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Your Witness (1950)
Disappointing swan song for Montgomery
Robert Montgomery's final screen appearance,which he also directed,is a slow moving mystery which spends far too much of the running time on irrelevant scenes pointing up the supposed differences between the British and American character. Montgomery meets a gallery of UK stereotypes such as garrulous publican,dim witted police sergeant and stuffy judge.
The plot concerns RM travelling to England to help clear an old army buddy of a murder charge. There is some mild suspense during the last twenty minutes when the identity of a secret witness is revealed. Leading lady Patricia Cutts (called Patrcia Wayne here) is one of those rather horsey English blondes with a cut glass accent. Her acting is rather stilted and there is little chemistry between her and Montgomery. It's a far cry from his wonderful acting/direction job on Lady In The Lake.
Women Without Men (1956)
Enjoyable British answer to 'Caged'
I've just managed to acquire a copy of the UK version of this film which I caught on television some years ago. I was very impressed with leading lady Beverly Michaels (not the cheap blonde one might have expected from her Hugo Haas exploitation movies) but a tall classy lady with a cultured voice who even gets to sing a number at the Prison concert! Thora Hird is a standout as 'Gran' an old lag who helps Beverly escape and Joan Rice is amusing as a bigamist juggling her two husbands at visiting time. Good support also from April Olrich as a prisoner with a baby and the striking Sheila Burrell as an inmate who goes 'stir crazy'.
The almost military routine of 50's prison life is well caught and it's a rare but effective directorial credit for former Oscar winning editor Elmo Williams. The American version Blonde Bait was completely re-edited with a new plot and added footage featuring Paul Cavanaugh, Jim Davis and Richard Travis. In this version Thora Hird's character is a stool pigeon who deliberately lets Michaels escape so she can lead police to her gangster boyfriend!
The Hour Before the Dawn (1944)
Turgid Somerset Maugham thriller
This film is generally regarded as the beginning of Veronica Lake's decline from major stardom. She plays an Austrian refugee living in an English stately home at the beginning of the war. The pacifist son of the family, played extremely well by Franchot Tone, falls for her unaware that she is really a Nazi spy trying to find out the location of a secret airfield in the vicinity. Veronica manages the accent quite well but her performance is flat and lacking in energy. To be fair she doesn't get much assistance from the script which seems unsure how to treat her character. It doesn't help that there is no chemistry between her and Tone and that her famous hairstyle (apart from one brief scene) is rigidly knotted for most of the film. Binnie Barnes is downright irritating as an ex-actress who has married in to the aristocracy. Her response to an air raid is to rush and put on her make-up before leading everyone in a rousing chorus of 'Roll Out The Barrel'! It's extremely slow only comes to life in the last 10 minutes with Veronica unmasked and murdered by Tone. The 75 minute running time is unusually short for a Paramount A feature with several key scenes including the round up of the spy ring and Veronica's death not shown on screen. Evidence of post production tampering perhaps?
Something rotten in Agatha Christie land
Aren't there enough Miss Marple stories still to be filmed without grafting her on to a Tommy And Tuppence mystery. Tuppence, quite unlike her character in the original novels, is now a bored fortyish housewife with a drink problem! Yet again liberties have been taken with the original source. Why does the vicar have to be an alcoholic and the husband of (formerly single) parish worker Nellie Bligh. There are other ridiculous subplots involving an obnoxious child actress and a village girl pregnant by a G.I which add nothing to the story whatsoever. To make way for this a perfectly good part of the original novel involving organized crime has been jettisoned. The executors of Mrs Christie's estate should be ashamed of allowing her work to be butchered in this way. As for Geraldine McEwan's 'revisionist' interpretatrion of 'Marple' God Help Us!
Black Jack (1950)
Production problems sink film
An early production effort by the Salkind brothers (Superman) this uneasy mixture of neo-realism and and standard actioner was plagued with production problems. Location filming on Majorca dragged on for an incredible seven months. Rushes had to be sent to the mainland for processing so it was impossible to view progress on a daily basis. Some of the post-synching in outdoors scenes is muffled and doesn't seem to match the actors voices in studio sequences.The photography is also uneven, even though the cinematographer Andre Thomas was married to leading lady Patricia Roc some of her close ups are less than flattering. The climax of the film set on two boats is so badly edited that you have a job working out what is going on. George Sanders is completely miscast in an Errol Flynn role whilst poor Pat Roc struggles with an unevenly written part as a Swedish refugee, seeming constantly on the verge of hysterics for no good reason. The technical shortcomings sink a potentially enjoyable film
The Seventh Victim (1943)
None of The Lord's Prayer survives in British TV print.
I'm amazed not one reviewer has mentioned the outstanding contribution by Jean Brooks as the missing Jacqueline Gibson. Although she makes a late appearance Jean is very impressive in her five scenes, particularly her monologue describing how she came to join the Palladists and her nighttime flight being pursued by the assassin with the switchblade. None of the Lord's prayer survives in the print shown on British television. This is strange as two lines were reportedly intact when the film was originally shown in British cinemas.The excellent Brooks who appeared in two other Lewton films was sadly wasted by RKO and subsequently relegated to support and bit roles.
Engrossing 50's thriller
Well acted and directed, this is a highly enjoyable mystery about the abduction of a baby in Central London. Much of the movie is shot on location giving a fascinating look at the city in the mid fifties. Julia Arnall is outstanding as the distraught mother and one wonders why Rank dropped her contract after one subsequent film. Future stars Shirley Anne Field, Barbara Windsor and Joan Sims all have bits while there are cameos from stalwarts like Thora Hird, Marjorie Rhodes, Joan Hickson, Everley Gregg and a lovely supporting performance from Eleanor Summerfield as a policewoman.
Sumptuous Technicolor costume drama
The last film in the popular Gainsborough Studios costume cycle is certainly beautiful to look at with sumptuous Technicolor and the company's biggest ever budget for lavish period sets.Dramatically the direction is rather lifeless with bitty editing and short Tv style scenes.The second half of the film is much better with an authorititive performance from star Margaret Lockwood and a nasty villain in Basil Sydney. Patricia Roc has a less sympathetic role than usual as the wilful, amoral Dilys but the film really misses the star power of Stewart Granger and James Mason who,several years earlier, would have played the roles take by Sydney and Dermot Walsh.A happy ending is substituted for the tragic one in the original novel..