there at the time than the rest of us. The jokes are mostly predictable and, despite the great cast, fall flat. The original title, Every Night Something Awful, was vetoed by cinema chains as just asking for trouble.

Script: David Climie

Director: Michael Relph

Players: Sidney James, Alfred Marks, Patricia Bredin, Kenneth Fortesque, Dick Bentley, Dora Bryan, Irene Handl, Reginald Beckwith, Joan Benham, Liz Fraser, Nigel Davenport, John Le Mesurier, Anthony Bushell

Devil Girl from Mars (1954)

An alien spaceship lands near a remote Scottish inn and its occupant terrorises the locals.

1950s cinema is full of schlocky sci-fi B movies. Britain made very few of them, probably because the genre didn't fit into the prevailing preference for naturalism, and those it did make tended to fit more comfortably into the horror craze of the later 50s. Hardly any of the British films went on to be cult favourites. Devil Girl from Mars is the exception.

Why is it the exception? Let's start with the catchy title. It's up there with Fire Maidens from Outer Space as the all-time champ. Then there's the image of the Devil Girl herself, in her black satin outfit. She looks as camp as can be in the stills, straight out of space panto. A hissable villain played by the principle boy. Add in a cool flying saucer and an unconvincing robot and you're got the makings of a cult. But does the film itself live up to this?

Patricia Laffan as the Devil Girl certainly gives it all she's got. She deadpans her way through the most laughable dialogue, info-dumping the history of Mars and the details of her evil plot to her captive audience. Basically, as in much of camp sci-fi., her planet is in need of men to replace the emasculated gender who can no longer, um, satisfy the need of the dominant women to reproduce. She's taken the initiative to start the invasion of Earth on her own and if she is successful in obtaining breeding stock, then her example will inspire her sisters to come in numbers.

The rest of the cast also perform straight. They give the material the respect to take it seriously and resist the urge to camp it up. The characters are the sort of diverse lot you would expect in any inn: a scientist, a journalist, locals, an on-the-run murderer. They're also the sort of characters you would expect in any well-made play and, if you exclude the Devil Girl, that's what you've got here. The titles announce that the writers based the screenplay on their own play, but that would be clear to the audience anyway. Much of the action is played out in the inn's public room with minimal opening out.

The limitations of the budget are clear, though the money is carefully spent. Outdoor scenes are all filmed in the studio, but it's night so that hardly matters. The special effects aren't lavish but they are well marshaled. The spaceship's interior is minimal, but that suits the spartan nature of the Devil Girl. Only the robot truly disappoints, looking like a reject from a Blue Peter competition.

Devil Girl from Mars is entertaining but, apart from Laffan herself, unmemorable.

Poster of Devil Girl From Mars

Script adapt.: (o.a. John C Maher, James Eastwood)

Director: David Macdonald

Players: Hugh McDermott, Hazel Court, Joseph Tomelty, Peter Reynolds, Adrienne Corri, John Laurie, Sophie Stewart, Anthony Richmond, James Edmond, Stuart Hibbard

Diamond City (1949)

The South African diamond bonanza of the 1870s is the excuse for this near-Western, with David Farrar as the hero, Niall MacGinnis as the villain, and a brawl between Diana Dors and Honor Blackman.

Script: Roger Bray, Roland Pertwee

Director: David Macdonald

Players: Andrew Crawford, Mervyn Johns, Phyllis Monkman, Bill Owen, Philo Hauser, Reginald Tate, Ronald Adam, John Salew

A Diary for Timothy (1945) Available on the Land of Promise DVD set

When you sit through the latest dreary docu-soap; an embarrassingly flimsy "startling truth about" the pyramids/Atlantis/Roswell mystery; hastily assembled CCTV footage presented as true life drama; or, worst of all, one of those thinly-disguised  adverts on "The Making of..." the latest over-hyped movie, do you ever wonder what happened to the documentary? There was a time when the documentary was an art form. A Diary for Timothy is one of the finest.

It's the 3rd of September 1944, exactly 5 years since the start of the war, and Timothy James Jenkins lies in his cot in the maternity ward. The narrator (Michael Redgrave - written by E.M. Forster) tells him about the world around him. He tells Timothy about Goronwy the miner, Alan the farmer, Bill the engine driver and Peter the wounded fighter pilot and how they, and the rest of the country, are engaged in Total War.

Even though it is Total War, the Allies are crossing the Belgium border and heading for Germany and everyone knows it's coming to an end. Still, the struggle goes on while Timothy gurgles in his crib: V2s fall on London, Goronwy is injured down the pit, and the RAF flatten Germany with its bombing. Meanwhile cultural life goes on: Myra Hess gives piano recitals, a children's choir greets Soviet representatives, George Woodbridge and John Gielgud do the gravedigger's scene from Hamlet.

The diary takes the story up to the fall of Germany and V E Day. As the war draws to a close there is a growing interest in what happens next and a resolution on the part of the participants that they don't want things messed up like last time. This is the purpose of the film: here's what we achieved when the bombs were raining down, we can achieve even more when peace arrives.

It's hard to pinpoint what makes this film such a classic. It certainly captures a moment in history better than almost any other film. Yet there doesn't seem to be anything about its constituent parts that's particularly special. Richard Adinsel's music is stirring but apart from that there's nothing you can point to and say "That's why it works".

Director Humphrey Jennings stirs together words, music and images to produce a film that can be viewed time and time again. Even though it lasts just 40 minutes, it stays in the memory long after most features have been forgotten.

Script: E.M. Forster

Director: Humphrey Jennings

Players: (narr.) Michael Redgrave

Dick Barton Special Agent (1948)

Special Agent Dick Barton goes on holiday to the seaside with his mates Jock and Snowy and finds a smuggling ring and a Nazi plot to poison the country.

For those of a certain age, it only takes the first two bars of The Devil's Gallop to conjure up a childhood in a post-war world of austerity. Between 1946 and 1951 over 700 episodes of the agent's adventures were broadcast by the BBC. Now, there's just three episodes in the Beeb's archive, so those in search of a nostalgia fix will have to make do with the three feature films that were made at the craze's height.

The first feature was Dick Barton Special Agent. Two more films were to follow before the death of star Don Stannard in a car accident brought the series to a close.

Sad to say, the first film is dreadful. It's aimed at undemanding seven year olds and is full of the sort of poor slapstick grownups think kids love. There's even a young comic-reading lad for the kids to identify with - the kiss-of-death as far as most kids are concerned. Add to this, poor production values and terrible postsynching and you have a bit of an ordeal for most film fans.

Script: Alan Stranks, Alfred Goulding. (o.a. Edward J. Mason)

Director: Alfred Goulding

Players: Jack Shaw, George Ford, Gillian Maude, Colin Douglas, Geoffrey Wincott, Beatrice Kane, Ivor Danvers, Arthur Bush, Alec Ross, Janice Lowthian, Morris Sweden, Farnham Baxter, Ernest Borrow, Beatrice Kane

Dim Little Island (1948) Available on the Land of Promise DVD set

Osbert Lancaster, James Fisher, John Ormston and Ralph Vaughn Williams meditate on England. Beautiful photography can't overcome the sense of the film maker whistling in the dark during the depths of the Austerity Years.

Director: Humphrey Jennings

The Diplomatic Corpse (1958)

A reporter investigates a body in the Thames with the help of a fashion writer.

Dull B picture, not offensively inept but lacking much interest.

 Script: Sidney Nelson, Maurice Harrison

Director: Montgomery Tully

Players: Robin Bailey, Susan Shaw, Liam Redmond, Harry Fowler, Maya Koumani, Andre Mikhelson, Bill Shine, Charles Farrell, Peter Bathurst, Johnny Briggs, Frank Hawkins, George Street, Nicholas Bruce

Dirty Work (1934)

A jeweller's shop is going bust thanks to the pilfering that's rife. The owner believes all his staff and friends are above suspicion but the police think differently. A trap is set, but the staff are setting their own trap and the culprits are setting a counter-trap.

Despite the above plot this isn't a thrilling crime drama, this is one of the Aldwych farces with many of the usual suspects gathered together in the name of fun. Except, there isn't much fun.

Part of the problem is that complicated double-crossing plot which takes half the film's running time to set up. By the time it's truly in motion, it's difficult to care what happens. Most of the players are competent rather than inspired. Only Robertson Hare really pulls his weight; though even he manages to keep his trousers on, which is not what you expect from a farce.

Sadly, Dirty Work doesn't work.

Script adapt.: (o.a.) Ben Travers

DirectorTom Walls

Players: Ralph Lynn, Gordon Harker, Lilian Bond, Basil Sydney, Cecil Parker, Margaretta Scott, Gordon James, Peter Gawthorne, Louis Bradfield, Leslie Laurie

The Divided Heart (1954)

Based on a true story: this is about an orphan whose real mother (Yvonne Mitchell) turns up and wants him back. Mitchell gives another great performance but it's all a bit over-emotional. 

Script: Jack Whittingham

Director: Charles Crichton

Players: Cornell Borchers, Armin Dahlen, Alexander Knox, Geoffrey Keen, Eddie Byrne, Liam Redmond, Theodore Bikel

The Divorce of Lady X (1937)

A young barrister gets caught up in a high-profile divorce case.

Glossy star vehicle for Merle Oberon which doesn't quite work despite the money thrown at it by Korda.

Script adapt.: Ian Dalrymple, Arthur Wimperis, Lajos Biro. (o.a. Gilbert Wakefield)

Director: Tim Whelan

Players: Laurence Olivier, Binnie Barnes, Ralph Richardson, Morton Selten, J.H. Roberts, Gertrude Musgrove, Gus McNaughton, Hugh McDermott, H.B. Hallam, Eileen Peel