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From the point of view of filming, this movie is a masterpiece. The
London Smog takes on a character of its own. Characters appear and
disappear mysteriously, sounds are muffled, uncertain violence is ever
present. The Street Band squawks and groans eerily, its members looming
distorted as nightmares from Heironymus Bosch.
For those unfamiliar with Marjorie Allingham, her successful detective series featured Albert Campion, a colourless gentleman who merged with his background. The filmmakers, as has been stated, successfully lost him in the "Smoke". The truly attractive character from Allingham's series is the Police detective, Charles Luke. Charlie is tall, handsome, puppy-like and incredibly dynamic. His curly hair never stays put, He never stands still, he talks with his hands, his voice is full of expression. What a great character to play! This is where the screen adaptation seriously falls down. Alec Clune appears to be making no attempt to represent Charlie Luke. He has obviously not read the book, which is a pity! The result is that the colourful Charlie is reduced to a character as grey and insipid as Albert Campion. It is a real disappointment to Charlie's fans!
On the other hand, the performances by Tony Wright as the psychopath Jack Havoc, Laurence Naismith as the courageous Canon and Bernard Miles as the Gang Leader are wonderful, while Beatrice Varley as the sinister Lucy Cash is Magnificent.
The most unforgettable line is this description of Lucy Cash - "When she walks down the street curtains tremble, blinds creep down and keys turn stealthily in locks."
FOOTNOTE- Smog is the name of a combination of fog and coal dust, common in London until the air was cleaned up.
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.
During the late 1940s and the 1950s the subject of juvenile gangs and
delinquency took a hold in London. The culmination of this was the
creation of the image of the "Teddy Boy", who was like our delinquents
- a young adult with attitude problems. In the hands of some writers it
became a subject of national malaise as in the play LOOK BACK IN ANGER,
with the young upset at how they were being cheated of their futures by
the so-called blunders of the previous two or three generations. But in
the here and now it also led to the recognition of a criminal problem:
The urban youth who had nothing to do but have sex and get into
trouble. A series of youthful killers in the early 1950s culminated in
the Derek Bentley - Christopher Craig case, where a constable was
killed, and the the actual killer could not be tried (he was too
young). His mentally challenged friend, who made the mistake of
shouting, "Let him have it Chris", was hanged. We still are not sure if
Bentley wanted Craig to shoot or to hand the gun over to the constable.
Comically the figure of the Teddy Boy was spoofed as a clumsy idiot by Peter Sellers in THE LADYKILLERS. But the really less pleasant aspect of such a type was well played by Tony Wright as Jack Havoc in this film. He is the terror of every soul in the district of London he resides in, most of whom clam up when the police try to find out who is terrorizing them, and where he is. Nobody will reveal a fact - he claims that he has all the answers - he knows how to control the world. It is not brains or cunning: He has discovered the "Science of Luck". He believes if you believe in luck you will create it for yourself. It is not until his world blows up in his face, as it did in that of his older American contemporary Cody Jarrett in WHITE HEAT, that he realizes there is a limit to such luck.
Bernard Miles as his older gang lieutenant (originally the boss until Jack took over) is wonderful as a seedy type who would like to break Jack's neck but knows if something goes wrong he will be lucky to be left a cripple only. Laurence Naismith plays the decent local church canon, whose one effort to help this psychotic ends in his near murder. Donald Sinden is the local decent common man who helps bring down the local monster.
It's not shown too frequently (I saw it about 1983 or so). But it was a really good little thriller well worth the watching.
This film is not in any way a gripping story, in fact, it seems as one
watches it, to be three films cut and compressed to make one. So,
what's wrong with it? The main problem is the fact that it has too many
characters, too many mediocre actors (one appallingly bad one) too many
angles and not enough of a story, the denouement is positively under
whelming and one is left not caring about anyone, except perhaps, the
canon played beautifully by that most reliable and welcome of actors,
So why am I bothering to write about it? Because it is one of those worthwhile ventures, one of those film projects that had so much going for it on paper that it deserved to become a huge success. The directing of camera was for the most part brilliant, with many innovative techniques, some of them well ahead of the industry's time. The directing of the actors was uneven and sometimes non existent, which allowed better actors to get disorderly and the poor ones (there were a few) to go off the edge or simply flounder, the actor playing Johnny Havoc, the film's central bad guy, was simply not up to the role, and should have been recast, he indulged in "mad acting" "golden haze" and "falling on furniture" all things no actor should ever be allowed to get away with, and in his one great scene (in the cellar with his gang) he blew every opportunity the script afforded him to shine and to create great drama, as a result, the scene fell like seeds on stony ground.
Having said this, the film was made with some great care and there were moments that broke all barriers for the time. The actor playing the Inspector(against type from the book)was good, and the supporting police force actors were good, Charles Victor(though very near the edge most of the time) provided a welcome uplift, and Laurence Naismith was (as usual) on top of his job.
Donald Sinden had not at this time developed his hard jaw and tight teeth acting and so was quite acceptable as the new man in the life of the love interest (an actress who did so very well with what she was given, which wasn't very much) and he was handsome enough to be taken for Richard Green.
This is a good film if you allow for the obvious flaws, and deserves a place alongside great works, for it's bravery and innovative techniques, as well as some of the character acting, odd bits of which, were brilliant.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Up till the half way mark this is an absorbing thriller.Then we are finally introduced to Johnny Havoc.Here is a man who has just broken out of prison.His hair is neatly combed,clean shaved,with a suit and tie and nice clean raincoat.A bit unlikely.The performance of Tony Wright then completely unbalances the film.We then have a scene in the church between Wright and Naismith which is both silly and illogical.Why would anyone disclose to a homicidal maniac the location of the treasure was seeking and then still still waiting to be stabbed?The climax is to say the least ill conceived and gives one the feeling of anti-climax.Donald Sinden isn't able to say too much as his mouth is taped shut for much of the film. Incidentally the year this film was made the government passed the Clean Air Act and as a result the smogs shown in this film became a thing of the past.
Pretty good movie this.
The adapters very sensibly completely omitted the vapid Albert Campion and the pallid Amanda. As usual with Margery Allingham, they are entirely redundant to the plot, and I've never found either of them even slightly credible.
The ending shows the British cinema's usual utter inability to deal with landscape.
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