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Trevor Willsmer (London, England)
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House Of Darkness [DVD]
House Of Darkness [DVD]
Dvd ~ Laurence Harvey
Offered by NextDayEntertainment
Price: £6.57

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars “If I can’t stir up anything here I think I’ll go and annoy the cat.”, 9 May 2016
This review is from: House Of Darkness [DVD] (DVD)
Reversing the traditional situation of a film inspiring its musical score, 1948’s House of Darkness is ostensibly inspired by George Melachrino’s score, in particular his First Rhapsody. Although largely forgotten today, Melachrino was a hugely popular easy listening bandleader in the 40s and 50s in the Mantovani mold. His screen work was fairly undistinguished, numbering a few Old Mother Riley films among those he scored, although some of his recordings were often used as library music in B-movies. He actually gets top billing and appears onscreen here, first seen rehearsing his Rhapsody and talking to the director of the film he’s making (Henry Oscar rather than the actual director Oswald Mitchell) about the deserted and supposedly haunted ‘House of Strange Music’ that inspired it – which is all we see of him until the epilogue. Instead the film spends most of its running time showing the proper cast (Laurence Harvey, Lesley Osmond, Alexander Archdale, John Teed, Lesley Brook) playing unhappy families in a melodramatic tale of avarice, resentment, paranoia and madness.

The Merrymans are the typical Edwardian family: Noel’s not been sleeping well – the office doesn’t agree with him – John keeps on having his attacks and Francis keeps on racking up debts and writing cheques with other people’s names on them while the Irish housekeeper actually says “At all at all” and Francis’ wife is the sole ray of light in the kind of grand house that has doom written all over it. John Gilling’s script is very obviously cobbled together from other more successful examples of the genre – a dash of Gaslight, a dab of The Little Foxes and a hint of The House of Seven Gables – but Laurence Harvey is pretty much the whole show here, and not for the right reasons. In his debut (billed last despite being the lead, and as Lawrence Harvey) as the mad manipulative wastrel plotting to get the family fortune he thinks he's been denied, he camps it up something rotten as he works his way through a fascinating array of smirks and sneers and squints while talking out of the side of the mouth like a bitchy theatre critic who thinks he's Oscar Wilde on a good day and dialling it up to 11. Which, to be fair, is probably all you can do when faced with dramatic confrontations like:

“I doubt if you’ll play the violin again. You’ll miss it, won’t you? I don’t imagine they’ll have a violin where you’re going. You’re not much good at it anyway!”
“Francis, you’re insane!”
“Of course I am. Didn’t you know? All megalomaniacs are insane. It’s a WONDERFUL feeling to be puffed up with delusions of grandeur. It makes everybody else appear so damned insignificant!”
“No – not my violin!”

Kenneth Williams and Robert Newton would be proud of him.

Not content with helping one step-brother shuffle off this mortal coil, it’s not long before he’s playing on the other’s belief in spiritualism to convince him the place is haunted and Rosie the maid is hearing things going bump in the night (“I never fancied meeting Mr. John when he was alive and I fancy it a lot less now he’s been cooped up in a coffin for a fortnight, so I’m off!”). But once his neurotic ‘tinpot Cromwell’ gets what he wants, so the family solicitor (John Stuart) helpfully informs us while demonstrating what must be a sideline in cod psychology, his mind has no more output for its diabolical scheming and his disordered imagination turns against him, and just when you think there’s nowhere further over the top for him to go, Harvey goes that extra mile and really starts playing it to the hilt…

On one level you have to admire Harvey’s agent’s incredible skills of persuasion for getting him another job after this one, but it’s probably only Harvey’s performance that keeps the film afloat: he clearly knows it’s ridiculous and the only way to play it is to out-Vincent Price and ham it up for all he’s worth to get laughs. There’s not much else about the film that’s particularly memorable (well, Melachrino does have a VERY strange way of walking in the prologue) or accomplished, but there’s certainly a fascination with seeing how much further Harvey will go before meeting poetic justice.

Aside from one noticeable bit of print damage Network’s UK DVD offers a good transfer though on larger screens there a slight but noticeable tendency to develop ‘shark’s teeth’ on the actors on the right hand side of frame’s noses. The only extra is a rather pointless PDF of the screen credits cover sheet.


British Intelligence
British Intelligence
Dvd
Price: £2.49

3.0 out of 5 stars An unassuming but enjoyable non-horror programmer with Boris Karloff, 9 May 2016
1940’s British Intelligence is an unassuming but enjoyable non-horror programmer that Boris Karloff made as part of his contract with Warner Bros. He’s the scarred German spy pretending to be a French refugee in a cabinet minister’s home where he acts as go-between for Margaret Lindsay’s newly arrived German spy posing as a victim of German frightfulness and the mysterious German master spy who’s been thwarting Britain’s offensives on the Western Front in stock footage from The Dawn Patrol. The third and cheapest screen version of theatrical warhorse Three Faces East, it may be a First World War picture but the constant references to one man’s megalomania and hunger for world domination make it clear it’s not just the Kaiser they’re talking about. For most of the one-hour running time it’s a rather quaint and paranoid view of German Intelligence rather than the British variety, painting them as an omnipresent menace in every corner of the corridors of power rather than the incredibly ineffectual crew they really were. Naturally the British catch on to them pretty quickly, with what little suspense there is largely limited to guessing which one of the dastardly Huns is really on the Allies’ side, but it’s a pleasing little number that doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Amazon Video's streaming copy is no great shakes, obviously taken from one of the many Public Domain video releases, but is watchable enough.


Boris Karloff Triple Feature
Boris Karloff Triple Feature
Dvd ~ BORIS KARLOFF

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A decent collection of Boris Karloff's Warner Bros. programmers, 9 May 2016
This review is from: Boris Karloff Triple Feature (DVD)
Warner Archive's region-free manufactured on demand DVD-R offers two good pictures and one disappointing one from the days of his Warner Bros. contract.

West of Shanghai is never as much fun as its trailer (the only extra on this set), which screams ‘It’s Boris (Baby-Scarer) Karloff as the fightin’est, shootin’est, meanest bad man in the whole Orient! He gets into more trouble over a dame than he ever did in a battle!’ Karloff does indeed play the self-proclaimed “Most dang daring man in China,” the ruthless warlord Fang who, having killed his way up the ranks and disposed of most of his enemies, takes a group of westerners hostage. They’re the usual bunch of saints and sinners: Ricardo Cortez’s over-confident oil company man, his estranged wife and apprentice missionary Beverly Roberts, the curiously uncredited Douglas Wood’s callous financier and his daughter Sheila Bromley who – like Roberts – has the hots for wildcat driller Gordon Oliver whose latest strike Cortez and Wood both want and who, as luck would have it, saved Karloff’s life when he was a mere coolie. Yes, we’re in melodrammer territory here as everybody wants what they can’t have even before they have to negotiate the quirks of Karloff’s pidgin English speaking warlord if they want to stay alive, but it’s a surprisingly entertaining 64 minutes that you wouldn’t mind being a bit longer.

Hidden behind a particularly poor makeup job and mangling the English language with childish delight, Karloff’s ‘White Tiger of the North’ is definitely the star turn, whether he’s making propositions you can’t refuse (but which those foolish Americans do anyway) or tricking his captives into setting the price tag for their own ransom, even if it is politically incorrect enough to keep the film off network TV (and probably still would have been had the play's original location been retained and Karloff played him as a Mexican bandit). With Vladimir Sokoloff playing a good Chinese general, the real Chinese actors are naturally relegated to the smaller supporting roles, with Richard Loo’s sidekick naturally exhibiting the best English of any of the cast, having picked up the language in his time as a Chinese gangster in the USA and now plying his trade in the oil-rich remote regions of China. It gets a little bit silly towards the end as Cortez’ character takes an unlikely turn but John Farrow’s direction makes it all look a lot more lavish than it really is and it’s still a lot of fun if you’re in the right mood and go in knowing that The Bitter Tea of General Yen this ain’t.

Despite its title and the presence of Boris Karloff, The Invisible Menace is a mediocre murder mystery programmer set on an army base on an isolated island where comic relief newlyweds Eddie Craven and Marie Wilson (who he’s smuggled onto the island in his kitbag) stumble across the tortured body of one of the contractors while looking for somewhere to “talk things over.” Karloff’s hardly in the first half hour as first Henry Kolker’s colonel and later Cy Kendall’s pompous and brutish detective who favors beating confessions out of suspects (all the easier to railroad them) stumble around in the dark before a flashback reveals Karloff’s shady past. Based on a flop play and visibly knocked out very quickly, it’s formulaic to a tee, its only real deviation being the utterly ineffectual detective whose prejudice drives his conclusions. John Farrow’s direction tries hard but even at 54 minutes this feels padded out. The poor sound quality on Warner Archive’s unsubtitled DVD-R release doesn’t help matters either. Disposable.

The last film on Boris Karloff’s Warner Bros. contract and a remake of a 1926 silent film, 1939’s Devil’s Island sees him as another of his many wrongly convicted doctors in a sort of French spin on Prisoner of Shark Island that offered the studio the chance to reuse some of the sets and costumes from The Life of Emile Zola. Banished for ten years for operating on an escaped prisoner, the decent doctor naturally encounters corruption and cruelty under corrupt warden James Stephenson’s sadistic rule until it turns out that he’s the only man in a thousand miles who can carry out an operation to save his young daughter. Naturally the bounder’s not grateful, doesn’t keep his word and sends him to ‘the pits,’ but luckily his wife Nedda Harrigan is a bit more grateful and bankrolls his escape. Unfortunately Karloff and his companions aren’t that lucky when they try to put their plan into practice and the guillotine looms…

It’s more melodrammer than social consciousness drama (with war on the horizon, the prologue goes to great lengths to stress the French don’t do this sort of thing anymore), but it’s a well-crafted 62-minutes put together with conviction and without an ounce of fat by director William Clemons and a decent supporting cast of lesser lights on the studio’s payroll. It’s tempting to even see it as something of an influence on Papillon (in one shot Karloff even looks uncannily like McQueen in the film) even if censorship keeps the worst atrocities off the screen, but it stands up surprisingly well on its own terms.


The Ghoul [Blu-ray]
The Ghoul [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Boris Karloff
Price: £7.96

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “I put my trust in my own gods.", 9 May 2016
This review is from: The Ghoul [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Boris Karloff’s first British film, 1933’s The Ghoul, has long suffered from the reputation that built up around it while it was still a lost film and the disappointment that almost inevitably led to when it was rediscovered in a poor subtitled Czech print in the 70s. Since then considerably better master material has been found – Network’s UK Region B Blu-ray looks absolutely terrific – but it’s still best looked at as an adaptation of a typical old dark house play rather than the homegrown version of the classic James Whale Universal horror films that the teaming of Karloff and Bride of Frankenstein’s Ernest Thesiger may lead you to expect. Indeed, just looking at its cast of characters tells you that in many ways it’s closer a straight-faced slight parody of the conventions of the well-made play than a real spine chiller:

- Boris Karloff, looking like the Mummy even before he rises from the grave, as the dying millionaire Egyptologist (“I put my trust in my own gods.”)
- Ernest Thesiger sporting a Scottish brogue and a club foot as his servant (“He’s set in his ways, and they are the ways of the heathen!”)
- Sir Cedric Hardwicke’s rather Dickensian crooked lawyer (“I am not a sympathetic man”)
- Anthony Bushell’s deliberately unsympathetic leading man (“No doubt you will succeed in making a painful interview intolerable”) who hates leading lady Dorothy Hyson so much you know how that’s going to end up, though curiously it does so without him showing much in the way of a softer side
- Kathleen Harrison as Dyson’s working class friend, companion and comic relief (“This is the last time I’ll ever try to make coffee in a strange house!”)
- Harold Huth’s Egyptian archaeologist out to steal Karloff’s greatest treasure only to find himself the object of Harrison’s affections (“Don’t be alarmed. We’re not quite as uncivilised as people think.” “Oh don’t say that!”)
- Ralph Richardson’s disapproving vicar (“I don’t think you people realise quite how far Morelant’s queer ideas took him.”)

Everyone is after the Eternal Light, a jewel said to grant access to the afterlife to those who truly believe and worth a fortune to those who don’t, but despite the film being widely billed as the first British horror talkie, as with most films of the era the supernatural elements are all explained away in the end, just one more reason why the film has such a low reputation among horror aficionados. But go into it with low expectations and there’s enough to like to make it worth a look. In common with many Gaumont British films of the early Thirties, it has a rather Germanic look to it – perhaps not surprising since producer Michael Balcon had often collaborated with German companies like UFA (Hitchcock even served part of his apprenticeship in Germany) and the art director was Alfred Junge (Varieté) and the cinematographer Günter Krampf (Pandora’s Box and Nosferatu). Had it been made just a year later it might even have starred some of the German players that found themselves lured onto their books and away from the uncomfortable new regime at home.

Kathleen Harrison’s comic relief is certainly better judged than Una O’Connor’s screeching in her James Whale Universal horror films, playing off against Harold Huth’s phoney Sheik act fairly effectively, though it’s debatable whether the film needed any comic relief when the pointless family feud (“As far as I can make out it was started by my late uncle as a Christmas joke”) that sets Bushell and Hyson at each other’s throats is largely played for laughs. Yet it’s not without its atmospheric moments, not least Karloff’s defiantly pagan nocturnal interment. It’s perhaps best described and enjoyed as an impressively mounted slight film: not the lost classic people hoped for, but far from the worst thing Karloff did in that era either.


Death Kiss [Blu-ray] [1932] [US Import]
Death Kiss [Blu-ray] [1932] [US Import]

3.0 out of 5 stars Kino's Blu-ray release has its problems but is the best release to date, 9 May 2016
1932’s The Death Kiss is a solid but largely undistinguished murder mystery that’s lifted above the ranks of many of its contemporaries by reuniting the three male leads of the previous year’s blockbuster version of Dracula, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan and Bela Lugosi. Lugosi gets little to do, appearing only at the beginning and towards the end of the film as the studio manager, with Manners’ cheerfully confident screenwriter getting most of the screentime as an onscreen murder in a studio potboiler directed by Van Sloan turns out to be the real thing and its up to him (with the dubious assistance of Vince Barnett’s comic relief studio chief of security) to prove the cops on the case who suspect leading lady and the object of Manners’ affections Adrienne Ames is the one behind it all – well, she was the womanising victim’s ex-wife. It doesn’t do a particularly good job of setting up many suspects to choose from, though some of the detection is better than expected, there are a couple of half-decent injokes at the expense of the alliterative Sam Goldwynesque studio management and it doesn’t outstay its welcome at barely seven reels, but it’s more an undemandingly passable footnote to its illustrious predecessor for the curious than a forgotten classic in its own right.

This has been released in various terrible transfers by various Public Domain companies, but Kino's US Blu-ray release is the closest thing to a good one. There are still problems with print damage on the copy used and there are occasional contrast issues but while it's far from perfect it's the best of a bad bunch. The only extra is an audio commentary by Richard Harlan Smith.


The Scotland Yard Mystery [DVD]
The Scotland Yard Mystery [DVD]
Dvd ~ Gerald Du Maurier
Offered by jim-exselecky
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars “But darling, I cannot interfere with death certificates just because you’re in love.”, 9 May 2016
“There’s a mighty big brain behind all this. A brain that fakes funerals, snatches bodies, swindles insurance companies and knows just our next move.”

Released in the USA under the simultaneously accurate but wildly misleading title The Living Dead, the original British title of 1934 thriller The Scotland Yard Mystery isn’t all that accurate either. While it’s no gothic horror film, there’s no real mystery either, with the fiendish method behind a series of heavily insured men’s deaths quickly revealed and the identity of the scheme’s ringleader known to Gerald du Maurier’s detective – “Number six of the big five at Scotland Yard: as a detective he’s a very good father” – around the halfway point. Instead the film is initially more interested in the way future Sexton Blake star George Curzon’s villainous doctor (the kind of chap you should never accept a drink from) uses his friendship with du Maurier and his advisory role at the Yard to thwart the investigation and then how du Maurier can prove he’s guilty when he realises what’s been going on under his nose.

A legend in theatrical circles, not least for creating the role of Captain Hook in the original production of Peter Pan (which seems only fair as the father of the girl who inspired Wendy – another daughter was Daphne du Maurier - and the uncle of the children who inspired the Lost Boys), du Maurier’s screen career was less distinguished. This certainly doesn’t do much to improve his batting average. As has been the way for screen detectives ever since, he’s playing the kind of cop who thinks the law just gets in the way of his job and wants to resort to the more direct approach: “My dear fellow, how can you get the truth out of the average criminal when before you question him you have to as good as warn him not to say he’s guilty?” But for all his talk of wanting to use ‘the Third Degree’ and being up for anything that gets him the man he’s after, even when he does resort to offscreen beastliness he’s more decent paternal pillar of the establishment than 1934’s answer to Dirty Harry (the film’s opening credits are at pains to reassure us that ‘no reflection is intended or implied on English police methods’). He’s better at the bon mots and the verbal sparring: the moment when the penny drops and he realises that he’s the one who looks guilty is rather well done.

But it’s Curzon’s show, and he’s clearly having a ball in the second half of the film when his self-satisfied villainy comes to the fore, cheerfully buying a newspaper for the plod assigned to keep an eye on him or informing du Maurier “You know, if you chaps would spend less time in trying to catch criminals and pay more attention of your proper job of controlling the traffic, we’d have very much more respect for you.” Even when cornered he seems cheerfully unflustered, brushing off his nemesis with a throwaway “Please, please, do let me hang myself in my own way” when his explanation of his scheme is interrupted and gets a great last line when he’s foiled at last. Thomas Bentley’s direction keeps it moving along efficiently and there’s a nice comic turn from the unbilled actress on the insurance company switchboard in what amounts to little more than a pleasant diversion with enough bright spots to keep you interested.

Network’s DVD offers a good print, though the sound recording has a few moments of muffled dialogue, albeit nothing essential. The only extra is a brief stills and poster gallery from the US release.


Edgar Wallace Presents: The Terror [DVD]
Edgar Wallace Presents: The Terror [DVD]
Dvd ~ Wilfrid Lawson
Offered by NextDayEntertainment
Price: £8.61

3.0 out of 5 stars Unexceptional but not without moments of charm, 9 May 2016
Based on a play by Edgar Wallace, 1938’s The Terror runs through the checklist of old dark house clichés – a country house with a disparate group of upper middle class types, a master criminal whose face no-one has ever seen on the loose, working class policemen on the case, a ghostly monk and organ music as a prelude to murder and a hidden treasure, none of which it takes too seriously. The treasure is the £300,000 proceeds of a gold bullion robbery that lowlives Alastair Sim and Henry Oscar spent ten years in jail for after their unseen partner Michael O’Shea snitched on them to the police (well, they were planning to knock him off). Having done their time and eager for the loot and revenge they descend on the haunted Monk’s Priory Hall and the bodies start to mount up…

Arthur Wontner, unrecognisable from his days as Sherlock Holmes, isn’t the detective on the case this time but one of the suspects, a dodgy colonel who has recently acquired Monks’ Priory Hall and is turning it into the kind of exclusive guest house that turns away more paying customers than it accepts, not least a young Bernard Lee, an actor who in later years would do most of his best work in the mornings before the pubs opened but here getting a taste of things to come as an unwanted drunken houseguest who, like almost everyone else, isn’t what he appears to be. All the stock characters are present and correct, from Linden Travers’ damsel in distress, the suspicious butler (“I don’t look for anything, Miss, and I don’t listen. You’ll find that’s best”), a less lugubrious and cheerier than usual Wilfred Lawson (“Nerves – thank goodness I was born without them”), Alastair Sim disguised as a vicar while below stairs you’ll find Kathleen Harrison as a maid as usual as well as an unbilled Irene Handl in her third film. Director Richard Bird runs through all the familiar beats efficiently enough for it not to matter too much that there aren’t any surprises. Unexceptional but not without moments of charm, and it’s probably your only chance to see Alastair Sim in a genuine action scene.


The Door With Seven Locks [DVD]
The Door With Seven Locks [DVD]
Dvd ~ Leslie Banks
Offered by NextDayEntertainment
Price: £6.64

2.0 out of 5 stars “You suspect Manetta?” “On facts, no. On looks – why not?”, 9 May 2016
Edgar Wallace wasn’t just one of the most prolific writers of his day but, with over 200 screen adaptations, vies with Arthur Conan Doyle as the most filmed, and the 1940 version of The Door with Seven Locks shows that with that kind of output cliché-riddled clunkers were inevitable. It’s the kind of story that never met an old dark house cliché it didn’t like, from eyes peeping through paintings, vanishing corpses, masked men, hidden treasure and the obligatory deathbed scene on a dark and stormy night to kick things off. Even the premise – a wealthy lord insisting he be buried with his jewels in the family crypt – immediately recalls the 1933 Boris Karloff film The Ghoul, though Wallace’s novel was published seven years earlier (neither film is remotely faithful to the novels they’re based on, so the similarity probably isn’t accidental). No-one comes back from the grave in this one, but it does tries its best to bring as many old chestnuts back to life as it can without much noticeable success.

An unflatteringly shot and styled Lilli Palmer is the Canadian second-in-line to the estate who is summoned to a meeting with a patient in a nursing home. No sooner has he given her an old key than he’s murdered in front of her, the matron swears that the place has no patients and the police find it abandoned. Naturally the key is one of the seven to the crypt and when the lawyer administering the estate for the absent heir finds the other six missing it’s off to Selford Manor with just retired detective and Tom Conway soundalike Romilly Lunge (now there’s a name to conjure with) and her comic relief best friend Gina Malo where they find Leslie Banks has taken his old Count Zaroff accent out of mothballs and is renting the place (“I livv heyar almosttt az a hermittt!”). He may not be hunting the most dangerous game this time, but he does have a sinister mute servant and another trophy room, this time his “queewarrr collecchun” of antique torture devices in honour of his esteemed ancestor the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada (“I also havvv a choyss collecchun ov branding ironnns”). Everything happens exactly as expected, with the tone more of tongue-in-cheek but not quite outright comedy dominating the proceedings, presumably because director and co-writer Norman Lee knew it was impossible to take seriously, as evidently did Banks, whose floridly theatrical performance works overtime to liven things up with only intermittent success. Rather dull but harmless.

Although Network’s UK DVD includes two versions of the film, one a BFI restoration from the surviving 35mm elements that are in poor condition, the other from a 16mm dupe print, the packaging doesn’t mention that the 35mm version is missing some nine minutes while the 16mm appears to be uncut (neither is the US version, retitled Chamber of Horrors). Neither version is good quality, though the 16mm version is less bleached out than the restored 35mm one as well as being uncut, though it does slip out of synch at times. The only other extra is a stills and poster gallery.


The Night Has Eyes [DVD]
The Night Has Eyes [DVD]
Dvd ~ James Mason
Price: £8.13

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars “These moors are like quicksand. They never give up their dead.”, 9 May 2016
This review is from: The Night Has Eyes [DVD] (DVD)
Much as I love Network’s commitment to trawling the forgotten corners of British cinema, their tendency to hail half of the obscure quota quickies and minor (and sometimes downright mediocre) British studio productions of the 30s and 40s they release as forgotten classics means that when they genuinely do unearth a forgotten gem like The Night has Eyes aka Moonlight Madness aka Terror House, you tend to develop such immunity to the hyperbole that you’re apt to overlook it. And this really is a low budget British film that punches well above its weight and deserves classic status. Headlined by a still up-and-coming James Mason only a year away from his breakthrough role as The Man in Gray but already ensconced in his bitter and dangerous but irresistible to women who should know better screen persona, all too aware of the “queer fascination cruelty has,” it may be set in the early days of the Second World War but it’s a very gothic psychological thriller, albeit one that manages to make its potentially clichéd plot come up surprisingly fresh even today. And it certainly quite a checklist of generic clichés: with an isolated house of secrets on the moors, a dangerous stretch of bog with three paths across it, only one of which is safe, a dark and stormy night, secret rooms, skeletons in the cupboard, stranded travellers and a deadly secret torment, it’s clear it’s not just the bunnies and the ‘Capucchini’ monkey it’s going to end badly for.

Joyce Howard is the plain Jane schoolteacher who decides to spend her holiday – along with obligatory wisecracking man-hungry best friend (Tucker McGuire) – on a pilgrimage to the Yorkshire moors where a fellow teacher went missing a year earlier. Caught in a storm, they find themselves spending the night at Mason’s isolated house, and he’s not too pleased about the idea, insisting they lock themselves in their room and leave before he wakes. He’s even less pleased when a floodtide cuts them off and prolongs their stay and she starts probing her bitter host. Not that he doesn’t have anything to be bitter about: a once feted composer who fought in the Spanish Civil War (“I fought with the Republicans. Reds, they called us. In those days red was a very ungentlemanly colour… The things we bled and died for have become quite the thing today”) and came back a broken man who is no more use in the outside world. And how. He lives in such fear of what he’s capable of whenever there’s a full moon that he keeps a loaded revolver hidden in a secret drawer, and it’s clear he’s not just got an ordinary case of post-traumatic stress. The more he pushes her away and the more Mary Clare’s friendly housekeeper tries to warn her off, the more Howard is determined to play Jane Eyre to Mason’s Rochester, eager to learn his secret and cure him when she does even though she suspects he knows far more about her friend’s disappearance than he’ll say…

It’s a film where everything more or less resolves itself as you expect, but not necessarily in all the ways you expect, setting up those expectations to slightly subvert them. And not just the plot mechanics: Howard doesn’t suddenly turn into a great beauty as she falls in love even when she has to borrow a grand period dress after her own clothes are soaked and both Mason and the film make it clear that her grasp of psychology owes more to cheap romantic fiction than reality. Even Wilfred Lawson’s potential comic relief as the odd job man with a literal monkey on his shoulder isn’t overstated. It’s also a strikingly well made film: the Yorkshire moors might be a small and foggy set in Welwyn Garden City Studios but Duncan Sutherland’s production design is effective and complimented by Gunter Krampf’s atmospheric photography while Leslie Arliss’ direction never puts a foot wrong. It’s a terrific little movie that deserves to be much better known.

The film was heavily cut by nearly two reels in the US, though that version may have had a slightly longer version of one memorably grisly bit of poetic justice than the British censors allowed in 1942: Network’s UK DVD is taken from the BFI’s restoration of the British version. At times you can see where they've used DNR, but it's been used with restraint and the film looks very good indeed. The only extra is a stills and poster gallery.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 22, 2016 12:50 PM BST


Midnight Menace [DVD]
Midnight Menace [DVD]
Dvd ~ Charles Farrell
Offered by NextDayEntertainment
Price: £9.42

3.0 out of 5 stars “One never knows what England will do.” “It IS now the football season.”, 9 May 2016
This review is from: Midnight Menace [DVD] (DVD)
With a story co-written by Alexander Mackendrick and offering an early supporting role for one of his Ladykillers, Danny Green, 1937’s Midnight Menace aka Bombs Over London is a curious conspiracy thriller from that period when everyone knew world war was inevitable but the censors still insisted on films pretending it would be the result of tiny fictional countries (cf The Lady Vanishes). In this case its Fritz Kortner’s very Germanic peace envoy from a made-up country with a nonsensically made-up Slavic language and a deep resentment over the Treaty of Versailles. He may be publicly arguing for peace but he’s covertly conspiring with a cabal of bickering arms dealers (“Gentlemen, gentlemen, we need a new war or two no doubt, but why start it here?”) to subvert a disarmament conference and start a profitable war from his secret base underneath an inconspicuous tobacconist’s shop with the help of Evan Johns’ evil scientist and some imported Chicago gangsters (Green among them). All that stands between him and world war is Charles Farrell’s political cartoonist and Margaret Vyner’s ‘woman’s issues’ reporter after the latter’s brother meets with a fatal accident after warning of a plot conveniently timed for 5th November, with Farrell inserting a snippet of information into one of his cartons to get the baddies rattled. Not that his editor is remotely interested – “It’s not worth an inch of space, not with the Test Match coming along” – or that Terence O’Brien’s trenchcoated secret service man – take out an advert, why don’t you? - is much help (“I’ve often wondered what you secret service men look like.” “Yes, we’re not impressive”).

Like the infinitely superior and much funnier Q Planes a couple of years later, there’s an emphasis on hi-tech gadgetry – television, remote control planes and an early form of radar – all of which, like most Thirties visions of the future, looks rather quaint today. Surprisingly, despite advance warning the police are so slow to react that the bombs do actually fall over a panic strewn London, pre-empting the blitz by three years, and while the sight of planes crashing in Trafalgar Square may have been alarming to audiences at the time, with hindsight and the wealth of archive footage of the real thing it’s the budgetary limitations that make more of an impression today (though the postscript with a control freak government imposing a press blackout after half of London has been destroyed certainly rings true). Yet it’s a mark of how little the film makes of its premise that these scenes make the biggest impression.

Kortner is allowed to dominate the film, partially because he’s the only one of the cast who demonstrates any personality but largely because the other characters are so badly written and the chemistry just isn’t there between the nominal leads. Thirties supermodel-turned-actress Vyner in particular draws the short straw with an extraordinarily badly written role she can’t do anything with: she never seems that bothered by her brother’s murder, is so superficial that her only questions to a delegate at the peace conference are about his love life because that’s the ‘woman’s angle’ and the only thing that will interest female readers, seems initially determined to stop Farrell getting anywhere and can’t make the uninspired dialogue that passes for banter come alive. With roles like that it’s no wonder she gave up acting and became a successful playwright instead.

It’s certainly a bit more ambitious than the average British programmer of its day, but it never really lives up to its initial promise, between censorship and the there’s-a-name-to-conjure-with G.H. Moresby-White’s somewhat by rote screenplay falling somewhere between okay and a bit flat. Still, Network’s UK PAL DVD offers an excellent print and offers a more extensive than usual stills and poster gallery as extra. Two-and-a-half stars rather than three.


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