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Home to Danger (1951)
Content wise, utterly formulaic b-pic crime filler stuff lifted above the mediocre by the legendary Terence Fisher.
A young woman, Barbara (Rona Anderson), arrives in England on hearing the news that her wealthy businessman father has died - apparently committing suicide. At a shooting party on her country estate, a man is found murdered on the marshes. Barbara and her boyfriend, Robert (Guy Rolfe), turn detective believing the death to be connected with that of her father's. They open the safe at her father's office and learn that it is being used as a link in a dope racket. It becomes clear that her father found this out and was murdered by his business partner, Wainwright (Francis Lister), who was part of the gang. But, Wainwright's accomplice, is aware that the couple are on his tail and they are confronted by him alone in the country house at night...
Content wise, it is utterly formulaic British second feature stuff but under Terence Fisher's direction - an early film for him made about five years before he became a key creative figure in the British horror boom via Hammer - it is lifted from being a mediocre to a good film (for its kind). The scenes in and around Rona Anderson's country estate are especially effective with Reg Wyer's b/w lighting making them sinister and shivery. Rona Anderson and Guy Rolfe are cheerful and likable as the standard b-pic hero and heroine while Alan Wheatley is excellent as the head of the criminal gang working as the head of a widow and orphans charity as a cover. Look out for Stanley Baker too as a family servant who is determined to save Anderson from Wheatley's clutches. The film was produced by Lance Comfort who was a prolific second feature director throughout the 1950's and early 60's including such films as Eight O' Clock Walk, Tomorrow At Ten, Blind Corner and Pit Of Darkness.
Home To Danger is now available on DVD on Renown Pictures coupled with Montgomery Tully's espionage drama Master Spy.
The Third Alibi (1961)
Excellent small scale b-pic crime thriller with a twist that comes as completely unexpected - something all too rare for this kind of thing.
A composer called Norman Martell (Laurence Payne) is trapped in a loveless marriage with Helen (Patricia Dainton) and is having an affair with her half-sister Peggy (Jane Griffiths). When Peggy becomes pregnant with his child, Helen refuses to give him a divorce and she also controls all the money he earns from his music royalties. In order to escape he devises a foolproof murder plot. He arranges for Peggy to telephone his house at 6:30pm and to play a pre-recorded tape of his voice to the operator in order to establish an alibi. When the phone rings he will shoot Helen as she goes to answer it. It is arranged that Peggy will have an unshakable alibi by visiting the cinema and, in order to ensure that the staff remember her being there, she will make a nuisance of herself by accusing the cashier of short changing her, She will then slip out of the cinema during the film and make the call and then slip back in again unnoticed. And, to further establish her presence at the cinema, she will ask the staff to help her find a lost glove that she has deliberately hidden in her seat. They go ahead with the plot, but things do not go according to plan and the end result is tragedy...
Excellent small scale b-pic crime thriller with director Montgomery Tully - who made scores of quota-quickies and thirty minute shorts during the fifties and sixties (most notably for the Scotland Yard series) after his 'A' feature career stalled in the late forties - making maximum use of what was clearly a modest budget to wring out every bit of suspense and tension from the screenplay which he co-wrote. Payne is quite good as the successful composer who is trapped in a boring, loveless marriage while Dainton and Griffiths offer the standout performances as the two sisters who neatly contrast with each other. The film offers a nice twist at the end, which comes as completely unexpected and that is something all too rare for a large number of films from this area of British filmmaking. Anybody who has watched many second features will agree that they often suffer from predictable plot development and there endings can usually be seen coming from a mile off. In addition, the awesome Cleo Laine (a popular singer of the day) makes an appearance singing 'Now and Then' which, arguably, is only an average song but Cleo's talent could lift the most mediocre material into hit parade status.
The Third Alibi has been released on DVD by Renown Pictures as a triple bill with Michael Anderson's Night Was Our Friend and Stranger In Town, which was the directing debut of George Pollock who would go on to direct the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple films.
Mutiny on the Buses (1972)
Pretty familiar stuff that will please fans of the series no end. But no one else.
Bus driver Stan Butler (Reg Varney) gets engaged to Suzy (Janet Mahoney) at his depot much to the chagrin of his family. When his brother-in-law Arthur (Michael Robbins) loses his job, it seems that his plans to move in to a new flat with her are scuppered as he will now be the sole supporter of the family including his sister Olive's (Anna Karen) kid Little Arthur. So with the help of his conductor, Jack (Bob Grant), he teaches Arthur to drive a bus and blackmails the new depot manager, Mr Jenkins (Kevin Brennan), into giving him the job of driving the new tour bus to Windsor Safari Park. Predictably, whatever Stan and company touch turns to disaster.
Following the tremendous success of the first On The Buses feature film,Hammer put out this sequel that made it to No. 17 in the Box Office top 20 of 1972. Holiday On The Buses followed in 1973. The title was chosen via a competition in The Sun newspaper, which offered a cash prize to whoever came up with the best and it went to - guess who? - a bus driver!
It is all pretty familiar stuff with the cast going through the familiar gags and, on the whole, they are pretty poorly presented. For instance, Stan and Jack sabotaging Blakey's radio control and Stan towing his brother-in-law's motorcycle behind his bus. All of these were lifted from the TV series. The scenes at Windsor Safari Park include Stan and Blakey being trapped in their bus by a lion and being attacked by monkeys. But, it is funny in places especially Blakey's fire drill where he attempts to show his staff how to operate the new fire fighting equipment with absurd but, predictably, catastrophic consequences. Fans of the series - me included - will no doubt love it but people looking for something original will be sorely disappointed and, yes, like its predecessor and the TV sitcom series, the critics tore it apart.
Night of the Prowler (1962)
Don't be fooled by the title, the movie's nowhere near as exciting.
The director of a successful motor racing company, Trevor Watson, is shot dead at his office. His business partners, Robert and Marie Langton (Patrick Holt and Colette Wild) and Paul Conrad (Bill Nagy) fear for their lives because a former employee called Don Lacey has recently been released from Parkhurst prison. Lacey stole five grand from the firm and it was the evidence given by the four business people at the trial that sent him there. The company has landed a lucrative contract to design a new mark three racing car and the three partners receive threatening letters and partners signed with Lacey's initials. But, after successive murder attempts are made against them, Detective Inspector Cameron (John Horsley), is unconvinced that he is hunting down a disgruntled employee seeking to get even with his bosses but that one of the partners has hatched an elaborate plan to kill his colleagues and take over the firm completely but which one?
Don't be fooled by the title because the movie is nowhere near as exciting. It is a mediocre b-pic crime drama from quota-quickie specialists Butcher's Film Distributors. It is not the storyline nor the setting that is the problem here although my indispensable film encyclopedia, which is held together with string is scathing of the "apparently cut throat world of the motor trade." It goes on to describe the film as a "laughably bad low budget crime movie" and advises fans of this kind of thing to set their videos accordingly.
One of the joys of watching the best British second features was their realistic working class settings featuring ordinary, everyday people getting drawn into deadly situations that were way beyond their control and having to fight their way out of it. Here we have what could have been a much darker and suspenseful storyline, but everything is sadly ruined because everything about this production has a rushed appearance. The plot is implausible thanks to Paul Erickson's screenplay with its twists and turns failing to run neatly into a logical whole leaving you thinking: "That's absurd!" If more time and care had been put into it we would have had a perfectly passable thriller. The flat direction is by b-pic journeyman Francis Searle who only got to make one 'A' feature in his entire life, Girl In A Million, before being confined to making quota-quickies and comedy shorts for the remainder of his career. Even the best efforts of the cast including Patrick Holt - here atypically cast as a villain -,Colette Wild and the reliable John Horsley struggle to lift this one above average. For me, the best part of the film is the opening nightclub sequence with singing waiter Benny Lee who gets to sing an R&R number called "Let's Kick It Around" in between serving his customers.
The Shadow of the Cat (1961)
Things really come to pass when a cat terrorises a house full of adults.
Wealthy Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey) makes a new will leaving everything to her husband Walter (Andre Morell). Ella is clubbed to death by her servant, Andrew (Andrew Crawford), and helped by Walter and the housekeeper, Clara (Freda Jackson), buries her body in a shallow grave in the woods. The chief witness to all this is Ella's pet cat, Tabatha, which embarks on spying on and terrorising them and they decide to trap and destroy it. After the cat jumps on Walter in the cellar weakening his heart and confining him to bed, Ella's niece, Elizabeth (Barbara Shelley), arrives at the house along with Walter's unscrupulous relatives; his brother Edgar (Richard Warner); his son Jacob (William Lucus) and his wife Louise (Vanda Godsell). Walter instructs Edgar, Jacob and Louise to find another will that exists leaving Ella's entire fortune to Elizabeth - whom they later plan to kill - and to trap and kill the cat. But, Tabatha outwits the plotters every time and one by one the cat exacts vengeance on those that killed its mistress.
A Hammer horror in all but name - the company removed its name from the credits due to legal quota reasons - which supported The Curse Of The Werewolf on the double bill in 1961. It is masterfully directed by John Gilling who succeeds in wringing suspense and tension from a daft plot. There are some neat shocks - the death scenes shot from the cat's point of view using a distorted lens are particularly effective. Arthur Grant's atmospheric black and white camera-work with its use of shadow and Mikos Theodorakis' jumpy score add to the spooky old dark house setting leading up to a shocking climax.
Performances are good all round with Warner, Lucus and Godsell suitably shifty and untrustworthy as the good for nothing, self serving relatives while Conrad Philips (William Tell) is standout as the newspaper man who suspects that the family are up to no good from the word go. Andre Morell is good as the villainous Walter Venable although it is far from his best Hammer performance. I personally prefer him as Dr Watson in The Hound Of The Baskervilles or, better still, Sir James Forbes in The Plague Of The Zombies while Barbara Shelley offers a strong performance as a typical Hammer heroine.
If the film has any flaws it is that the giggles do occasionally set in when the actors go over the top in their hysterical reaction to the cat. The police inspector (Alan Wheatley) rather neatly sums it up: "Things really come to pass when a cat terrorises a house full of adults."
The Depraved (1957)
It proves that in Britain we couldn't come close to doing American film noir but...
US army officer, Captain Dillon (Robert Arden), runs out of fuel on a country lane on his way back to base. He goes to a nearby mansion and meets the glamorous Laura (Anne Heywood). He asks to use the telephone to call for help and takes an immediate liking to Laura who is suffering abuse from her alcoholic husband, Tom Wilton (Basil Dignam), who beats her up. The local army base is about to go on maneuvers and, in order to keep the local people happy, the army decides to hold a party at the base. Dillon sees an opportunity to see Laura again by offering to deliver the invitations, which he does and it is then when Laura persuades him to murder her husband so that they can be together. At the party, Dillon gets Wilton drunk and when he leaves alone in his car Laura is waiting down the road and flags her husband down. Meanwhile, Dillon has slipped away from the party and they knock him out, put him in his car and drive it into the lake to make it look as if he lost control of it in his drunken state and drowned. But is their perfectly planned murder as foolproof as it appears and is Laura the innocent, long suffering wife she claims to be?
If ever there was an example of a British film to prove that we could not come anywhere near to doing American film noir then this is certainly it. But, taken on its own merits, this is still an above average crime thriller from quota-quickie specialists The Danziger Brothers. Its tautly directed by the talented Paul Dickson and, despite the shoestring budget, succeeds in creating an engaging little film. The screenplay is by Brian Clemens who would go on to produce and write many classic episodes of the classic spy series The Avengers and here he ensures that the audience gets an unexpected twist at the climax.
The Depraved was as the support feature to Richard Widmark's wartime courtroom drama, Time Limit, on the Gaumont-British circuit in 1957.
Utterly routine and totally missable offering from Butcher's
A top journalist, Jack Moir (Conrad Philips), is framed for a train robbery by nightclub owner and Soho crime lord, The Duke (George Pastell), because he considers that he has become too interested in his activities in his newspaper columns and fears that it could arouse the interest of the police. Moir does time but, when he gets out, he vows to bring The Duke to book.
An utterly routine and totally missable crime thriller from Britain's poverty row studio Butcher's Films. The Cinematograph Act 1927 stipulated that UK cinemas had to show a certain number of British made films. The result was what became known as the quota-quickies - cheaply and hastily made movies that earned themselves such a bad reputation that they gave our film industry a bad name. Yet, there were some exceptions that have become to be regarded as classics but, alas, this is not one of them. Its ultra-low budget is evident with its rickety sets - it clearly did not stretch far enough to shoot a train robbery sequence! - and never did an hour seem like an eternity as it is all chat and no interest. The film's brightest moments come from Ballard Berkeley as Moir's boss and Linda Marlowe as his girlfriend who offer energetic and likable performances in what little screen time they have. But, unfortunately, they are not given enough to do and any brief flicker of enthusiasm quickly evaporates.
The Steel Key (1953)
A highly enjoyable prototype of The Saint from producers Berman and Baker.
A decade before they found tremendous success producing cult TV classics like The Saint, Monty Berman and Robert S Baker specialised in making low budget second features like this through their company Tempean Productions. Here we have Terence Morgan - reduced to appearing in b- pics like this after having the distinction of playing Laertes in Olivier's Hamlet - as an adventurer called Johnny O' Flynn who is out to stop enemy agents from stealing a top secret formula for processed hardened steel - The Steel Key of the title - from a kidnapped scientist, Professor Newman (Esmond Knight). The screenplay by John Gilling - a writer-director who would later find fame at Hammer with The Plague Of The Zombies and The Reptile - frustrates somewhat as it becomes difficult to keep up with who's doing what and when. Nevertheless, it is still well above the standard one normally associates with second features and, in many ways, it is a fun prototype of The Saint as Morgan's Johnny O' Flynn is remarkably similar to Simon Templar as an adventurer who sails close to the wind, is always playing hide and seek with the cops who want to put him behind bars but can't pin anything on him and is always on to something for personal profit - O' Flynn wants the formula to sale to the highest bidder - but always finds himself doing the law a favour by catching master criminals. It is efficiently directed by Robert S Baker - who directed some episodes of The Saint himself - who keeps the action moving at a cracking pace and the cast including Morgan, Joan Rice, Esmond Knight and Colin Tapley all offer excellent performances. It is beautifully shot in black and white by Gerald Gibbs and that, combined with some attractive set work, give the picture an appearance of a bigger budget product. One of the joys I get in watching pictures like this is that locations like Newhaven, Seaford and other towns alongside the Sussex coast are often used. In Britain, that part of the world is known as 'God's Waiting Room' and who would believe that sleepy seaside resorts like those were at the centre of intrigue and espionage?
You Pay Your Money (1957)
Surprisingly enjoyable Butcher's b-pic. Indifferently written and directed but briskly paced with cheerful performances from the leads.
When a financier called Steve Mordaunt (Ivan Sansom) buys a collection of rare books on a visit to Belgium, it spells disaster. He instructs his sidekick, Bob Westlake (Hugh McDermott), to transport the books safely to his home once they arrive in England. However, Bob's wife, Susie (Honor Blackman), is kidnapped by a gang of fanatics who demand he hand over the books in exchange for her safe return. It turns out that the collection of books contain the rare works of a fanatical cult and if they fall into the gang's hands they could plunge the whole of the Middle East into war.
A surprisingly enjoyable offering from British b-pic factory, Butcher's Film Distributors. Its indifferently written and directed by Maclean Rogers - a real veteran of the British quota-quickie industry - but it is briskly paced and is lifted by cheerful performances by Hugh McDermott - the imported American lead - and Honor Blackman who would soon shoot to fame as Cathy Gale in the classic espionage series, The Avengers. Both are highly likable as the young hero and heroine and also noteworthy here is Jane Hylton who plays Sansom's girlfriend but, in actual fact, is only cultivating his attentions because she is working for the criminal gang.
Dangerous Cargo (1954)
A darker, more dramatic ending would have made it a classic 'B' picture - but still better than one would have expected.
An airport security officer, Tim Matthews (Jack Watling), meets a former army mate, Harry Preston (Terence Alexander), who is employed by a master criminal called Pliny (Karel Stepanek). Under his orders, Harry gets Tim into debt through gambling and then takes him to see Luigi (John Le Mesurier), Pliny's second in command, who, of course, has the ideal solution to his problems. For £500.00, Tim will have more than enough to clear his debts but, naturally, there is a catch - Luigi demands that Tim hands over the schedule for a bullion plane's arrival into Heathrow Airport. When Tim refuses, the gang abduct him and threaten him with his wife Jane (Susan Stephen). He then agrees to co-operate and the gang force him to act as an inside man by getting him to drug his colleagues' tea and to gain them access to the vault where £250,000 worth of gold bullion is being stored. But things turn out not to be as plain sailing as Pliny's thugs would have hoped.
A British b-pic heist thriller from ACT Productions, a company founded by the film technicians union with the aim of countering unemployment in the industry and it specialised in low budget programmers such as this. It went out on the Gaumont-British circuit supporting the Rita Hayworth picture, Miss Sadie Thompson in 1954. Trivia buffs will like to know that the storyline was provided by none other than Percy Hoskins who was chief crime reporter for the Daily Express newspaper.
Dangerous Cargo is better than one would have expected for a second feature with director John Harlow generating some tension and suspense but, alas, he is defeated by the obligatory happy ending that was always the way for these productions and one can see it coming from some distance off. A darker, more dramatic ending would have lifted this well above the average. Nevertheless, there are good performances from a cast that includes many familiar faces including John Le Mesurier (Dad's Army) and Terence Alexander (Bergerac) and the film has a good sense of place thanks to its authentic locations that are put to good use and good black and white lensing.