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The 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.
Thoroughly terrible exploitation shocker that wastes excellent cast and director Freddie Francis.
Antiques dealer, Neal Mottram (Jack Palance), discovers that an African idol, Chuku, which he keeps hidden in his cellar gives him money in return for human sacrifices and he commits a series of grisly murders as a result.
A thoroughly terrible British exploitation shocker from producer Herman Cohen - Remember Horrors Of The Black Museum, that film with the booby trapped binoculars? - well, he produced that too. This features a hilariously bad and over the top performance from Jack Palance who not only goes more over the top the more the thin plot winds down but, as one reviewer put it, utters his lines as though he had been tortured for half-an-hour beforehand. The shocks are often unintentionally funny rather than scary like when Palance jumps out of a closet wearing a skull mask and scaring his victim to death. Yes, lame isn't it? Oscar-winning lighting cameraman, Freddie Francis, became typecast and, somewhat reluctantly, as a director of horror films. Nonetheless, alongside Terence Fisher, he was one of the most influential figures of the 1960's British horror wave and he still made some excellent examples of the genre. Sadly, this isn't one of them and his disdain for the production is evident as he simply sets it up and grinds away. By the early 1970's, Francis was repeatedly being offered poor assignments and, after Craze, he went on to direct the disastrous rock horror musical, Son Of Dracula, with Ringo Starr and Harry Nilson. By the mid-seventies he had given up directing and returned to being a lighting cameraman with distinguished results. Even an excellent cast including Trevor Howard, Diana Dors, Edith Evans and Kathleen Byron are at a loss here.
Rogue's Yarn (1957)
A useful time capsule of a bygone era of British filmmaking and a prototype Columbo.
John Marsden (Derek Bond) is persuaded by his glamorous mistress, Michele (Nicole Maurey), to murder his invalid wife for her money. He devises what seems to be the perfect murder plot by having himself appear to be in charge of his yacht when the deed is done. This he achieves by fitting an autopilot to his vessel and, as soon as he has cleared Shoreham harbour, he dives off the yacht and swims ashore where his mistress has a car waiting. He commits the murder, stealing some jewelery to make it look like a burglary and then takes a boat from Southampton to the French coast where he has a speed boat waiting. He rejoins the yacht, sinks the speed boat and arrives in La Havre as if nothing had happened. However, Inspector Walker (Elwyn Brook-Jones) has his doubts and sets out to prove Marsden did it.
Very watchable as a time capsule of an era of British filmmaking that has long since died. This b-pic will seem like a prototype Columbo to viewers (That was what I thought and I was delighted when another reviewer here said exactly the same) with Brook-Jones's detective - complete with a shabby overcoat - getting his man by irritating him. There is a great little scene on board the yacht where Derek Bond has filled the saloon with butane gas in order to try and kill the inspector - hoping he'll light his pipe thus causing an explosion. However, every match he attempts to strike is dead - good suspense here.
Its directed by Vernon Sewell who directed many second features throughout the fifties and sixties - some well above average and won critical plaudits that these sort of films rarely got. Check out Strongroom and two others that I have yet to see though my film guides love them, The Man In The Back Seat and House Of Mystery. Sewell was also a keen yachtsman and his own steam vessel, The Gelert, appeared in several of his movies as a very useful prop; although the producers reportedly got tired of it and told him: "Vernon, your yacht, no more."
Dead Man's Evidence (1962)
Tiresome British b-pic spy yarn with a good twist ending but, by the time it comes, one is so bored to care.
British intelligence agent, David Baxter (Conrad Philips), is sent to the Irish Republic to investigate the death of a double agent - found washed ashore on the coast - who was suspected of selling information to the Russians. But is the dead man really who British intelligence think it is?
Tiresome British espionage drama from quota-quickie veteran director Francis Searle who made scores of indifferent b-pic thrillers throughout the fifties and sixties. It seems a lot longer than its running time - its brief moment of excitement coming at the end where the identity of the double agent is whom you'll least expect it to be but, by then, you'll be so bored that you won't care or - very likely - you'll have fallen asleep. There is virtually no action, no suspense and in the main its all chat and its a great pity because the Irish setting is quite well conveyed thanks to the lighting of Ken Hodges who gives the film a lot more production value than it deserves.