Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Shop at Sly Corner (1947)

This is a surprisingly interesting little film. Directed by George King, from a successful play by Edward Percy, it tells the story of Desius Heiss (Oscar Homulka) ...
Oscar Homulka
... an expatriate French antiques dealer with a dark secret. Unknown to his violinist daughter Margaret (Muriel Pavlow) ...
Muriel Pavlow
... and her fiancée Robert (Pavlow's real-life husband Derek Farr) ...
Derek Farr
... Heiss settled in London after escaping the French penal colony, Devil's Island, and continues in his criminal ways. His antiques shop functions as a front for his work as a 'fence', buying and selling stolen jewellery from his accomplice Corder Morris (Manning Whiley):
Manning Whiley
So far so good for Heiss, except for the intervention of  Archie Fellows (Kenneth Griffith), his camp and creepy shop assistant:
Kenneth Griffith
When he learns the truth, things take a turn for the worse ...
Kenneth Griffith
... ending in murder, accidental death and suicide. If you want to know who lives and who dies, you'll just have to buy a copy of the DVD!
Griffith is perfect for the role. He sneaks around the shop, hiding in the shadows and immediately showing himself to be untrustworthy. He also played the role on stage and in a BBC television version of the play that was broadcast in 1946. He went on to become a familiar face on both film and television. His first film role was in 1941 and he last appeared on screen in the TV series 'Holby City' in 2003. In 1994 he even appeared in the film 'Four Weddings and a  Funeral' in a role credited as 'Mad Old Man - Wedding One'. He was also a successful documentary maker and vocal supporter of Irish Republicanism which reportedly earned him death threats from loyalist groups.
Manning Whiley
Right from the start the film has the stylings of a 'Film Noir' thriller - all rain, raincoats, hats and smoking in the shadows.
Manning Whiley
However, thematically it doesn't really deserve the 'Noir' label. Instead, it's more a tale of the morals of revenge and the rights and wrongs of the decisions taken to protect both the innocent and the guilty. One of those facing a moral dilemma is Derek Farr's character Robert, who has to choose between lying or telling the truth as he begins to learn more about the mystery.
This struggle between right and wrong is a common theme for some of Derek Farr's roles during the late 1940s. In 'Murder Without Crime' Farr plays a good man whose mistakes drag him towards the hangman's rope and in 'Double Confession' he is again a good man, but with a dark past, who risks everything to get revenge against an old criminal associate. Yet, in all three roles, Farr is redeemed and restores his respectability. If I was a lecturer in film studies, I might say that Farr's roles were allegorical: made in the post-war period, Farr plays the role of the respectable everyman. His struggles with right and wrong, and the necessity to do wrong in the pursuit of right, are a metaphor for the actions of ordinary British men in wartime, reflecting their slow return to civilian life. This is emphasised by Farr's role in 'Sly Corner' as a Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve officer, recently returned from the Far East, and awaiting demob:
Derek Farr
But I'm not a film studies lecturer, so I won't say it .... oops!
What the late 1940s would have known was that the costuming shown that Robert (Farr) was the good character compared to the low-life Archie. We see Archie in his wide shouldered suit and similar overcoat, both badges of someone who is, in the language of the time, 'flash' and a bit of a 'wide boy' - it's the uniform of the wartime spiv:

Compare that to Robert, with his single breasted suit, smooth shoulders and low closing, modern two-button jacket:
Another hint for distinguishing the good guys from the bad  guys in this film comes from their hats. Both Archie and the jewel theif Corder Morris wear a trilby with a high crown but low at the back ...

... unlike Robert, whose hat is more conventionally shaped:
'The Shop at Sly Corner' is also notable for the first onscreen appearance of sixteen year old Diana Dors as Archie's girlfriend:
Diana Dors

Diana Dors

Diana Dors & Kenneth Griffith
Also look out for:
Garry Marsh

Irene Handl

Jan Van Loewen
Johnnie Schofield

Kathleen Harrison

Katie Johnson
Currently available on DVD:

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