Archive N

Naked Fury (1959)

Minor thriller about robbers with a woman hostage. Not worth staying up for.

Script: Brock Williams

Director: Charles Saunders

Players: Kenneth Cope, Leigh Madison, Reed de Rouen, Arthur Lovegrove

The Naked Truth (1957)

Dennis Price is the muck-raking journalist and blackmailer whose victims (Peter Sellers, Terry-Thomas, Peggy Mount and Shirley Eaton) each decide to bump him off. With that cast, how can it fail to be fun.

Script: Michael Pertwee

Director: Mario Zampi

Players: Joan Sims, Georgina Cookson, Miles Malleson, Kenneth Griffith, Moultrie Kelsall, Wilfrid Lawson, Wally Patch, John Stuart, George Benson, Bill Edwards, Henry Hewitt, David Lodge, John Hurley, Marianne Stone

The Narrowing Circle (1955)

A journalist has a bad day when his rival nabs his job and his girl. He has a worse one the next day when he finds the rival dead in his living room.

Standard whodunit enlivened by its leads, who are expert at this sort of thing, and by the writer sneaking in the merest hint of 50s feminism.

Script: Doreen Montgomery. (o.a. Julian Symons)

Director: Charles Saunders

Players: Paul Carpenter, Hazel Court, Russell Napier, Ferdy Mayne, Trevor Reid, Basil Dignam, June Ashley, Alan Robinson, Hugh Latimer, Paula Byrne, Ronnie Stevens, Mary Jones 

Nell Gwyn (1934)

The success of The Private Life of Henry VIII opened the floodgates for historical drama and here's one of the better films made at the time. Anna Neagle has the title role though she's no less genteel as the king's tart than she would be as Queen Victoria. Cedric Hardwicke is a great Charles II.

Photo of Anna Neagle as Nell Gwynne

Script: Miles Malleson

Director: Herbert Wilcox

Players: Jeanne de Casalis, Muriel George, Esme Percy, Moore Marriott, Miles Malleson

The Net (1952)

At a top secret research establishment a futuristic plane sits on a lake ready for testing. It is the M7: the latest project from inventor Michael Heathley (James Donald). He's dying to test the thing but his director (Maurice Denham) won't let him. His wife Lydia (Phyllis Calvert) feels that she's being ignored in favour of the M7. Other British actors trapped in "The Net" surrounding the research establishment include Muriel Pavlow, Herbert Lom and Marjorie Fielding.

So far, so dull. Calvert and Lom start sniffing around each other, Maurice Denham gets bumped off by spy Dr Bord (Noel Willman) and there's lots of agonising about who will test the M7 but it's difficult to get in the least interested. Part of the problem here is that the male actors are so undercast; sometimes it's difficult to tell who's who. The script doesn't help. At one point the characters gather for a cocktail party and for entertainment sing "Ten Green Bottles". All this "accidentally fall" stuff is probably meant to be poignant but actually looks silly, and if this is what people had to do in the Fifties for entertainment then thank God they invented TV. 

Director Anthony Asquith must take most of the blame for the tediousness of the proceedings. He always had a fondness for theatrical dialogue but it's hard to see how a man whose previous film was The Importance of Being Earnest would have such difficulty getting interesting performances from his cast. He does manage two striking moments: when Maurice Denham is breathing his last into a mirror held by the mad doctor (What a fab actor - even his breath can perform!) and when Phyllis Calvert is peeking into a What the Butler Saw machine. These just serve to point up what a dull plod the rest of the film is.

Three quarters of an hour into this, the M7 finally gets a test flight. And suddenly the film turns into the best episode of Thunderbirds you ever saw. It's a genuinely gripping sequence and the special effects are good. If you're really looking you can see the strings holding the model at a couple of points but it's better to just enjoy the spectacle. This is where the undercasting of the male actors pays off: they aren't stars so you don't know if they're going to survive.

When the M7 comes back to earth, so does the film and there's a lot more boring stuff to sit through before it takes off again and the doctor tries to hijack it. I won't spoil the ending but it's the Fifties so you know the good will be rewarded and the bad punished.

If ever there was a film that's a natural for video, this is it. Fast forward to the good bits and ignore the dross.

Script adapt.: Antony Darnborough. (o.a. John Pudney)

Director: Anthony Asquith

Players: Robert Beatty, Patric Doonan, Walter Fitzgerald, Caven Watson, Herbert Lomas, Cyril Chamberlain, Marianne Stone 

The Next of Kin (1942)

Training films have always had a bad name. Their low budgets and dull subject matters make all but a handful of them unwatchable. Add to this the presence, both in front of, and behind, the camera of people who are either inexperienced or inept and the result is usually a film that should be buried in the sort of pit we reserve for nuclear waste. The Next of Kin is different.

Of course there was a war on, so it was a patriotic duty to participate and make the troops take notice. Thus the film is filled with lots of well-known names all doing their bit to drum home the message "Careless Talk Costs Lives". Since it's only a training film it only has the second rank of stars but the cast list is still impressive: Mervyn Johns, Nova Pilbeam, Thora Hird, Mary Clare, Stephen Murray and many others. However, it's the behind-the-scenes talent that really makes the difference, especially director Thorold Dickinson. 

The plot shows how little snippets of information can be patched together to give an accurate picture of troop movements and defence plans. A network of spies and traitors pass information they have gathered from foolish soldiers to their German masters as the army prepare for a raid on a submarine base in France.

The need to show this network of Fifth Columnists and the various ways in which information can be accidentally passed to the enemy makes the early part of the film play like a British version of Altman's Short Cuts. Lots of characters are introduced and the story of their interconnecting lives form a fascinating patchwork narrative which shows you don't need to have a single protagonist to keep an audience's interest.

There are problems with the film - not least Nova Pilbeam's dodgy Dutch accent. Lilli Palmer was going to take the role, but Pilbeam was given the job to take her mind off the death of her husband Penn Tennyson. There is such a thing as being too charitable.

The film was an unexpected success. Everyone with a security pass was compelled to watch it, but the response was so positive the film was put on general release. There were concerns that the film made the armed services look like idiots. When it was released in America it was butchered because the authorities feared that Americans would resent having to fight for such incompetents. 

Script: Thorold Dickinson, John Dighton, Angus Macphail, Captain Sir Basil Bartlett

Director: Thorold Dickinson

Players: Geoffrey Hibbert, Reginald Tate, Philip Friend, Phyllis Stanley, Basil Sydney, Jack Hawkins, Brefni O'Rourke, Joss Ambler, David Hutcheson, Alexander Field, Frederick Leister, Torin Thatcher, Charles Victor, John Chandos, Peter de Greff, Pat Hagan, Frank Allenby, Sandra Storme, Owen Reynolds

Next to No Time (1958)

Kenneth More is the shy engineer on a transatlantic voyage who gains confidence during each hour lost as the ship passes through the time zones. He manages to woo financier Roland Culver and Hollywood star Betsy Drake. It's a whimsical idea that doesn't really come off. 

Still from Next to No Time

Script adapt.: Henry Cornelius. (o.a. Paul Gallico)

Director: Henry Cornelius

Players: Harry Green, Patrick Barr, Maureen Connell, Reginald Beckwith, Bessie Love, John Welsh, Howard Marion Crawford, Clive Morton, John Laurie, Irene Handl, Raymond Huntley, Ferdy Maine, Sidney James

Nicholas Nickleby (1947)

Adequate version of the Dickens classic. Title role: Derek Bond. Miss Nickleby: Sally Ann Howes. Ralph Nickleby: Cedric Hardwicke. Wackford Squeers: Alfred Drayton. Yes, I am just listing the cast in lieu of something to say but that's how you judge most Dickens adaptations.

Athene Seyler in costume for Nicholas NicklebyPoster for Nicholas Nickleby

Script adapt.: John Dighton (o.a. Charles Dickens)

Director: Alberto Cavalcanti

Players: Aubrey Woods, Bernard Miles, Jill Balcon, Stanley Holloway, Cyril Fletcher, Mary Merrall, Sybil Thorndike, Cathleen Nesbitt, Athene Seyler, Fay Compton, James Hayter, Vida Hope, Timothy Bateson, Hattie Jacques, Eliot Makeham, Dandy Nichols, John Chandos