Phyllis Calvert and Terence Morgan are the couple bickering over the future of their deaf daughter Mandy Miller. It's a so-so story turned to pure gold by director Alexander Mackendrick.
Script adapt.: Jack Whittington, Nigel Balchin. (o.a. Hilda Lewis)
Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Players: Jack Hawkins, Godfrey Tearle, Marjorie Fielding, Edward Chapman, Eleanor Summerfield, Jane Asher
Pete (Carl Brisson) and Philip (Malcolm Keen) have been friends since childhood. Both are in love with innkeeper's daughter Kate (Anny Ondra), but only Pete has declared his love. When Pete asks the innkeeper for Kate's hand he's told to get lost because he's only a poor fisherman. Pete goes abroad to make his fortune, but before he goes gets Kate's reluctant promise that she will wait for him. When Pete is reported killed, Kate and Philip find solace in each other's company. Pete turns up again, a rich man, and Kate marries him. However, she's already pregnant by Philip. A few years of marriage and guilt prove too much for her and she tries to kill herself. She's brought before Philip who is now the Deemster (local magistrate) and the whole scandal comes out.
The plot's a bit old-hat and melodramatic, but the film has some good qualities. Although set on the Isle of Man, the film was actually shot in Cornwall. The scenery looks lovely and it's fascinating to see an old-fashioned fishing fleet relying on sail. The acting is good, particularly in the second half when there are a lot of guilty glances. It's a great example of late silent-era film making. What it isn't is an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
This was his last proper silent film (Blackmail was made in both sound and silent versions). It's very well made, but it lacks any trace of a sense of humour. Without this, it must have seemed curiously dated even when it was made. It's the sort of film Griffith used to make with Lillian Gish in the teens.
The only laughs are unintentional, particularly in the last shot of the movie. The couple are driven out by the community and walk away over the hill into the sunset. The thought occurs that it's the Isle of Man and they aren't going to get very far!
Maybe the auteur theory has a lot to answer for. If this hadn't been directed by Hitchcock, we'd be using it as proof that Britain could make excellent silent movies. However, it was directed by Hitchcock and feels faintly disappointing.
Script adapt.: Eliot Stannard. (o.a. Sir Hall Caine)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Players: Randle Ayrton, Clare Greet
Tod Slaughter's first film and already the elements are in place: hoary, old melodrama; cheap production; George King producing; mad, ham acting from Mr Slaughter. Unmissable. It's also Eric Portman's debut.
Script: Randall Faye
Director: Milton Rosmer
Players: Sophie Stewart, Ann Trevor, D.J. Williams, Clare Greet, Quinton McPherson, Antonia Brough, Dennis Hoey, Gerrard Tyrell
A drifter turns up at a run-down roadside garage. The owner, a grumpy middle-aged man, gives him work. The owner's young, attractive wife is sick of the drudgery of working in the garage and the cafe and longs for a life of glamour and excitement. Inevitably the drifter and the wife begin an affair. They kill the husband, but still have to keep their relationship quiet in order to allay suspicion. The strain and the guilt destroy them.
The astute reader will recognise that as the plot of James M Cain's The Postman Always Knocks Twice. Hollywood's done it twice, and France and Italy's film industries have also had a go at it. Marilyn was Britain's attempt - not that anyone would have admitted it at the time. It was supposedly based on Peter Jones's play Marian, though that's not mentioned in the on-screen credits either.
Sandra Dorne plays the blonde with the yen for the good life. She's perhaps rather too classy for a role Diana Dors could have breezed through. If she's no Lana Turner, then the actor playing her lover is certainly no John Garfield. He's Maxwell Reed, Britain's least sexy sex symbol. All Brylcream and leather jacket, he's not exactly the ideal for a gal with aspirations but next to hubby Leslie Dwyer he does, for once, seem like a prospect.
The cut-price cast is reflected in the cut-price location. The garage and cafe look suitably cheap, hidden away on some obscure back road or, more likely, a corner of the studio backlot. The limitations of the budget suit the story in that it's hard to imagine that anyone would willingly turn up here.
There is a school of thought that B-movies are a more fertile source for the social historian than A-movies. Marilyn goes a long way to prove that theory. It captures the dreariness of 50s Britain. Dorne's character expresses the longing that many people felt for the glamour of a Hollywood life when what they were living through was more like Hancock's Sunday Afternoon at Home. No mink bikinis for her, she's expected to be grateful for the comfort of a gas fire in every room.
Another aspect of life that rarely made it into A-movies is shown in Vida Hope's character. She plays Marilyn's maid and it soon becomes apparent that she's only hanging around because she's in love with her. Lesbianism is a rarity in 50s cinema and Hope seems to go out of her way to downplay the sensationalism by giving a rather monotone performance. This makes her lengthy speech at the climax feel more like an exposition chore rather than a shocking dénouement.
Though the film was initially released as Marilyn, the title was quickly changed to Roadhouse Girl. This change also emphasised that longing for that American dream, as did the original change from Marion to Marilyn. Under either title it's definitely watchable.
Script: Wolf Rilla. (o.a. Peter Jones)
Director: Wolf Rilla
Players: Ferdy Mayne, Hugh Pryse, Kenneth Connor, Ben Williams, Gerald Rex, Hugh Munro
Beautiful Sally Gray, heiress to a cotton plantation, leaves a French convent school. Businessman Eric Portman sniffs around but, though she is smitten at first, his older brother Patrick Holt is soon on the scene and turning her head. Holt and Gray marry, but cold, miserable Manchester doesn't suit her and Portman subtly drives them apart. On the verge of divorce, the couple reconcile, but Portman takes advantage of his brother's ill-health and begins to poison him and frame Gray.
Brian Desmond Hurst always had a taste for gloomy period pieces and this is one of the gloomiest. Though there is some nice, sunny location shooting in France, once the plot reaches these shores it's the usual Edwardian gothic nonsense leading inexorably to the Old Bailey and the condemned cell.
If there's a moral to this tale it's don't send your daughter to a French convent school. Gray leaves the place with a shocking taste in men: not only Portman and Holt but she also has a dalliance with Dermot Walsh. Essentially, she has every man under 50 in her sights - and not a one of them worth having!
The Mark of Cain is hardly the greatest movie ever made, but it is enjoyably bad. Portman chews the scenery in even the subtlest scene and gives it an intensity it probably doesn't deserve.
Script adapt.: W.P. Lipscome, Francis Crowdy, Christianna Brand. (o.a. Joseph Shearing)
Director: Brian Desmond Hurst
Players: Denis O'Dea, Edward Lexy, Helen Cherry, Therese Giehse, Maureen Delany, Vida Hope, James Hayter, Andrew Cruickshank, Miles Malleson
A cigarette case made from some rare alloy is the McGuffin in this stupid thriller which twists so often it ends up its own arse. Writer Norman Hudis would find his level the following year with the first of his six Carry On films (Carry On Sergeant)
Script: Norman Hudis
Director: Maclean Rogers
Players: Sheldon Lawrence, Julia Arnall, Anton Differing, Eric Pohlman, Roger Delgardo
A racing ace is determined to win but first he has to face his emotional demons.
An exciting tale of motor racing action featuring guest appearances by the stars of the day. What could possibly spoil such a film? The limitations of a typical low budget Hammer production.
American import Richard Conte plays the main racing driver, back from the war and determined to get his career back. Starring opposite him is Marie Alden as his wife. She, poor thing, is lumbered with the worst of the dialogue as she inevitably tries to make him give up before he is killed. She is largely expressionless apart from a desperation behind her eyes that seems to say "so this is how a career dies". She pleads with him in various basic sets depicting hotel rooms and race track pits before finally giving her blessing in the last reel to the surprise of no one.
Alden didn't have a particularly impressive career, but George Coulouris as Conte's mentor and fellow competitor did. For a man with Citizen Kane on his CV, this is quite a comedown. His record must be the only reason he was cast since he's far too old for the role. It comes as a shock when he announces he's about to give up racing to settle down because he looks eligible for a bus pass. Naturally, in a racing film, anyone who makes such an announcement will end up smeared over the track.
There are two actual races in the film, neither of them very impressive. Anyone still holding out hopes that the budget has been saved for the on-track action will quickly be disappointed when, 25 minutes into the film, the first race starts. Even the most impressionable young lad will catch on to the fact that it's cobbled together from stock footage of actual races and a few gentle laps around the practise circuit. Any actual action is covered by lengthy trips to the commentary box where Raymond Baxter is waiting to fill the audience in on the stuff they actually want to see. And what action! It gets so fast and furious Baxter actually takes his jacket off at one point.
The climactic second race is more exciting. It's better edited, there's slightly more actual action, and Baxter's been replaced by Paul Carpenter who's already so hyped up he hasn't even bothered to put his jacket on.
It's hard to call Mask of Dust a disappointment since it lives down to all expectations.
Script: Paul Tabouri, Richard Landau. (o.a. Jon Manchip White)
Director: Terence Fisher
Players: Richard Conte, Mari Aldon, George Coulouris, Peter Illing, Alec Mango, Meredith Edwards, James Copeland, Jeremy Hawk, Richard Marner, Edwin Richfield, Tim Turner, Stirling Moss, Reg Parnell, John Cooper, Alan Brown, Geoffrey Taylor
Errol Flynn swashbuckler in which he is forced to flee the county after joining Bonnie Prince Charlie's failed rebellion and becomes a pirate. He's too old and the film lacks the style of his 30s Hollywood classics, but it passes the time. The best fun here is to be had by observing the difference between the fab location work and the rather sad sets used for the close-up scenes which make Brigadoon look like a fly-on-the-wall documentary.
Script adapt.: Herb Meadow, Harold Medford, Robert Hall. (o.a. Robert Louis Stevenson)
Director: William Keighley
Players: Anthony Steele, Roger Livesey, Mervyn Johns, Beatrice Campbell, Yvonne Furneaux, Felix Aylmer
Three generations of Yorkshire mill owners vie for the right to be the Master of Bankdam.
The film was based on Thomas Armstrong’s popular potboiler, The Crowthers of Bankdam, and features all the elements one would expect of a trouble at t’mill saga: class conflict, a factory fire and the inevitable striking mob. It’s 1854 and Simeon Crowther is determined to make Bankdam, the smallest cotton mill in town, into a success. He’s helped by his two sons, Joshua and Zebediah, but the conflict between them ends in disaster and runs through to the next generation.
Dennis Price as the less driven younger son was in the early part of his career where the studios were still learning how best to use his talents. What they learnt from this film is never to give him a Yorkshire accent. They learned much the same lesson about Anne Crawford as the hard-working mill girl Price knocks up. The scene where he, rough beast that he is, gives way to his animal passions and forces himself on her while she, blushing maiden that she is, ultimately relents is a textbook example of miscasting.
Director Walter Forde does his best to lessen the damage Price and Crawford inflict on the film, but things only get interesting about half way through when a factory falls on Price and we’re spared that accent. With Price out of the way, the stage is set for a blistering confrontation between Tom Walls as the father and Stephen Murray as the brother over who is to blame. Both Walls and Murray are better known for their comedy work – Walls as the driving force behind the Aldwych Farces and Murray for the long-running radio sitcom The Navy Lark – but they acquit themselves well here.
Forde also gets surprisingly good performances from David Tomlinson as a caddish grandson and, in his debut film, Nicholas Parsons. What he can’t do is disguise the cheapness of the production. This is particularly evident in the would-be spectacular mill fire scene (over in thirty seconds) and the later collapse of the factory (done with model work that wouldn’t convince a five year old). The nearest the production gets to Yorkshire is some stock footage of old mills.
Forde only had one more film left in him, the flop comedy Cardboard Cavalier. After forty successful years in the British film industry, starting as Britain’s answer to Harold Lloyd, he retired to California and lived the rest of his days in the sun. The main achievement of his career was in the development of the comedy-thriller genre in such films as Rome Express and Bulldog Jack. In this he is at least as important a figure as Hitchcock. The Master of Banksdam wasn’t his finest hour, but the fact that it’s serviceable entertainment is mainly down to him.The film didn’t set the world on fire on its release, and has largely been forgotten since. It is now available on DVD and is well worth checking out.
Script adapt.: Edward Dryhurst, Moie Charles. (o.a. Thomas Armstrong)
Director: Walter Forde
Players: Nancy Price, Linden Travers, Jimmy Hanley, Patrick Holt, Herbert Lomas, Frederick Piper, Beatrice Varley, Raymond Rolett, April Stride, Avis Scott, Amy Veness, Maria Var, Kenneth Buckley, Lyn Evans, Bertram Shuttleworth, Edgar K. Bruce, Frank Henderson, Aubrey Mallalieu, Shelagh Fraser
Classic Powell & Pressburger fantasy which impresses more with every viewing. David Niven is the pilot who should have died in a crash but the angel sent for him got lost in the fog. By the time he's found, he's fallen in love and heaven holds a trial to see if he should live or die.
Written, Produced and Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Players: Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Raymond Massey, Marius Goring, Robert Coote, Kathleen Byron, Richard Attenborough, Bonar Colleano
Sydney Howard is the unemployed musician persuaded to run for Mayor and clean up the slums. Creaky comedy most notable for featuring Al Bowlly in his best film role. It's blindingly naïve but Howard is droll and the optimistic ending rather sweet.
Script: Maclean Rogers
Director: Maclean Rogers
Players: Claude Hulbert, Muriel Aked, Miles Malleson, Syd Crossley, Frank Harvey, Michael Hogan, Cyril Smith
Michael Wilding inherits a dress shop run by Anna Neagle. Cue fluffy romance. If you're up for this sort of nonsense then this is irresistible; if not, you'll really hate it.
Script: Nicholas Phipps
Director: Herbert Wilcox
Players: Peter Graves, Tom Walls, Nicholas Phipps, Thora Hird, Michael Shepley, Max Kirby, Desmond Walter-Ellis, David Gardiner, Teddy Lane, Tom Walls Jr., Sabina Gordon
Compendium of three Noel Coward one act plays: Red Peppers, Fumed Oak, Ways and Means.
Not a bad attempt to do for Coward what Quartet did for Maugham. This has the advantage of a single director, but suffers slightly from theatricality. Still, theatricality is what you expect from Coward, so just sit back and enjoy it.
Script adapt.: (o.a.) Noel Coward
Director: Anthony Pelissier
Players: (Red Peppers) Kay Walsh, Ted Ray, Martita Hunt, Frank Pettingell, Bill Fraser, Toke Townley, Ian Wilson, Frank's Fox Terriers, Young China Troupe; (Fumed Oak) Stanley Holloway, Betty Ann Davies, Mary Merrall, Dorothy Gordon; (Ways and Means) Valerie Hobson, Nigel Patrick, Jack Warner, Jessie Royce Landis, Michael Trubshaw, Mary Jerrold, Yvonne Furneaux, Jacques Cey
A seedy detective takes on the case of a beautiful blonde who thinks she's going to be framed for murder, but the case proves to be more trouble than expected.
Peter Chaney's character Slim Callaghan was a popular gumshoe in the 30s and 40s, though he's now largely forgotten and few of the novels are in print. Several of his books were filmed. Meet Mr Callaghan arrived on the screen via a stage adaptation which starred Derrick de Marney and Harriette Johns who recreated their roles for the film.
The script's stage origins show. Most of the action involves our hero visiting a suspect and talking at them for five minutes before going off to the next one. However, the dialogue is good and the actors give the material plenty of effort.
Derrick de Marney plays Silm Callaghan like a rather sozzled theatrical dresser with only a few glimpses of the expected tough guy pose. It's a fascinating portrayal and lifts the film out of the ordinary. Harriette Johns makes less of a mark on her character and is outclassed by Adrienne Corri as an exotic nightclub singer and Delphi Lawrence as Slim's disgruntled secretary. Indeed, it's a shame the secretary quits early on, since her bickering with her boss is one of the film's highlights.
Meet Mr Callaghan is a good solid B movie that must have kept audiences entertained while they waited for the main feature.
Script: Brock Williams (o.a. Peter Cheyney, adapted by Gerald Viner)
Director: Charles Saunders
Players: Peter Neil, Robert Adair, Belinda Lee, Larry Burns, John Longden, Trevor Reid, Roger Williams, Frank Henderson, Michael Balfour, Michael Partridge, Howard Douglas, Frank Sieman
In 1953, television was beginning to make inroads into the cinema audience. This satirical comedy has Stanley Holloway as the devil trying to use the box for evil. It now has a slight historical interest but lacks the bite or the cosiness of the best of Ealing.
Script adapt.: Monja Danischewsky, Peter Myers, Alec Graham. (o.a. Arnold Ridley)
Director: Anthony Pelissier
Players: Peggy Cummins, Jack Watling, Joseph Tomelty, Barbara Murray, Humphrey Lestocq, Gordon Jackson, Jean Cadell, Kay Kendall, Olive Sloane, Ernest Thesiger, Raymond Huntley, Joan Sims, Ian Carmichael, Gilbert Harding, MacDonald Hobley, Gladys Henson, Edie Martin, Dandy Nichols, Irene Handl, Eliot Makeham, Bill Fraser, Toke Townley, Diane Cilento
Miriam Hopkins came from Hollywood to play in this silly melodrama about an actor who tries to kill his wife on stage during Othello in order to cop-off with Ms Hopkins. Sebastian Shaw is the actor and Gertrude Lawrence is the poor woman playing Desdemona.
Script: G.B. Stern, Iris Wright
Director: Walter Reisch
Players: A.E. Matthews, Rex Harrison, Val Gielgud, Laura Smithson, Lawrence Grossmith, Sybil Grove, Wally Patch, Noel Howlett, Rosamund Greenwood
Robin Hood gets caught up in a plot to prevent King Richard's release from capture in Germany. Don Taylor gets to play Robin, and while the film isn't bad, with the re-release of Errol Flynn's Adventures of Robin Hood in the cinemas at the moment you'd be better off seeing the best.
Script: Allan Mackinnon
Director: Val Guest
Players: Patrick Holt, Eileen Moore, Reginald Beckwith, Douglas Wilmer, Leonard Sachs, Toke Townley, Bernard Bresslaw, Jackie Lane
Ambitious John Stuart works his way up to control of a steel foundry, but his ruthlessness puts his fellow workers at risk.
Rare industrial drama of the period. The drama is a bit basic but the location footage is impressive.
Script adapt.: Edward Knoblock, Billie Bristow. (o.a. Douglas Newton)
Director: George King
Players: Benita Hume, Heather Angel, Franklin Dyall, Alexander Field, Mary Merrall, Edward Ashley Cooper, Sydney Benson, Gerard Clifton, Ian Braested
African composer returns to his roots to break the hold of the local witchdoctor.
Curious attempt to update the Sanders of the River genre, hampered by the obvious sets.
Script: Thorold Dickenson, Herbert W. Victor
Director: Thorold Dickenson
Players: Robert Adams, Eric Portman, Phyllis Calvert, Arnold Marle, Cathleen Nesbitt, David Horne, Cyril Raymond, Sam Blake, Uriel Porter, George Cooper, Cicely Dale, Brenda Davies