Sunday, 24 January 2016

Murder in Soho (1939)
With it's opening montage of London scenes: Piccadilly Circus ...
...gamblers ...
... prostitutes ...
... and the inevitable drunks ...
... the audience is inevitably drawn into one of the city's more notorious quarters: Soho.
For so long a mecca for thrill seekers and a centre for criminality and prostitution, the Soho of the 1930s was a genuinely dangerous place. The sanitised version of the 21st Century is a far cry from the world where readers of the News of the World were treated to regular updates of the scandals lurking in the very heart of London. So it comes as no surprise that film makers would want a piece of the action - especially since the industry itself was based on Wardour Street which runs through the heart of the district.
Therefore, it comes as a surprise that this late thirties feature is something of a mixed bag. Yes, it's the story of an American gangster come nightclub owner (Jack La Rue) ...
Jack La Rue
... and comes complete with vicious sidekicks ...
Arthur O'Connell & Esmon Ryan
... and double-crossing villains ...
Francis Lister
... but the film seems uncertain of its direction. The villainy is acceptable by the period's standards but there is a heavy dose of humour running through the film, such as a recurring comedy drunk ...

... and even a food fight featuring the comically named 'Miss East India Dock Road':
This dose of humour also includes Googie Withers in an early role as a comically tarty half of a duo of nightclub entertainers:
Googie Withers

James Hayter & Googie Withers
This emphasis on comedy certainly increases the entertainment levels but leaves one imaging what the filmmakers might have done with a genuinely gritty expose of Soho lowlifes of the interwar years. it also leaves a modern audience wondering whether the censors were sensitive about a graphic interpretation of the area.
The film's female lead is the wonderfully named Sandra Storme:
Jack La Rue & Sandra Storme

She made just five films between 1937 and 1937, then made two early TV movies (including a version of Patrick Hamilton's play Rope). She married in 1939 and appears to have stopped acting. In 1949 she married for a second time to a man with what appears to be the world's longest, and possibly most ridiculous, name: Richard Francis Roger Yarde-Buller, 4th Baron Churston of Churston Ferrers and Lupton.         
Also appearing are:
Bernard Lee
Drue Leyton
Martin Walker
Robert in his second onscreen appearance:
Robert Beatty & Sandra Storme
Despite the film's internal confusion over whether it wants to be a crime drama or a comedy, it is a very easy film to watch and is genuinely entertaining in a sort of 'lazy weekend' way.
It is currently available on DVD:

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