Norman Conquest (1953)
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Co-Starring Sid James (Before his 'Carry on' fame) and Eva Bartok as the Beautiful Femme Fatale with minor roles for Terrence 'Bergerac' Alexander & Richard 'Allo Allo' Marner.
Not great, but not bad for a 75 min B-Movie...Keep your expectations low and you - Like me, should enjoy
**1/2 out of *****
Bizarrely, its director, Bernard Knowles, directed Magical Mystery Tour for the Beatles fourteen years later. I am the walrus this ain't.
All in all Park Plaza 605 can be summarised as mediocre and lifeless rubbish from the golden age of the British second feature. Buy it now from Odeon Entertainment!
Now period pieces and largely neglected, (though BBC radio attempted a revival in 1998, adapting several of the stories with Christopher Cazenove as Conquest and Bonnie Langford as Joy), the books were at the height of their popularity when this film was made. There was clearly an assumption on the part of the producers that many of the putative audience would be familiar with the leading characters and stock situations, such as Norman's penchant for dangerous blondes, which Sid James as Williams teases Pixie about, while the outlandish business of Conquest accidentally bringing down the carrier pigeon whilst playing golf is entirely typical of Brooks' wacky plots.
Star Tom Conway, then pushing fifty, was, however, far older than the character in the book, so anyone expecting non-stop action was in for a disappointment. He gives his usual affable, charming performance though and it's perplexing how this most essentially British of actors is occasionally delineated as just another imported American star.
The convoluted plot, including the murder of a member of a Soviet trade delegation involving the seductive Nadia (Eva Bartok), diamond smuggling, and a Nazi war criminal could have been handled more efficiently, but Conway's charm and character actors like Joy Shelton and Richard Wattis help it along.
Production values are slightly above average for a British second feature of the day. Co-producer Albert Fennell of course later became famous as producer, and with Brian Clemens, the major creative influence on the filmed series of THE AVENGERS. It would be interesting to know if Brooks' tales of the earlier crime fighting duo of Conquest and Pixie inspired him at some level.
It gets even sillier after that, with police detective Sid James making a lot of noise for no real reason other than to pad out the already slim running time. Clues and women fall into the suave Conquest's lap, and the film is quite, erm, saucy, for its time with women bound and gagged or threatening to remove their clothes after being soundly spanked (believe me, though, it's not as interesting as it sounds).
There's quite a few familiar British faces worth looking out for (including bespectacled Richard Wattis as a bad guy), but I was struggling to stay awake less than half-an-hour into this and, by the time it finished, I was left wishing I hadn't bothered..
Instead this is a straightforward police procedural with a good little cast and some tight suspense. Tom Conway (George Sanders's less well-known brother) plays a guy who finds himself caught up in a murder when a body is chucked out of a window; he's the main suspect so must discover the identity of the real crooks in order to clear his name.
Although this is a low rent film throughout, it has a fast pace and fair direction from Bernard Knowles. The supporting cast is also a lively one, with a nice turn from Sid James as a comedic cop which foreshadows his later work in the likes of CARRY ON SERGEANT. Richard Wattis appears in a rare non-comedy part, and there are bit parts for genre regulars like Anton Diffring and Terence Alexander. Overall, PARK PLAZA 605 is a fun little film and one I can recommend to genre fans.
It's a rather clumsy frame that all but thick as a brick police inspector Sid James can figure out. Even he's convinced after a while.
It all has to do with some stolen jewels and a Nazi war criminal thought dead but actually in Great Britain. Eva Bartok is from some unnamed Eastern European country and she's playing her own game with both her Communist satellite government and the baron. It all doesn't work out in the end with a climax taken from Destry Rides Again.
Conway must have felt he was back at RKO playing The Falcon. Norman Conquest has a rather muddled storyline and moves to slow even for a 75 minute running time. If you like Tom Conway and/or Eva Bartok I'd check this one out.