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J. Lee Thompson
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A neglected near-masterpiece which still casts a sinister spell.
I saw this gripping,atmospheric little picture on its initial British release half a century ago.I was eight years old,and it's one of a handful of British pictures from that era which haunted me for years. It's very rarely shown on British T.V.,so I never got to see it again until 1985. It had held up remarkably well, and I've watched the videotaped copy I made several times since. As far as I'm aware it was never made commercially available on video, and I'm hoping it might join the growing number of rare British thrillers from the fifties made available on DVD.
Director Roy Baker is probably best known these days for the horror pictures he made for Hammer and Amicus in the seventies, all of which are markedly inferior to his earlier British work. His first picture, the moody psychological thriller "The October Man",(1948) starring John Mills,is exceptionally good, and "Tiger in the Smoke" has all the same virtues; a strong cast of seasoned character actors, a pungent sense of place, highly effective suspense and a sinister aura of moral decay. Early scenes involving a seedy gang of ex-commando street musicians are masterly.
Muriel Pavlow was surely the most beautiful and talented of the Rank Organisation "charm school" actresses, and Tony Wright is chillingly effective as the psychotic Johnny Havoc, whose search for hidden treasure sets the plot in motion. The critic and theorist Raymond Durgnat wrote in 1969 that this was the most dreamlike British film outside of the horror genre. It deserves wider appreciation.
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