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This forgotten movie caused one of the biggest scandals in the history of
the British cinema. Its violence was stronger than pre-war producers had
been allowed, but it somehow slipped past the censor.
The original novel had been judged unfilmable by Hollywood, but the Poverty Row studio Renown set out to prove the moguls wrong. The resultant outcry led Harold Wilson, a future premier who was the government minister responsible for films, to declare at an industry banquet- to loud applause- that he was glad there were "no Oscars for Miss Blandish".
The fuss probably killed the career of Linden Travers, who had been in pictures since the mid-1930s but made no more appearances after 1949, dying 52 years later. Neither did its helmer, St John L Clowes, ever direct again. Interestingly, as far as I know the picture to this day has never appeared on British TV.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
No Orchids For Miss Blandish was released in 1948. At that time, films
tended not to contain violence or sexual innuendo of any particular
but this one had plenty of both. As a result, the critics at the
time were quick to unleash howls of derision in the film's direction.
"It has all the morals of an alley cat and the sweetness of a sewer"
protested The Observer; "the most sickening exhibition of brutality,
perversion, sex and sadism ever to be shown on a cinema screen" was the
verdict of The Monthly Film Bulletin. "The worst film I have ever seen"
cried the Sunday Express, while a British politician (and future prime
minister) named Harold Wilson scoffed with indignation and declared
that there would be "No Oscars for Miss Blandish!!"
Taking all this into account, it would be reasonable to assume that No Orchids For Miss Blandish is one of the worst films of all-time. That's certainly what I was expecting when I sat down to watch it. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be quite good! What we have here is a film that was a little ahead of its time too violent and ground-breaking for its contemporaries to stomach, but in retrospect a well-made gangster story that dares to rub the audience's face in filth and unpleasantness.
Ultra rich heiress Miss Blandish (Linden Travers) is kidnapped one night whilst out driving with her fiancée. The abduction is masterminded by a bunch of small-time hoods who want to get hold of a priceless necklace she wears, but the heist gets out of hand and several of the gang members end up killing each other. When the bloodshed is over, Miss Blandish finds herself at the mercy of opportunist Bailey (Leslie Bradley). Later, though, the much more powerful and savage Grisson gang learn of her whereabouts. The gang is ostensibly led by odious old matriarch Ma Grisson (Lila Molnar), but in reality the true gang leader is her psychopathic and much-feared son, Slim Grisson (Jack La Rue). Even though Slim is utterly ruthless and a born killer, Miss Blandish finds herself falling for his brutal charm. She persuades him to return the necklace to her father along with a note explaining that she is staying with Slim of her own free will. However, the other members of the Grisson gang start to get nervous as Slim's behaviour grows clouded by his love life, and Miss Blandish's father refuses to believe that his daughter could possibly be happy when she's shacked-up with a sadistic killer. As the odd couple prepare to run away and start a new life together, the fates conspire to ruin their dreams .
No Orchids For Miss Blandish is good stuff. La Rue plays Slim with just the right balance of toughness and elegance, while Walter Crisham, MacDonald Parke and Lila Molnar all etch memorable portrayals as the other main heavies. Travers rounds off the cast in a sexy and appealing turn as the squeaky-clean heroine who gradually learns that she likes it rough. The film is let down a little by the fact that most of the cast are British actors pretending to be Americans, complete with unconvincing accents. Also, the ease and speed with which Miss Blandish falls in love with her captor is a plot development that takes rather a lot of swallowing. But when the actors engage in their frequent snarling exchanges, and the violent action kicks into gear, this is enthralling stuff! If you thought old British films from the 1940s were all sweetness and light think again!!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Being American I had never heard of this film. Chock full of gangster
clichés and Amercian accents as bad as my English attempts, it was
brilliant!! It is more watchable than some 'better' films.
Its also ironic to watch some 50 years later. We found it on a satellite channel Moves4Men. LOL I think I'd now classify it as noir comedy/satire of early gangster films. It now rates a PG classification and was shown at noon on a Bank Holiday Monday. Others have given excellent overviews, I see no need to do the same, but rather give our observations of this underrated film.
Best passionate kiss in an early b&w film I've ever seen. Where passion is usually shown as quick peck on the lips you saw these people were passionate about one another.
Film students will have a field with the metaphors in this film; the 360 around the room ending with the pounding rain on the window, the long lovingly lingering shot on the huge orchid, and Miss Blandish in a dressing gown, do we ever learn her first name? And the final tragic scene of Miss Blandish's out stretched hand not far an orchid, an exotic hot house bloom crushed beneath the feet of the uncaring passersby.
For a low budget film a lot a care has been taken with detail. The gowns, especially the singer's see through skirt and tap pants, oooh we know she's a naughty girl. Even 'Ma' a large middle age woman with no make up has an exotic gown that contrasts with her mannish personality as one of the leaders of the gang.
It is in strange-way, refreshing, to see some bad guy shot, no muss no fuss no long winded exposition just bang, curtains for you mat er um buddy.
If I found this on DVD I'd buy it without a second thought. Its refreshing, compelling and fun. Yet the ending is poignant, poor Miss Blandish discovering too late what fun bad boys are.
"The most sickening exhibition of brutality, perversion, sex and sadism
ever to be shown on a cinema screen." Thus did The Monthly Film
Bulletin judge St John Clowe's film adaptation of No Orchids For Miss
Blandish (aka: Black Dice) upon its appearance in 1948, reflecting the
almost universal shock and disapproval of the British critical
fraternity. Not until the equally vehement rejection of Peeping Tom,
over a decade later, would a film face such an onslaught. Audiences, it
must be said, found the movie to their liking despite, or because of,
the opprobrium and where it was shown, takings were excellent.
Violent and (for it's time) sexually suggestive, lurid and melodramatic, nothing St John Clowe's movie contained pleased critics more happy with a realistic tradition of filmmaking, or middle-class literary adaptations for discriminating audiences. In retrospect the categorisation of No Orchids For Miss Blandish seems less problematical. Neither sophisticated literary screen transposition nor completely convincing gangster piece, laced with titillation, and with roots in trash culture, These days the movie is better seen as a landmark of British crime exploitation cinema.
At its heart lays a love story: that between Slim Grisson and Miss Blandish. It's a tragic tale too; not just because of the end which awaits the couple, but also in that Grisson is shown as being a fervent, secret admirer of the heiress from the very first scene (his distinctive double dice emblem on the card accompanying flowers) and so, ultimately, is just as much a victim of events as she. His tragedy is that he soon finds himself overseeing the kidnapping of the woman he loves, while Miss Blandish has the misfortune of falling for someone entirely unsuitable, socially or morally.
But without the sexual experience he brings she would, it seems, be condemned to eternal frigidity. It is no accident that, early on, her fiancé refers to the "ice in her veins" which needs 'melting'. Indeed one of the many things critics found unacceptable in the movie was the depiction of a woman's sexual awakening, particularly when tied to a liaison out of her class - something miles away from the usual Noel Coward-type drawing room infatuation. It's a scenario helped by some sensitive direction by St John Clowe, in a work characterised over all by some fluid camera-work.
Some have criticised the director for clumsiness, but I can't see it. To give a standout example: although we know Grisson is 'stuck' on the heiress, nothing is said between them, except for a barely perceptible nod at her by the hoodlum after their first shock meeting. At a crucial moment later St John Clowe has Grisson, clearly thinking of the woman, walk slowly up his nightclub stairs, a fairly long crane shot. His impassive face is briefly superimposed onto hers. Then in the love scene which follows she leaves him, wavers, and comes back after a tense delay - events mostly off-screen. We still do not see them together, merely (for the second time) some orchids, and his words of relief spoken over the held flower shot. For a film so explicit elsewhere, the restraint and sensitivity of direction here is striking.
As Slim Grisson, Jack La Rue is impressive; more so when one remembers that it is almost half an hour before he is first seen on screen at all. A performance over-indebted to George Raft maybe - his habitual dice throwing recalling the American star's famous coin-tossing trademark - but still touching as a love-lorn thug and whose regular lack of expression and stolid soulfulness says more than any amount of mugging could do. As Miss Blandish, Linden Travers has attracted good words, too.
Others in the cast, even allowing for the variable American accents, are admittedly less strong. Ma Grisson (Lilli Molnar), who starts out, Ma Barker-fashion, as the leader of the gang, is less menacing that one might have wished; 'Doc' the Sydney Greenstreet-type among the supporting cast is too much of a stereotype to be convincing. However, mention ought to be made of Walter Crisham's Eddie, Grisson's frightening henchman, a very intimidating and malevolent presence. While some aspects of No Orchids For Miss Blandish have been ridiculed, the budget was obviously quite a reasonable one; the nightclub fairly expansive and convincing for instance, allowing the director a chance for multiple set-ups.
Of course the club, Grisson, and his followers are a world away from Miss Blandish's previous social circle. In a way characteristic of British noir and thrillers, the film has a firm idea of class; not only in the separation of crooks and toffs, but upstairs and downstairs (the working class lovers overhearing the conversation of their betters from the basement, at the start), as well. Even the underworld has its social structure, one which the 'success' of the Grisson gang is contrasted to the smaller group doing the initial kidnapping. Only love, it seems, can cross these boundaries, but then such romance is fraught with risk. For Miss Blandish, her new relationship brings 'freedom', this from the "first man I've ever met" - a slight emphasis on 'man' when she speaks, implying the anaemia of the class she has just rejected.
To those who wish to discover what all the fuss was about, I can say that the film may be variable, but entertaining and memorable. It's certainly an important document of Britain's cinematic underbelly. No plaudits for Miss Blandish perhaps, but no outright dismissal here either.
This is one of the roughest movies I've ever seen. I won't give
anything away but, wow! The body-count is high.
Linden Travers looks lovely in the title role. This actress was, generally associated with a different sort of film. She's beautiful and elegant. But she gives this part her all.
"No Orchids For Miss Blandish" is a British movie trying to seem an American. For us today, that's very much a reversal: How often do American movies try to put on the dog and portray the British! Unfortunately, the movie at hand doesn't really succeed. We don't believe it's taking place in the US. Even though we're shocked at the nonstop violence, we don't believe the story fully, either.
Jack La Rue is good in the male lead. He was American. He is convincing.
I wish I could say I recommend this as more than a curiosity. Ms. Travers is indeed superb. But it isn't terribly good. Not bad but, apart from the exceptional violence, nothing special either.
This is the first version of James Hadley Chase's famous shocker. It was
remade as "The Grissom Gang" in 1971 by Robert Aldrich. As a writer Chase
made a fortune, despite getting atrocious reviews from British critics.
movie was no exception regarding reviews; some sample quotes...
...the most sickening exhibition of brutality, perversion, sex and
sadism...the morals are about level with those of a scavenger dog...it has
all the sweetness of a sewer...the worst film I have ever
I saw it when I was sixteen and I loved it, even buying the record of the background music (Song Of The Orchid). It had a mostly British cast with one imported American *star* Jack La Rue. It would be interesting to see it again fifty years later. I imagine the violence everyone complained of would seem pretty tame by today's standards.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Forget the dumb title! This English Noir throws in every Hollywood cliché of the genre, and almost pulls it off smoothly. Certain plot points will remind you of some big American films, like "White Heat" and "The Asphalt Jungle", although this one came first. The "unacceptable" aspects, production code-wise, will surprise you, and the unpredictability of the plot is pretty wonderful in a film from this era. Look out for spoilers on this one! Hardworking actor Jack La Rue does nothing wrong in a role that begs for Bogart-- as so many past and present roles do.(He always reminds me of a sort of composite Bogie, Glenn Ford, and Victor Mature, especially here, without having quite their class, soul or looks, respectively.) And Linden Travers does everything she can with a practically impossible role-- you can't help but think that she could have used a little more help from director Clowes with the exposition. We don't expect noir, where style should come before substance, to be "believable" in the usual sense, but check this one out and see if it puts you in mind of how strong direction tells us what we know and can't see. If you like noir, and can roll with the punches, you'll love it.
That, and other cheerful little catch phrases spoken as gangster slang
in this gangster melodrama (British-style), are spoken by a cast of
British actors given some hilarious tough guy talk.
In this terse screenplay they need little prodding to slug someone with a fist or a gun while the plan is to kidnap and rob a wealthy socialite who turns out to have a yen for the lead criminal (AL LA RUE). He has a role crying out for an American actor like Bogart or Garfield if this were a Warner melodrama. La Rue does alright but he's about as wooden as George Raft when it comes to delivering key lines with any enthusiasm.
LINDEN TRAVERS is the pretty socialite captured by a bunch of thugs and falling quickly into the Patty Hearst syndrome when she becomes a willing victim willing to escape the sheer boredom of her life as a pampered daughter of a wealthy aristocrat.
HUGH McDERMOTT is the detective set on her trail by her father who only wants to free her from captivity. It all feels like a Mickey Spillane thriller with little sympathy for any of the victims who get shot for the slightest infringement at a moment's notice.
The nightclub scenes seem to have been inspired by GILDA ('46), with a songstress rendering a non-too-subtle rendition of a torch song in a flimsy peekaboo dress while around her all sorts of plotting and planning is going on somewhere in the dark.
Not bad, but don't expect the dialog to have the sharp touch intended. "Drop your anchor in that chair," is about the best you can expect between all the slapping and punching and gunshots that abound in every other scene. The gangster slang gets a workout and some of the jargon is downright hilarious.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A famous British example of film noir, No Orchids for Miss Blandish centers around a psychopathic killer (Jack La Rue) who kidnaps and falls in love with heiress Linden Travers. Noirishly photographed by Gerald Gibbs, the movie was often stylishly directed, but suffered from an excess of often pointless, on-screen violence. The line-up of heavies also seemed disproportionate. The police were portrayed as ineffectual document dusters, leaving only a flawed private detective (rather weakly played by Hugh McDermott, not exactly the most charismatic of leading men) to offer a challenge. Over-emphatic comic relief provided by prissy Charles Goldner and nightclub comedian Jack Durant didn't help either, but I did enjoy the songs from Zoe Gail (and this, alas, is her only movie).
This British gangster thriller from a sensationalistic American crime
novel by James Hadley Chase (also filmed on its home ground in 1971 by
Robert Aldrich as THE GRISSOM GANG) is notorious for how awful it is,
some claiming it "among the worst ever made", others "certainly the
most bizarre British film"! This unenviable reputation (which the
writer-director could not attempt to alter or otherwise exploit since
he would die at age 40 that same year!) has actually turned it into a
cult, enabling a R1 SE DVD from VCI.
Having been impressed with the Aldrich version and being something of a sucker for bad cinema (especially from this vintage), I acquired the film immediately when the opportunity presented itself though I only got to watch BLANDISH now as part of my ongoing Noir marathon. As often happens, the movie is nowhere near the stinker most claim it to be: granted, the performances are hilariously over-the-top (thus a fount of entertainment in itself!), the would-be American accents do not fool anyone (there is even future "Carry On" stalwart Sidney James, for cryin' out loud, not to mention a stand-up comic amusingly spoofing the Hollywood double-act of Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre!) and, frankly, the gall of it all makes the experience that much more fascinating, almost hypnotic!
In comparison with the later version (but typical of its era), the leads here are over-age: they are Jack LaRue (the only genuine Yank in the cast: incidentally, he is far removed from the Mama's Boy as played by Scott Wilson in the remake) and Linden Travers (previously noted for supporting parts in spy thrillers like Hitchcock's superb THE LADY VANISHES , she is the personification of elegance rather than Kim Darby's society brat). Incidentally, both novel and film(s) were criticized for glorifying violence (this is indeed quite brutal for the time) and the notion of 'Amour Fou' since the kidnapped heiress ends up falling for her psychotic captor. Other notable characters are the obese Mob-leading mother (Lilly Molnar), a no-less unhinged member of the gang who becomes involved with the girl who ultimately gives them away (Walter Crisham 'standing in' for Tony Musante), a thuggish cohort (played by Danny Green, later of THE LADYKILLERS ), and a crusading reporter (a much-younger Hugh McDermott 'replacing' Robert Lansing).
The photography (by Gerald Gibbs) is reasonably atmospheric, smoothing over the general amateurishness on display, and there is another definite asset in its lush score. However, one major difference from the obviously superior remake is the film's surprisingly downbeat ending. For the record, I recently acquired another rare Hadley Chase adaptation, the French-made FLESH OF THE ORCHID (1975) co-scripted by Luis Bunuel regular Jean-Claude Carriere!
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