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If ever there was a better example of a British stab at American film noir then this could well be it.
Marilyn (Sandra Dorne) is the dissatisfied glamouress young wife of the obnoxious and domineering garage-roadside cafe owner George Saunders (Leslie Dwyer). In the mechanic Tom Price (Maxwell Reid),she sees the opportunity for a more exciting life and the pair begin an affair, which results in her husband's death when he catches them together and attempts to strike her but Tom punches him to the ground hitting his head on the way down. The inquest files a verdict of accidental death and Tom believes that Marilyn loves him and that they will be together. However, free from her husband and having inherited his business, she promptly ditches him in favour of playboy and businessman Nicky Everton (Ferdy Mayne) for the wealth and high living she perceives he can give her. But, things turn out badly for her when Nicky begins to suspect that she and Tom may have committed a murder...
If there was ever a better example of a better attempt from a British studio to do American style film noir then this could well be it. The feature directing debut of the talented Wolf Rilla (Village Of The Damned); it has a strong performance from Sandra Dorne who considered her role in this film to be in the mode of 'Bette Davis at her finest'. In the first half of the picture, Marilyn earns our sympathies as we witness her husband's bullying and ill-treatment of her such as frequently reminding her who it is who 'wears the trousers around here' and drives her to tears by telling her that he pays her alcoholic father two pounds a week to keep her away from him. Indeed, we can hardly blame her for seeking a better life and can well imagine Tom as a good man for her. However, once her husband has died, she quickly loses any sympathy we may of had for her at all and we discover that Marilyn is a completely selfish and opportunistic individual who will use anyone to achieve her own ends before ditching them and cares not a jot about hurting them.
The film is made all the more powerful in the dramatic change in her character and we feel sorry for Tom (played by Maxwell Reid who is somewhat wooden in that his face always seems to be set in a fixed expression, but it does not affect the film's impact on our emotions); the man she seduced and willed on into believing that she loved him in order to get him to rid her of her husband before ditching him and reminding him that he is only a hired employee and that, with all the people in the world she has to choose from, would she go out with the garage hand? Eva Hope is also noteworthy as Marilyn's loyal and faithful maid, Rosie, who she also uses and is prepared to drop just like that when Nicky offers to take her to South America but only on condition that Rosie does not tag along.
Wolf Rilla's direction is sympathetic to the project's noirish ambitions as is Geoffrey Faithful's deep focus, shadowy black and white lighting and, in many ways, Marilyn is an Americanised character in the dresses she wears and her love of jukeboxes.
In conclusion, Roadhouse Girl (released on DVD in the UK as Marilyn with Wolf Rilla's other b-pic Stock Car) does seem over simplified somewhat in its plot development and characterisations, but it does succeed in having an emotional impact upon its audience and it is certainly well above the usual standard one normally associates with British b-pics and its production company Butcher's Film Service.
Ambush in Leopard Street (1962)
Efficient heist thriller which generates some dramatic tension and benefits from authentic settings and characters.
A small time thief called Harry (Michael Brennan) plans his one last job and the biggest he has ever attempted; a £500,000 diamond heist from Beaumont's jewelers. He has recruited Nimmo (Bruce Seton) to do the planning and his young brother-in-law Johnny (James Kenney) to cultivate the friendship of Beaumont's secretary Jean Roberts (Jean Harvey), a shy, single, middle-aged woman in order to learn when the diamonds are being dispatched. However, Harry's wife Cathy (Pauline Delaney) is deeply unhappy about him involving her kid brother in the raid and makes her feelings clear about it but to no avail. Unknown to Harry, the leader of a rival gang known as Big George (Charles Mitchell) has found out about the job he's pulling and, angry at the thought of others muscling in on his territory, he abducts and roughs up Nimmo and allows Harry and his accomplices; Johnny, Kegs (Norman Rodway) and Danny (Lawrence Crain), to go ahead and ambush the jewelers' van while he abducts Harry's young daughter Ann. He then ambushes Harry and his men with the view of stealing the loot from them. But, a police siren distracts them and Harry escapes with his daughter in George's car - running him down in the process - to his hideout. Meanwhile, Johnny who replaced Nimmo as the driver of the getaway car has also escaped and runs back to Cathy who tells him where Harry is likely to be hiding out so he can rescue the child and leave Harry to take his chances and make a run for it alone with the diamonds...
Efficient b-pic heist thriller from producer Bill Luckwell, a quota quickie specialist who produced seventeen of them in ten years! - that succeeds in creating some dramatic tension in the scenes involving Kenney and Harvey; in which Johnny succeeds in convincing Jean that he as a younger man would actually fall in love with her and wins her affections as part of Harry's plot to rob the diamonds from her employer. It is implied that Johnny really is falling in love with her as he tells his brother-in-law that he wants out since she, Jean, is "really nice." Yet, he goes ahead with the plan as Harry threatens him telling him that the boys could get really nasty. His scenes with Harvey do stir the emotions and it is something a little different for a British b-pic to have a plot involving a younger man romantically involved with an older woman - even if, ultimately, he was only using her. Reviews for this film seem hard to come by and it is only very briefly mentioned in Steve Chibnall and Brian McFarlane's marvelous book, The British 'B' Film, who call it an "impoverished crook drama." Admittedly, one can see it was made on what must have been a shoestring, but it has an air of authenticity about it thanks to good performances from Kenney, Brennan and Seton who convince as working class villains from humble backgrounds and its settings in terraced houses neighbouring bombsites conjure up a feel for post-WW2 austerity Britain and it suggests that the film's characters probably turned to crime due to a lack of opportunities or, quite simply, would not accept a life doing dead end jobs for a pittance.
This film is available on DVD as a double feature with Henry Cass's 1960 b-pic thriller The Hand on the Renown Pictures Ltd brand.
Eight O'Clock Walk (1954)
It has been done many times and a lot better since, but worth catching for excellent performances from the leads and some powerful moments.
A North London cab driver, Tom Manning (Richard Attenborough), agrees to help a little girl find her doll on a bombsite, but it turns out she is playing an April Fools on him and she runs away. He chases after her with the intention of "giving her a talking to" but she outruns him and he goes off to work thinking nothing more of it. However, the following day he is arrested as the child has been found murdered on the bombsite and there are witnesses who saw him with her and chasing angrily after her. In addition, the police have found his handkerchief that he gave to the child beside the body. Tom's loyal and devoted wife, Jill (Cathy O' Donnell), wins the sympathy and services of Junior Counsel Peter Tanner (Derek Farr) who agrees to defend her husband when the attorney scheduled to do it falls ill. He proves to be a first rate lawyer, but the prosecution's case seems rock solid and he will need a real lucky break to save him from the gallows...
Minor courtroom thriller with a plot that may well have been cutting edge at the time, but now seems unremarkable since it has been done several times and a lot better since. Nevertheless, director Lance Comfort keeps it well afloat with a good emphasis on character and, at times, the anxiety, anguish and tension seem really genuine and the performances of Attenborough and O' Donnell are superb as the newly married couple whose lives are put through sheer hell as they fight to clear his name. There is a really powerful scene where Attenborough sees the prison doctor who points to a flying accident he once had and implies that he may have had a blackout and committed the crime but had no recollection of doing so. "They try to make excuses for you; try to find reasonings for things you never thought of at the time and you begin to wonder if you really did do it", he tells O' Donnell as she visits him in jail. His thoughts and feelings seem realistic to us, the viewers, and we can sympathise with his plight since it seems that the police in the film do not really care if Manning is innocent or not and are solely interested in getting a conviction and that's it even if it means the real killer may remain at large and the wrong man goes to the gallows for it. The film does, however, get static in the courtroom scenes and they carry very little in the way of suspense. In addition, I was disappointed in the battle between the prosecution Counsel, Ian Hunter, and the defence attorney, Derek Farr, since in the story they are playing father and son and are opposing each other at the bar and that was not as well developed nor as effective as I thought it should be.
A good example to disprove those who believe that the British 'B' film industry could not make good films.
Major Keller (Laurence Payne), a highly decorated and respected army officer, is facing a court martial for murdering his commanding officer Colonel Winch (Ralph Michael). The prosecution looks like walking it because they have a number of witnesses to testify that Keller was coveting Winch's wife Laura (Susan Stephen) and, in addition, his psychiatric report indicated he is a man motivated by ambition who killed him in order to secure a promotion. Keller, however, maintains that he did bring out his commanding officer's death but did so in the line of duty as he considered him to be unfit for office as he had been drinking excessively and showing signs of severe battle fatigue and cracking up mentally - possibly as a result of what he saw during the Sicily invasion. Keller claims that while his regiment was in France, Winch's condition was such that he lead his men into a situation where they were heavily outnumbered by the Germans and at least one third of them died. But, worse followed when Winch put the security of the entire army at risk leaving Keller with no other option but to shoot him. The trouble is, Keller has no one who can corroborate his story and his word alone might not be enough to save him...
A surprisingly excellent second feature courtroom drama from the Danziger Brothers who churned out dozens of cheap and cheerful quota quickies throughout the fifties and sixties. Many of them are described as 'bottom of the barrel' and being 'slipshoddiness in film production.' There are, however, some notable exceptions: this one, The Depraved, Night Train For Inverness and The Tell Tell Heart (an adaptation of a story by Edgar Allen Poe also starring Laurence Payne). Director Ernest Morris was a real b-pic veteran if ever there was one; directing twenty- two of the things in eight years and here he skilfully blends courtroom drama with flashbacks; achieved in part by first rate editing by Spencer Reeve. Suspense is maintained throughout and the denouement is really quite surprising. Clearly made on a shoestring - were the battle scenes in Normandy comprised of stock footage? - it is a good example to disprove anyone who believes that this section of the British film industry could not produce good films and the story is by Brian (The Avengers) Clemens.
Master Spy (1963)
Low budget b-pic with a neat twist ending but, the trouble is, what precedes it makes it hardly worth the wait.
Russian scientist Boris Turganev (Stephen Murray)defects to the British in order to steal nuclear secrets from a government research establishment. His contact man is local landowner and socialite Skelton (Alan Wheatley) who has cultivated the friendship of Turganev's superiors for the purpose. Both are experts at chess and stage regular matches as a cover for exchanging secrets. Coleman (John Carson), a fellow scientist, becomes jealous of Turganev because he believes he is muscling in on his girlfriend Leila (June Thorburn);herself a brilliant nuclear scientist who has been developing something of a friendship with him since being seconded as his assistant. One night, Turganev removes a top secret file from his laboratory which he passes on to Skelton, but Leila has left her glasses in the cabinet where the file was kept and when she goes to retrieve them she discovers it missing. She confides her suspicions in Coleman before heading off to Skelton's mansion to confront her boss and, in doing so puts her life in grave danger. Coleman, alarmed when she does not return hurries to the mansion but is Turganev really the traitor he seems to be?
Low budget b-pic spy yarn with a neat and unexpected twist in its tail. Unfortunately, the sixty-odd minutes that precede it seem like an eternity due to its lack of action and much chat in small rooms since the film never escapes its few small cramped sets. Directed and co- scripted by Montgomery Tully whose feature film career began well with the excellent thriller Murder In Reverse (1945), which starred future Dr Who star William Hartnell. Funnily enough, I attended a rare screening of that at the National Film Theatre back in 2010 to a full house! But, come the 1950's, Tully's career had declined into second features and he directed several installments of the popular featurette series Scotland Yard. Some of his work in b-pics produced excellent results - check out The Third Alibi (1960); but like Master Spy many were at the very moderate level and relied on odd piercing moments that briefly made poor films brilliant. If you've got the patience to sit through Master Spy, then the twist is well worth the wait but chances are you might either have fallen asleep or changed channels.
Master Spy has been issued on DVD video paired with an early Terence Fisher thriller Home To Danger which, compared with this, looks like an 'A' feature.
A better Edgar Wallace mystery.
Donald Edwards (Michael Gough)hires a professional killer from Germany called Kirsten (Hans Bersody) to kill his wife; the actress Helene Daniels (Erika Renberg) whom he believes is having an affair with a young barrister called Robert Vaughan - no, not The Man From UNCLE star) (John Justin). Helene is due to fly to the States to appear in a new film and is having a drinks party at their home as a send off. Donald arranges to be in London as an alibi while Kirsten shows up at the party as one of the guests. Helene is suspicious that her husband has sent him there to harm either Robert or herself - she is alarmed that Kirsten seems to know a lot about her. Robert dismisses her fears as nonsense, but agrees to telephone her as soon as he arrives home after the party and he does. However, Kirsten had hidden himself in the flat as the other guests departed and he pulls a gun on Helene as she hangs up the telephone. Meanwhile, Donald makes his way home from town but arrives to find his home ransacked but no trace of his wife's body.
One of the better entries in the long running series of Edgar Wallace mystery thrillers. It sustains the suspense throughout under David Villiers' direction and you will be kept on the edge of your seat throughout wondering what has happened to Michael Gough's wife. Did Kirsten really do the deed? Did Erika Renberg know about Gough's plan all along and hire Hans Bersody herself to turn on him? Or were they in fact lovers and was she simply using John Justin? All of these questions will pass through your mind as the plot unravels and, unlike so many Edgar Wallaces, this is a genuine mystery and the final twist when it comes is good and not easily guessable.
Excellent, well produced small scale b-pic crime thriller.
John Arkwright (John Paul) is sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud and has absolutely no intention of serving it. His wife, Rita (Hazel Court), pays £1,500 to Chandler (William Lucas) who agrees to bust him out of jail. He hires George Munro (Lee Patterson) to plan the escape and with the help of Farrow (Terence Alexander) he checks out the prison and learns that Morgan Supplies Ltd are the firm who deliver goods to it. Munro secures a driving job with the company and arranges for the guy who normally does the prison run to have an accident in order to take his place. In addition, a contact man is placed in side the prison in the form of Irishman O' Quinn (Dermot Kelly) who deliberately gets himself arrested by starting a pub brawl. Munro constructs a partition to be fitted inside the van so Arkwright can hide behind it and they can leave the jail undetected. They pull it off but even the seemingly cleverest of jailbreaks can go wrong.
Excellent, well produced small scale second feature in which the jailbreak sequences carry a real charge of suspense and there is a marvelous pub brawl in which O' Quinn (Dermot Kelly) deliberately starts a fight in order to get sent down so he can help Munro get Arkwright over the wall. The vigorous direction is by Peter Graham Scott who would go on to do notable work on TV such as Danger Man, The Avengers and The Onedin Line as well as dramas such as The Last Enemy and The Four Seasons of Rosie Carr. In his early days he made a string of second features such as this little gem and the highly praised Devil's Bait (1959) and The Big Day (1960). My indispensable copy of An Autobiography of British Cinema (Brian McFarlane) praised them as "marked by excellent acting and impressive concern for the minutiae of everyday life at lower middle class levels." That description applies here. For example, we see Munro in his mundane job forever criticised by his foreman for his constant "lack of attention to detail" in his work: he's designing a drainage system. It is clearly a job he doesn't like since he spends much time drawing on his graph paper out of sheer boredom. Then, in order to do his job for Chandler, he secures time off from his day job on the pretext of family problems and takes the driving job under a false name and a forged licence. All the while his wife, played by Billie Whitelaw, is none the wiser of his criminal activities. We get an insight into Munro's home life: a pretty ordinary marriage with the wife always pestering him to do better, to make more money and wanting a TV set that he refuses to buy on hire purchase saying that at least everything they own in the house - the furniture, for example - is paid for adding that "it's not much but at least we own it." The idea of this ordinary working man having a double life, shall we say, as a jail breaker suggesting a man determined to escape his normal everyday existence is appealing and for a film of this small scale, the emphasis on character is better than we might have expected.
For proof that the world of British B's could produce noteworthy material, look no further.
A young policeman called Constable Hollis (Barry Foster) is on trial awaiting a life changing verdict. As he waits for his sentence to be passed, he reflects on the events that lead to his arrest. One night on his beat in a leafy Chelsea mews, he comes across an attractive German girl, Lisa Shillack (Margit Saad), who has locked herself out of her own flat. He climbs up a drainpipe and through the window in order to get the front door key and lets her in. He learns that Lisa is the wife of a wealthy businessman, Simon Shillack (George Pravda), whom she clearly has no love for since he is nearly always away on business. Hollis starts to fall for her and they begin an affair. At her country club, the Squires, Hollis runs up a £128.00 gambling debt at the roulette table and the manager, Ralph (Nigel Green), demands the debt be settled within twenty four hours. Lisa reveals her ingenious plan to murder her husband, but Hollis refuses to do it. He is then roughed up by Ralph's thugs for failing to pay his debt. When Lisa refuses to bail him out, Hollis agrees to murder her husband for her. But, after the deed is done, Lisa tells the police that he had been pestering her with the delusion that she was in love with him and that when her husband had warned him off he killed him. At the club where the pair had arranged their alibi, Ralph and his staff confirm that Lisa was there but not Hollis. It was all an elaborate plot by Ralph and Lisa who are lovers who wanted her wife dead so they could marry and inherit his insurance money worth £250,000. However, Hollis may well have been arrested and tried, things do not exactly end happily for them either...
One of the more notable examples of the Edgar Wallace series with an excellent, well structured script by Robert Stewart and director Quentin Lawrence partially succeeds - although the British cinema could never quite do it - in fashioning a crime thriller in the American film noir mode. Margit Sadd is certainly an excellent femme fatale in that vein as she dazzles the young, naive and easily lead Constable Hollis (played by a young Barry Foster before he found success with Van Der Valk) with her looks, wealth and address (leafy Chelsea) and her ability to persuade him that she would even contemplate marrying a small time copper with very few prospects in front of him: he is turned down for promotion to CID and is unable to keep his mind on the job allowing a robbery to take place on his beat right under his very nose. Among the above average cast is Nigel Green who was fabulous as Christopher Lee's nemesis in The Face Of Fu Manchu and he convinces as the crooked club owner here. The black and white camera-work of Bert Mason - who appears to have shot nearly all of these - heightens the noirish ambitions of the work and it bears the usual hallmarks of quality expected of this series - good production values, set design, writing and the ability to get better stars than one associates with many b-pics. The 'Man Of Mystery' theme tune that became a Top 10 hit for The Shadows sounds as fresh as ever and if ever you want proof that the world of British B's could produce noteworthy results then look no further.
Jungle Street (1960)
A complete failure at trying to be a gritty, hard-hitting look at Soho lowlife, but survives as a pleasant reminder of an era of British movie making long since gone.
A young juvenile delinquent at war with his folks, his bosses and the world at large mugs and kills an elderly blind man. Meanwhile, his friend who took the rap for a robbery they did together Johhny (Kenneth Cope), is released from Wormwood Scrubs and wants his share of the proceeds. Johnny, naturally, has spent it so to pay off his friend they rob £1000 from the safe at the Adam and Eve club. More trouble brews for Terry when Joe Lucas (Ian Weske)knows that he did the murder and blackmails him to keep quiet. Terry double crosses Johnny, hooks it with the money and flees to the flat where Adam and Eve club dancer and Johnny's girlfriend, Sue (Jill Ireland), lives. However, tipped off, the police arrive and surround the place and, in desperation, Terry holds both Sue and an elderly tailor hostage in the flat and tragedy strikes...
Made only a few years before McCallam (here appearing with his then wife Jill Ireland) shot to fame as Illya Kuriyakin in the hit Man From UNCLE spy series; he looks uncomfortably cast here as small time teenage thug Terry Collins. In addition, the film's attempt to be a gritty, hard hitting study about Soho low life is almost sunk by the laughably bad Adam and Eve club scenes: a young lady billed as Dimples, for example, singing a terrible number called I'm Only A Girl complete with really bad dancing. On the musical side of things, the Shadows styled instrumental theme tune (Harold Geller) fits in better with what the film aspires to be. Charles Saunders' direction, while not exactly inspiring, is pacy and efficient and Jimmy Harvey's documentary style b/w cinematography lends the sets such as the Adam and Eve club's seedy interior and the terraced house where Collins lives including its kitchen with its awful fried breakfasts a genuine sense of authenticity.
Despite its attempts to be gritty and hard hitting falling flat, we can enjoy Jungle Street (aka Jungle Street Girls) as an enjoyable film of its period - the early sixties - that always looked great in these films and a nostalgic reminder of a genteel era of British movie making that has long since gone. Fans of The Man From UNCLE I am sure will want to check this out for an early David McCallam role even if it is a part in which he looks miscast somewhat.
Freedom to Die (1961)
A 'B' that is largely a tedious and confined crime drama redeemed by odd piercing moments.
Craig Owen (Paul Maxwell) is doing a two year prison sentence for manslaughter but, unknown to the police, he was also a member of a gang that pulled off a three-hundred grand post office raid. Determined to get his share of the dough, Owen breaks out of prison and heads to a wrestling arena owned by Felix Gray (Bruce Seton) who was the mastermind behind the operation. His attempt to have Owen killed backfires and he kidnaps his daughter, Linda (Felicity Young), who has the keys to two safe deposit boxes that contain the money that Gray said were his savings that would go to her on the event of his death.
This is one of those British second features that are unremarkable as a whole but have odd piercing moments that suddenly lift what is a mediocre film above the average. This offering from poverty row studio Butcher's is such a film: a tedious, confined crime drama which is all chat and precious little conventional action. This is largely due to the fact that it was made on a shoestring in a matter of days and there was not enough time or money to go for anything extravagant or exciting. However, there is a genuine emotional element here; the relationship between Felix Gray and his daughter Linda. We learn that Gray adopted her following her parents death in an air raid during the war. Gray, despite being a ruthless crook, worships her and she vice versa. But when she learns her about her adopted father's secret, she disowns him and following Owen's recapture by the police, his business goes broke as a result and unlike the usual obligatory cop out endings one normally associates with these sort of films, the climax here is a dramatic one and the viewers are left with a lump in their throats. Directed by Francis Searle, a prolific director of quota quickies who only made one 'A' feature in his entire career; a romantic comedy called Girl In A Million (1945).