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The Diplomatic Corpse (1958)
Lightweight detective story
BOY!!! yells the newspaper editor. The meekly subservient copy-boy dashes past the blonde fashion reporter at her typewriter (male reporters don't seem to have typewriters) while the diplomatic correspondent serves tea at his desk from a china teapot.
Ah what bliss to make movies in the 1950s, when every cliché was still fresh and nobody questioned the established social order. This flimsily plotted movie is a perfect example of its type, in which foreign crooks are pursued by London newspaper reporters and police to a highly predictable ending.
It is undemanding and formulaic but quite enjoyable as a late night time-filler.
One Way Out (1955)
Short but profound
A very short movie with low production standards, but a story worthy of Shakespeare. It's a profound tragedy played in standard cops and robbers costume. Quick, somebody buy this story and do a modern remake! A policeman faced with deep moral choices finds that once he's set foot on the path of corruption he is trapped by an ever more complex web of lies and intrigue. A lifetime of personal honor is at stake and we wonder if redemption is possible. All is revealed in a dramatic ending.
Anyone able to sit still and concentrate for just an hour will be thoroughly rewarded. The ending is indeed sudden and possibly surprising, but not hard to understand.
Dirty Work (1934)
The humor is mainly in the dialog, which is a constant stream of puns, ambiguity and double entendres, supported by chaotic action with many semi-slapstick sight gags. The characters are all amusing stereotypes and the plot is definitely secondary to all of the above. The whole thing is totally lighthearted fun of a rather dated kind which would appeal to those who appreciate the old silent comedies; I'd only recommend this if you are in that kind of mood.
The Heart Within (1957)
The heart within is the same, despite the skin color.
A murder suspect, played by Earl Cameron, is a West Indian immigrant who must depend for help on white Londoners. It's an early attempt to deal with the racial tensions provoked by the influx of immigrants to Britain from less affluent parts of the former British Empire after the second world war. Child actor David Hemmings, as Danny, easily outshines most of the other characters.
It's Not Cricket (1949)
Flashes of brilliance, and hardly any cricket.
This spoof on the spy and detective genres is patchy but contains some flashes of humorous inspiration which still appeal more than half a century later. I had about half a dozen genuine belly laughs over the absurd antics of Otto the incompetent spy, Bright and Early the incompetent private detectives and a string of pompous, self-important British stereotypes. There's an awful lot of slapstick in between the occasional clever lines and you'll need to be a bit of a Marx Brothers or Buster Keaton fan to appreciate this minor British comedy to the full. But still a little better than much of what passed for comedy around this time.
Oh, and for all you folk in the USA, you'll only need to come to grips with about 60 seconds of actual cricket!
Great Guy (1936)
Small but important movie
What does this movie have in common with The Godfather, the Wild West or even Superman? Well, it comes right down to truth and justice - whether they really are the American Way or whether corruption and violence have gnawed to the core of democratic society and made it rotten. Second only to sex, institutionalized corruption has been just about the biggest issue for Hollywood right through its history. And rightly so as, the battle to resist it is seemingly never finished.
That's a big build up for a small movie. Great Guy is just a simple story about one man who tries to make a difference and who takes a lot of personal risks in doing so. And let's face it, the Bureau of Weights and Measures is hardly the most glamorous place for a story. But James Cagney's character Johnny Cave uses his brains, his fists and a lot of Attitude to try setting things straight and I for one am grateful to him and others like him.
Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945)
Don't read the plot summary.
You're best to go into this one absolutely blind, as any knowledge of the plot will spoil it for you. For the first 15 minutes or so the audience is kept completely in the dark as to what this movie is even about. Gradually a mystery begins to take shape and then the rest of the movie draws us in to see where it leads.
The early scenes have a somewhat over-the-top Gothic quality which could put some viewers right off, but patience pays; the mood changes and the rest of the movie becomes quite intriguing.
Here's a slight hint readers of romantic novels will definitely enjoy it, but that should not deter anyone else.
Tries hard but could do better.
You'll either love it or hate it. John Mills probably hated it, playing a decidedly secondary role as British straight man to Wallace Ford's eccentrically comic Yankee soldier who has somehow found his way into the British army. Ford's wise-cracking character steals every scene and the only question is whether he'll also steal John Mills' girl.
From its outset the movie tries to achieve too much - it wants to be a comedy, a romance, a serious drama and a military propaganda piece. It's hard to strike the right balance between so many competing objectives and the inevitable result is that it does not achieve distinction in any ofthem.
Just one of the numerous imbalances in the movie is the inclusion of too many lengthy items of newsreel footage showing ranks of military horsemen and precision marching foot soldiers training in Britain in the late 1930s. These skills seem woefully unsuitable for the imminent mechanized blitzkrieg about to engulf Europe as the movie was being made. It's sad confirmation of the adage that every army is only prepared to fight its previous war.
Mr. Emmanuel (1944)
Warning of the Holocaust - but too late.
The big mystery about this movie is its release date of 1944. The movie is based on Louis Golding's popular novel `Magnolia Street' from the early 1930s, which dramatized the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany before the war. So why turn the novel into a movie in 1944 near the end of the war, when the Holocaust had already happened and the persecution during the 1930s had been massively overtaken by later events? True, even in 1944 the western public may not have been aware of the full horrors of the Holocaust , but they were certainly aware that things had deteriorated far beyond the problems of a decade earlier. One can only assume that this movie might have been sitting in storage for a good many years before anyone had the courage to release it, and by then it had become so outdated as to be almost irrelevant.
Of course one can't question it's good intentions, but it's certainly no masterpiece. The main character is a childishly naive old man who blunders from one error of judgment to another like a highly principled Mr Magoo, recklessly putting himself and others in the path of danger.
Perhaps it did some good in its day, helping to prepare the public for the vastly greater horrors about to be revealed. But if it's holocaust history that you want, you might as well face the harsh reality which is now readily available in books or museums, instead of getting sentimental over this misty-eyed fantasy.
The Fire Raisers (1934)
Greed is fun, but is it good for you?
Apparently a fire raiser is insurance jargon for an arsonist engaged in insurance fraud. And there are plenty of fire raisers from all levels of society in this movie which combines action/adventure with an interesting moral dimension.
Leslie Banks plays a slick insurance investigator who walks both sides of the legal line to make fast bucks in a corrupt industry. Much of the movie is spent in glamorous portrayal of his unscrupulous business activities and trendy lifestyle. One of the main strengths is the fast moving, cynical banter between the characters which creates a sense of their decadent lifestyles lived out against a background of unrestrained, completely amoral capitalism. No doubt this was a powerful image in the midst of the Great Depression when this movie was made.
But so much time is spent tantalizing us with the fruits of dirty business deals that it comes as a sudden surprise near the end of the movie to discover that there is a moral dimension. Because the ground has not been prepared, the main character's late struggles with his conscience may seem a little unconvincing.
For social history enthusiasts, there are some quaint historical shots of the London Fire Brigade and the British horse racing industry in action during the 1930s to lend some authenticity to this morality play.