Sunday, 30 November 2014

Murder Without Crime (1950)

"Blood & Rouge: What an odd combination."
Directed by J. Lee Thompson (who later went on to direct Guns of Navarone, Ice Cold in Alex and Cape Fear) from his own stageplay, Murder Without Crime betrays its theatrical origins with a limited cast - effectively just four main characters - and a handful of locations. Despite these limitations,  it remains a highly effective slice of British film noir.
Derek Farr
It has a number of typical noir ingredients - the fall guy, the glamorous femme fatale who charms lure the fall guy into committing the crime, the manipulator and the wronged woman. Not only that, but it also has the more obvious ingredients - namely cast members smoking in the shadows:
Derek Farr
And just in case you didn't realise that its a wanna-be American crime thriller, the director gives us an American accented voice over at the start and end of the film. It doesn't need it, but it makes sure the audience realises they are on familiar territory.
"Here's success and failure; hope and despair. I know you've heard it all before ... but quite close to us, walking by now, or gazing at the lights, riding in one of those buses or cars, perhaps there's someone who is heading for a calamitous and climactic night."

The story follows Stephen (Derek Farr) ...
Derek Farr
... a once successful author whose ideas have dried up and is struggling produce anything anyone wants to read. His haughty wife Jan (Patricia Plunkett) - who only married him "as an ideal" - has had enough of his failure and his dalliances with other women and is ready to leave:
Patricia Plunkett
Their relationship is complicated by the presence downstairs of their landlord, Matthew (Dennis Price) ...
Dennis Price
... a rather dissolute and slimy individual who happily lets himself into their flat to sneak around when they are out. And he just happens to be in love with Jan. Regardless of whether or not he’s actually the bad guy, you want him to be.
Jan’s decision to leave sparks a downward spiral in which Stephen drinks himself senseless ...
Derek Farr

Derek Farr & Joan Dowling
... and ends up in the flat of a young Soho nightclub hostess, the curiously named Grena (Joan Dowling). The description of her as a girl of a with "a weakness for vulgar transatlantic jargon" combined with the sight of her sucking lollipops in a Soho nightclub, tells the audience all they need to know about her:
Joan Dowling
After checking out her underwear ...
Derek Farr
... he begins to feel guilty and returns home, Grena follows him and that’s when everything starts to go wrong. And when Matthew intervenes things get even more complicated.
The film’s restricted settings means that the film is rendered visually impressive, without the need for a large budget. The typically ‘noir’ use of darkness and shadows also helps it maintain a stylish appeal. And most importantly, the twist wasn't what I was expecting: that's always a bonus.
And you’ve got to love Derek Farr’s belted overcoat without buttons, that is held closed simply by its belt and has an unusual – and rather stylish – flapped breast pocket.
Derek Farr

Derek Farr
The film also includes a wonderful description of London's Golders Green Area: "all crematoriums and not a pub for miles."
Currently available from Network DVD:


Paranoiac (1963)
Oliver Reed
When we think of Hammer Films it is nearly always their legendary output of 'gothic horrors' that we immediately think of. However, apart from their early output, when it comes to style and suspense, Hammer's handful of contemporary psychological thrillers from the early to mid 1960s far outweigh all but the very best (i.e. the 1958 Dracula) of their Transylvanian tales. I know that one should put the Draculas and Frankensteins into their correct historical context as groundbreaking colour horror films that thrilled their audiences but when viewed today, even the most ardent horror fans has to admit they just appear weak.
So it is with real pleasure that I have finally been introduced to the joys of films such as Paranoiac, The Nanny and Taste of Fear. These are films that have stood the test of time and retain their ability to shock an audience.

Like Taste of Fear, Paranoiac has a seaside setting, is all about imposters and focuses on the psychology of someone suffering from the trauma of loss. It tells the story of a brother and sister, Simon and Eleanor Ashby (Oliver Reed and Janette Scott) whose younger brother Tony committed suicide following he death of their parents. Or did he?

Following a church service to remember their lost family ...
Janette Scott, Lilianne Brousse and Sheila Burrell
... a mysterious figure appears in the churchyard ...
... who later appears to the increasingly fragile Eleanor in the garden of their home:
Alexander Davion
Is it Tony, back from a watery grave, or an imposter? If it is an imposter has he been sent by Simon to drive Eleanor mad, allowing him to inherit all the family fortune, or by someone else?

Eleanor is certainly teetering on the brink of madness, she is fragile and has her own nurse who is - of course - Simon's lover. She also has a bedside manner that raises the viewer's suspicions.
Janette Scott

Janette Scott

Liliane Brousse & Janette Scott
But if Simon has brought an imposter into their home to drive his sister mad, what's tipping Simon over the edge?
Alexander Davion & Oliver Reed

Oliver Reed
Is it simply his boozing and reckless disregard for money?
Oliver Reed
Or is it the trauma of the loss of his parents and his brother? Then there's Aunt Harriet (Sheila Burrell) and her obsession with the family name and reputation. Simon seems to be a little bit too interested in her for anyone's good.

And who - or what - is in the spooky disused chapel, playing the organ?
 If you've read other posts on this blog, you'll know I'm not going to answer that question. The best way to find out is simple: buy the DVD and find out for yourself.

The film is stylish, creepy and puts you on the edge of your seat (and over the edge at one point). In other words, it does what a psychological thriller is supposed to do.

Others appearing include:

Maurice Denham
Harold Lang:
John Bonney:

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Love Story (1944)

Stewart Granger & Margaret Lockwood

There is something quite ridiculous in the basic premise of this film: a popular and successful concert pianist (Margaret Lockwood) ...
Margaret Lockwood
... is rejected for military service due to her weak heart (cue superfluous photo of Lockwood in her underwear):
Discovering that she has little time to live, she takes a holiday where she meets a carefree young man (played by Stewart Granger). But why isn’t he in uniform? Why is he happy for everyone to believe he is avoiding military service and doing nothing for the war effort? Why does he surrender the chance of romance with Lockwood?

Of course, he is hiding the truth: he is a disabled RAF pilot ...
Stewart Granger
... who was invalided out of service since he is going blind. So the soon to be blind man is romancing the dying woman, and neither of them is prepared to admit the truth.

Despite this ridiculously unlikely scenario, it’s an entertaining little film. Both Granger and Lockwood are typically attractive, comedian Tom Walls (who had been a massive star during the 1930s) ...
Tom Walls
... appears as the voice of reason and Patricia Roc does her best as Granger’s long-time admirer.
Patricia Roc
If anything, Roc is the weak link. She looks good – especially in her overalls and hammer and sickle headscarf ...
Patricia Roc
... and her acting is adequate when playing the lighter elements of the role, but she really struggles when called upon to inject some anger into her role. ‘Patricia Roc’ and ‘menacing’ just aren’t words that go together.

Whilst the basic story could have been played out without any need for the wartime story, there are elements in which the period feeling really shine through. There is a lengthy sequence of a piano recital that reflects British society’s enjoyment of high culture during World War 2. This helps to lift the film above some other wartime romances.

It is also worth mentioning Granger’s outfits (I won’t call them costumes since I suspect he was wearing his own clothes). The more one watches Stewart Granger in films from the 1940s, the more it becomes clear that he was at the forefront of male fashion. Whilst other actor might have been more famous as style icons, Granger was always well dressed and always appeared to be wearing clothes that were ahead of fashion. He favours two button jackets with a low button stance, something that became increasing popular in the 1950s. Yet Granger favours this style much earlier.


He also wears jackets with a flapped breast pocket, a feature seldom seen in the mid 1940s. Another common feature of his clothing is his preference for spread collars and ties with a 'Windsor Knot':
He even wears a strange short jacket that might be an item of work wear:

This is the same jacket Granger wore in The Lamp Still Burns (1943):
Stewart Granger in The Lamp Still Burns
I also rather like this casual outfit:
And this outfit looks like he was preparing himself for his later role in King Solomon's Mines:
Stewart Granger
Here's who else to look out for:
George Merritt

Walter Hudd

Merle Tottenham (as bus conductor) and Johnnie Schofield (smoking pipe)

Bryan Herbert & Roy Emmerton