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Adaptation of Edgar Wallace's "The Ringer" is a nifty little thriller.
Boasting not only a neat little mystery it also has a game cast that
sells the story.
The plot has a well known criminal lawyer is threatened by a master criminal known as the Ringer. The lawyer is not worried since the Ringer is believed to have died in Sydney Australia. However he begins to worry when he finds out that the flowers bearing the threat were ordered from a ship coming from Sydney. The Ringer it seems wants to exact revenge for the death of his sister who committed suicide because of the attorney. Add to the mix the police, Scotland yard, the wife of the Ringer, and several crooks who had dealing with the attorney's fencing operation and you have a movie where anyone could be the killer.
I really liked this thriller. An Ealing film, this film is clearly a kin to the later series of comedies that starred Alec Guinness. While most definitely not a comedy, it does have some very witty lines, solid performances and sharpness of construction of the sort that made the later films classics. I liked that every character, no matter how inconsequential makes an impression on you. Every cop, every passerby, every speaking part major and minor is a real person. When someone walks on screen you have a sense that this could be happening.
The script is filled with great exchanges between characters. The police surgeon has a wonderful way of putting people down or inferring he may know more than he is letting on. The jailbird, sprung because he knows what the Ringer looks like turns in some hysterical remarks in his vein attempt just to be sent back to prison where its safe.
The construction of the plot is better than most mysteries of the time. Its understandable why the source novel was used at least five times for movies. Its nice that the film is done in such a way that even though you may guess or suspect who the killer is, you will still harbor doubts until the final denouncement. There are enough plot-lines running through this story (all adequately explained) that its not easy to piece together everything thats going on at first glance. Better still its done in such away that you're engaged waiting for the next clue to pop up, there are no dead spots as the detectives wait to be moved to the next piece, things are always happening.
One of the better mysteries I've seen, this is heartily recommended for anyone who wants a good mystery with character.
Though I have to ask, if anyone figures out what the title means could you please let me know. since it seems to have been chosen at random to cover the source novel.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you love Edgar Wallace, you'll thrill to The Gaunt Stranger. This
movie represents not only Wallace at his best, but British film-making
at its finest. The cast is superb, with Sonnie Hale, normally a
knockabout comedian, not putting a foot wrong as the opportunistic
little spiv. He makes the most of his amusing lines and contrives to be
both entertaining yet pitiable without overdoing either the humor or
the sympathy. Not to be outshone, Wilfrid Lawson who normally plays
slow-witted bumpkins turns in a chilling turn here as a killer without
any redeeming features whatever except maybe a love for good music.
The girls are excellent too Louise Henry (making her second last movie) and Patricia Roc (right at the start of her sensational career. This was her third film).
I'm tired of reading books by actors and writers who spend half their pages denigrating Walter Forde. In my opinion, Forde was Britain's greatest director. The fact that actors and writers didn't like him is a point in his favor. A director's job is not to make writers and actors happy, but the audience happy and this Forde certainly accomplished in his 55 films career as a director, stretching from 1919 to 1949.
That is, a good mystery that is old-fashioned. Made before WW II, it
has the obligatory comic relief that was so prevalent in movies of that
era, the worst example being "The Cat And The Canary". To me, mystery
and humor are like oil and water.
The British cast was good and the plot, taken from an Edgar Wallace novel, was very good. The premise, a deceased notorious killer who returns to kill again, was plausible, allowing for a few plot holes which can be overlooked. The best part is that it is difficult to guess who the murderer is, as there are so many suspects. Sonny Hale plays the annoying comic in the story and it is too bad he, too, didn't become a victim.
"The Gaunt Stranger" is a British production and woven into the plot are some uniquely pre-war English touches of an interpersonal nature that we Yanks might find off-putting, or at least peculiar, customs and attitudes from another era, but just go with them and try to figure out who the murderer is. That is where this picture earns my rating....and there is no 'gaunt stranger' as the title suggests.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's quite possibly that helmer Walter Forde experienced a touch of
deja vu when shooting The Gaunt Stranger in 1938 and that was because
he had already filmed it in 1931 under its original title The Ringer,
the old Edgar Wallace warhorse which exists in at least five film
versions either as The Ringer or something meaningless like The Gaunt
Stranger, presumably The Gaunt Stranger is as good a title as any for a
film which lacks a stranger of any kind, gaunt or otherwise. The
revelation is Wilfrid Lawson, barely credibly as a smoking jacketed,
cigarette-holder, boutonniere flaunting, clipped moustache sporting,
received-English spouting would-be victim of the 'ringer'. Patricia Roc
is also on hand in an early role as Lawson's secretary, though quite
why he needs one is a mystery in itself given he does little more than
play the piano quite passably. It's a sort of Murder On The Orient
Express in reverse, i.e. virtually everyone is a suspect but there is
only one killer.
Pure hokum, of course, but keeps you watching.
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