23 Paces to Baker Street (1956) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
30 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Wait until dark
dbdumonteil31 July 2009
Hathaway was a brilliant director.He did never,until the very end ("the last safari")produce anything truly mediocre:from "the witching hour" to "True Grit "and "Nevada Smith,his work encompasses such classics as "lives of a Bengal lancer" "Peter Ibbetson" "House on 92 th street" "kiss of death" "niagara" "Legend of the lost",sorry if I cannot mention them all.

Influenced by Hitchcock's "rear window" (Vera Miles was a Hitchcockesque actress although she had yet to work with him in 1956 ),"23 paces to Baker street" ,on the other hand ,had on strong influence on Frederick Knott whose "wait until dark" was transferred to the screen by Terence Young with Audrey Hepburn in 1967: the scene of the "broken lights" was stolen from Philip McDonald.("Now we are equal;not afraid of the dark,are you?") "23 paces to Baker Street" should appeal to people who enjoyed the two movies I mention above;it takes place in a foggy London,with plenty of suspense and a plot which is sometimes a bit complicated and far-fetched but it does not matter:you watch it just like you read Agatha Christie's books.
19 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Nice surprise
marbleann16 February 2004
I just caught this movie on cable and I was drawn into it. This is a very Hitchockian type of thriller. Blind mystery writer overhears kidnapping plot, but of course no one wants to believe him except his 2 good friends, one who wants to marry him. It had a a few chuckles along with suspense. Particulary when playwriters friend/aid is sent on a epic chase through London following a suspect. Playwriter of course nearly gets himself killed trying to figure out the pending kidnapping himself. A few colorful characters a good mystery plot, a lovelorn but smart girlfriend, a bitter playwriter who no one takes seriously and a very clever twist makes a very good movie. I wish for more nice quiet mysteries like this.
39 out of 44 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A great rainy day, suspense movie.
Robert Nicholas (Rob-77)30 January 2000
If you have worn out all your Hitchcock videos and need a good way to fill in a few hours on a rainy afternoon, this is the movie for you. A blind play-write over hears a fiendish conversation and is determined to intervene. Armed with his trusty man-servant and beautiful American female companion, this flick delivers on many levels, right up to the twist at the end.

They don't seem to make movies like this one anymore. Mores the pity. A must see for all suspense fans, plus a lovely glimpse into 50's London.

Scored it as 8/10.
40 out of 47 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A truly pleasant surprise.
Spikeopath8 December 2008
Philip Hannon is a blind playwright residing in London, during one of his R&R moments at the local public house, he overhears part of a conversation that suggests the vile kidnapping of a child. Getting the police force to take him seriously proves hard to achieve, so with the help of his trusty butler and his ex fiancée, Jean Lennox, he hopes to avert a dastardly crime.

Well well well, sometimes you can tune into a film not expecting much more than a B movie rush, yet just occasionally you get submarined and get a mysterious treat that deserves far better support than it actually gets. I have been delighted to log on to this films page and see that others have been entertained by this picture as much as myself. This is not ground breaking or even remotely original, in fact it does play out as some sort of cheap knock off idea that Hitchcock turned down in his sleep, but you know what? Sometimes a film can be great just for having an honest will to entertain the viewers with suspense and mystery being its main fortitudes.

Henry Hathaway directs and it's just another film to prove that as up and down as his career was, he was never afraid to tackle different genres, here, with the London location totally interesting, he manages to knit it all together with impressive results. Van Johnson has his critics, and it would be foolish of me to not concur that at times he has been wooden, but here as the blind Phillip Hannon, he shows that if given good enough roles he was more than able to rise to the challenge. Not one to revisit often for sure, but seriously recommended to those who like the genre and are stuck for a good film to watch. 7/10
12 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Excellent performances and story
caa8217 December 2006
I saw this film a number of years ago, with someone very special, and just before the cineplex facilities effected closing the majority of the conventional, free-standing movie theaters in large cities and small. Just saw it again, after a number of years.

We sat in the balcony, and, having always enjoyed Van Johnson's work, I enjoyed this clever, interesting story even more than if the lead had been someone else.

With all of the elements and twists one finds with Hitchcock, the fact of the principal character's blindness is effective and adds a dimension to the mystery/thriller aspects of the film. (Of course, this handicap is necessary, since a sighted person would have seen what he overhears in the pub, setting-off the drama changing the story's essence. And, it adds to the quality of the story that this factor is not exaggerated or "hokey," and everything surrounding it is logical and believable.)

There are the two primary co-stars with Johnson, and absent are the greater number of characters surrounding the leads which one would normally expect to find - and the movie is better for this.

Van Johnson, who is now 90, in my opinion is underrated as a talent. He had boyish, casual good looks, and came into film as a leading man during a period when as handsome as they were, most leading men always seemed to have a pint of Wildroot or Brilliantine in their hair (e.g. Tyrone Power, Flynn, Robert Taylor).

He played light comedy, serio-comedy love stories, and serious roles with talented, versatile performances. Like Alan Ladd, although not regarded in this capacity, he'd had experience as a male chorus member/dancer in earlier career - during the era when more of the nightclub/review type of entertainment was present.

This film is interesting, with a neat, tight story, engaging characters and performances - and now that it is 50 years since its release, it also provides a nostalgic look at a film from the mid-1950's, with that period's "noir" characteristics.
27 out of 34 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Minor Masterpiece; Relentless Beautiful Noir Mystery Achievement
silverscreen8887 August 2007
This I assert is a minor masterpiece of film-making, which has long been underestimated by critics but never by fans. Its images, I suggest, burn themselves into the mind where other cinematic tales soon pale and are forgotten. To mention just a few scenes, the film presents a blind playwright describing the view of the Thames to the fiancé he left behind, a lovely nanny who isn't quite what she seems playing another nanny or perhaps not, a sightless man guiding a lost man through a fog, the same man discovering that a building's front isn't there and a battle in the darkness between a murderer and victim. The script, adapted from a tense Philip MacDonald novel by Nigel Balchin, was made into what I say is an expensive-looking and relentlessly beautiful film by veteran director Henry Hathway. Henry Ephron produced, and every element was realized seemingly by flawless skill, from understated music by Leigh Harline to the cinematography by Milton R. Krasne, to the art direction by Lyle Wheeler and Maurice Ransford, to the outstanding set decorations by Walter M. Scott and Fay Babock and costumes by Travilla. Add famed Ben Nye as makeup artist and the great Helen Turpin as hair stylist and it would be hard for this film to have gone anything but very right. The cast is headed by lovely young Vera Miles as the love interest and Van Johnson coming near something very fine as the blind playwright, Philip Hannon. Maurice Denham plays a befuddled police Inspector, and Cecil Parker tries hard as Hannon's assistant. Patricia Laffan has her best role since Quo Vadis as the mysterious Miss MacDonald, stealing every scene she is in. Other actors showing to advantage include within this strongly-made and taut fictional noir mystery Liam Redmond, Isobel Elsom, lively Estelle Winwood, Martin Benson, Natalie Norwick, and Terence de Marney. On the grounds of pace, intelligence of dialog and sheer memorability alone, this is a Top Hundred film, and the father to many stories starring blind protagonists from TV's "Longstreet" to "Wait Until Dark". There had been films about a blind central character before; but this Technicolor, attractive and exciting film was the project that brought the idea of such films to the minds of producers and viewers alike as none before had done. The mystery I believe is an interesting one, the characters believable from first to last, and the extraordinary work by Patricia Laffan and Vera Miles raise the film far above its competitors' best. It is clearly much better than "in the Heat of the Night", the obsessive "Vertigo" or even "Key Largo". And its makers accomplish its power without striving consciously to achieve it. Were it not for "Rear Window", the film might be considered the best 50's noir of all. I recommend it unreservedly.
30 out of 41 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A well made thriller
theowinthrop20 February 2005
This is one of those films that work very well indeed. It is (in it's way) similar to Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW, except that film gets Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Thelma Ritter involved with more than just Raymond Burr's crime - it gets them involved with the lives of all their neighbors in that courtyard in Manhattan. Here the film pares down the involvement of Van Johnson, Vera Miles, and Cecil Parker into the solution of who is the target of a kidnapping plot, and where will it be pulled off. But the film is as full of twists as Hitchcock's best films, and has a neat twist in the final confrontation that beats out Raymond Burr's confrontation with Jimmy Stewart and Stewart's flash bulbs.
24 out of 33 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Nice And Twisted
robertconnor6 February 2006
On a visit to London, an apparently recently blinded American playwrite over-hears a highly suspicious conversation which may or may not mean a kidnapping... together with his manservant and former secretary he begins to try and put the pieces together.

For 1956 this is a surprisingly twisted piece, involving both highly unconventional villain and target/victim. Delicious shots of mid-50's London (check out Barker's of Kensington), a serviceable performance by Johnson, Miles decorative but wasted (except in one scene), the glorious Parker, and Winwood hamming it up to the hilt, all add up to an enjoyable sub-Hitchcockian romp. Yes it owes a debt to 'Rear Window', but then 'Wait Until Dark' owes a debt to this!
13 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Clever Thriller
grantch29 May 2006
Now I will go to great trouble to avoid entering a spoiler like an earlier commenter. I give this film such a high rating because of the cleverness of toe concept: a blind man overhearing a conversation which indicates a crime is afoot. A tip of toe hat to the commentator who noticed the similarity between this movie and Argento's Cat O' Nine Tails ... a similarity that immediately crossed my mind the first time I saw the Argento flick. Anyway, 23 Paces to Baker Street could easily be an Argento giallo with the clever plot twists, but it lacks the gore most Argento fans want. I enjoyed 23P in 1956 when it was new and I was my voice had not changed. The plot twists and surprises have remained vividly in my memory for 50 years. Oddly I didn't notice a resemblance to Rear Window but I was very young then. I heartily recommend 23P to Baker Street. It's most suspenseful!
18 out of 25 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Excellent Mystery!!!
Lathe_of_Heaven13 June 2004
I have watched this particular movie several times; of course, I most likely do that with a lot of movies that are my favorites : )

The basic story is of a somewhat embittered, well-to-do man who had lost his sight fairly recently becoming reinvigorated about life again when he thinks that he overhears parts of a discussion in a bar that may suggest that there is a murder being planned. The acting, writing and direction are superb! As the plot begins to unravel, you are truly pulled along more and more into the story; it is VERY entertaining, especially for those who like good mysteries a la Sherlock Holmes.

If I may throw in a bit of a sort-of non sequitur here, (at least as far as any huge similarities in the two movies,) but, it's interesting, at least to me, to note the similarity of character between Van Johnson's blind detective here, and Karl malden's character in Dario Argento's "Cat O' Nine Tails" where he also plays a blind 'detective'. Just a thought, nothing serious, (however, that is also a very good mystery, just a little heavier content due to being more recent and from Argento, of course : )

That's about it; have fun watching it.... You will : )
15 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Under-appreciated thriller deserves to be seen-preferably in a widescreen edition
dbborroughs25 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Van Johnson is a blind playwright in London. cranky since he lost his sight he lives a reclusive existence having driven away anyone who cared about him. He's helped along by a butler. One day when he wanders off to a pub he overhears a conversation that leads him to believe that a terrible crime-a kidnapping or murder-is going to take place. When his call to the police gets him nowhere he decides to stop the crime himself, and so with the aide of his butler and his ex-fiancé he tries to get to the bottom of the crime.

Shot in a beautiful widescreen that was lost in the pan and scan version I saw (Its wide at the start and end for the titles) this is a nifty little thriller that is akin to Hitchcock's films of the 1950's. While it echoes Hitchcock's work it is decidedly its own beast with the plot and events playing out in ways that Hitch never really explored. Johnson's blindness is both a blessing and a curse and a good chunk of the tension comes from not knowing if he's in over his head. The plot is nicely crafted so that, like Johnson and his companions, we are not sure what exactly is being planned. We have to piece things together. The performances are very good with everyone nicely filling out their assigned roles.

If there is a problem with the film its that film has the feel of some of the big budget films of the 50's that were made in color and on location so that people would be lured back to theaters in order to see things they couldn't get on TV. Its often too "big" for some of the small moments with shots set up to look good in widescreen, but almost at the cost of the story. Still its a minor complaint and the film looks good in the full screen edition I saw.

This is one to look out for, especially if you're a Hitchcock fan, since it appears to be an under appreciated thriller.

7 ish out of 10.
7 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Okay Suspenser
dougdoepke3 November 2012
Passable suspenser despite a rather muddled script that doesn't acquaint us well with either the suspects or the plot developments. Thus the mystery part minimizes needed involvement. Johnson does an acceptable job feigning a blind man, but perhaps his biggest triumph is removing any sentimentality from Hannon's affliction. Thus the film never, to its credit, descends into the kind of treacle it so easily could have. In fact, Hannon remains understandably irascible throughout.

That tightrope struggle on the crumbling roof is a real nail-biter and the film's dramatic highpoint. But frankly the showdown in Hannon's darkened apartment lacks the skillful development of, say, Wait Until Dark (1967), to become memorable. The live London backdrop, however, adds a lot of interesting color and is well photographed. And though she's winsome as heck, Vera Miles is largely wasted in a part that many lesser actresses could have filled. Anyway, the movie's an acceptable time passer with a few good moments, but I'll bet it's not on Scotland Yard's Must-See list.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Blind Man's Bluff
bkoganbing16 October 2012
Van Johnson's highly developed senses of sound and odor go a long way in 23 Paces To Baker Street. Although there's no reference at all to Baker Street's most famous resident in literature, Johnson turns out to be quite the detective himself although he had two premises initially wrong.

The blind Johnson is an American author living in London and keeping company with fellow expatriate Vera Miles. His only living companion is his valet Cecil Parker. While enjoying a drink at a nearby pub, he overhears what sounds like a criminal plot of kidnapping. Of course when he takes his suspicions to Scotland Yard they are understandably dubious.

Without sight and not being able to write apparently even braille, Johnson records the conversation on his tape recorder and goes over and over it.

What I liked about 23 Paces To Baker Street and Johnson's performance in it is that it shows Johnson making use of his other senses which in turn give him a kind of mission in life as opposed to being bitter about his fate. On the other hand he certainly has obvious vulnerabilities which the bad guys take advantage of. There is a harrowing scene in a bombed out building from the Blitz in which Johnson is nearly killed.

Young Natalie Norwood as an unwilling participant in the plot is also a standout here. And Patricia Laffan who was both Poppaea in Quo Vadis and the Devil Girl From Mars is equally villainous here.

Nice job all around with director Henry Hathaway getting great performances from Johnson, Miles, and the British cast supporting them.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Well Made Thriller
java-kava18 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this movie many years ago and loved it. I was finally able to get a VHS copy. This is one of the few movies I have to watch at least once a year. I am a fan of Van Johnson and I enjoyed him in this movie. He plays an embittered blind writer who is visiting London. He overhears a conversation which sounds like a murder plot. Along with his friend and loyal girlfriend,they try to figure out who is going to be murdered and where. The scene with Van Johnson almost falling from the missing front of an abandoned building is tense. The story moves along well and there are many twists and turns to make even Hitchcock proud. I wish more movies were made as well as this one.
6 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Very entertaining
TheLittleSongbird29 June 2011
Okay, so in story 23 Paces to Baker Street mayn't be the most original on the block, but it doesn't necessarily need to be to be entertaining. There may be the odd cliché about, however there is much to enjoy namely the suspenseful and Hitchcockian-like story and the telling and suspense of it is very taut too. The film is very well made, with stylish photography and striking production values while I enjoyed the traditional fog used. Henry Hathaway's direction is excellent too, the screenplay is cracking, Van Johnson is very good in an ideal role, Vera Miles is suitably sympathetic and the support cast are faultless. Overall, very entertaining, well made and suspenseful film and worth repeat viewings. 9/10 Bethany Cox
5 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Finely Joined Murder Mystery
Robert J. Maxwell6 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Van Johnson is a blind playwright who is visiting London with his adoring girl friend, Vera Miles, and is attended to by his valet or butler or bootle boy or whatever these guys are called, Cecil Park in another comic role.

Well, Johnson is at his wits end. Now blind, he can't see any future for his professional self, and of course he doesn't want to burden his beautiful and compliant friend, Vera Miles, with a husband who can't take care of himself. (I would.) One night at the local pub he overhears a mysterious and ominous conversation between a raspy voiced man and a frightened woman. Something about a plot, maybe to kidnap a couple of high-end children for ransom. He's not sure.

But the mystery now animates him, re-energizes his life, fills him to bursting with élan vital. He's determined to track down the apparent conspirators, though he doesn't know what they look like. He only knows which bus line the woman takes to her job as nanny, and he knows which perfume she wears -- La Nuit d'Amour or Fleur de Lys or La Petite Mort or some equally vainglorious French name.

It's dangerous work though -- for him, Miles, and Parker. There really IS a game afoot, and they discover that Johnson is on their trail. There follow some extremely tense moments, no kidding, ending with the inevitable scene in which the blind hero and the chief heavy are together in a totally dark room.

It's always interesting to have a story with a disabled hero. Howard Northrop Frye divided heroes into several kinds. Let's see. There was the high mimetic. That would be James Bond, better than anybody else around. There was the low mimetic. That's more like the typical Hitchcock hero, no better and no worse than average, like Cary Grant unable to figure out that George Kaplan doesn't exist. Then there is the ironic hero, who is dumb and naive, like Candide, or disabled like Van Johnson here -- tapping around with his cane on the edge of the fourth floor (or third, in London) of a building whose walls have been blown away, teetering helplessly over empty space.

It's pretty atmospheric and well written. Johnson is no mastermind, and he doesn't have second sight. He makes mistakes. He goes out into a street that's cloaked in fog, meets an opposition goon with a black belt in bullshit, and asks for guidance through the murk of the unfamiliar city. Later, the thug says, "Rather thinned out a bit," and Johnson agrees, although by this time the fog has lifted entirely and Johnson's reply reveals his absence of sight.

It's not on television very often and I try to catch it when it is. The name of the nanny that Johnson is searching for is "Janet Murch." I love that name. Janet Murch. It's so terribly British. It brushes elbows with Charles Dickens. It could be Doris Buckle.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Blind Faith
writers_reign12 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Nigel Balchin was one of the finest English novelists of his generation and equally facile at screen writing and it was his name rather than that of veteran director Henry Hathaway and definitely not that of wooden actor Van Johnson that attracted me to this one. Once you get over the ridiculous mistakes which no one who doesn't live in or know London well will register - Johnson's address is given as Portman Square which is indeed close to Baker Street but the Thames is a good mile or more away and not, as depicted, right outside his apartment building - this is a classy little thriller if a tad familiar: Johnson, a playwright has recently lost his sight and overhears a conversation (shades of Sorry, Wrong Number) which he interprets as a plot to kidnap someone. From then on the film divides into two halves; 1) get someone to believe him/fake him seriously and 2)track down the perpetrators. It works on both levels even if Maurice Denham's policeman is a little too dim and a little too eager to let an 'amateur' have his head. Certainly worth seeing.
6 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Awesome Dark and Rainy Night Mystery
footy-5819914 December 2015
My mother was a mystery buff and that rubbed off on me big time. She and I often watched late night mysteries. 23 Paces to Baker Street was one of my all-time favorites. This mystery, based upon the book "Warrant for X" by the great Philip MacDonald (who also authored The List of Adrian Messenger, among other great stories). The film version contains some rewritten material but the mystery is delivered intact. Performances by Miles and Johnson are a bit hammy, Cecil Parker more than makes up for this by his brilliant portrayal of Bob, Hammon's long-suffering man-servant. I have very fond memories of Mama, and every time I see this film, I am transported back in time to that rainy, late night, when we watched it together, trying to guess whodunit.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Rear Window imitator is as suspenseful as you could wish for
Leofwine_draca27 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Although a definite Hollywood production with a couple of American leads, 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET is a London-set adventure actually filmed in our capital. It was shot by the reliable Henry Hathaway, whose lengthy career is studded with exciting adventures, war films, and dramas with a sheen of quality to them. This one is no exception.

As the viewer watches the story unfold, quite slowly at first, it becomes quickly apparent that this film was heavily inspired by REAR WINDOW. The structure and narrative is almost identical, with Jimmy Stewart's invalidity replaced by Van Johnson's blindness. The plot seems a little insignificant at first, but there are some strong set-pieces to keep it moving along, particularly the delightfully funny scene in which Cecil Parker's put-upon manservant tails a lead.

The stakes are raised in the second half of the film with certain sequences right out of Hitchcock, who is of course a big inspiration for Hathaway. The fog-enshrouded London scenes look great and fine performances are elicited from bit players including Liam Redmond (whose friendly role hearkens back to FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT) and Patricia Laffan as a femme fatale. Van Johnson was never a top tier lead but he's fine here and convincing as the blind man and Vera Miles is equally good as the Grace Kelly stand-in. The last part of the film is as suspenseful and exciting as you could hope for.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Steps into trouble
Prismark1024 November 2014
A Hitchcock type thriller without the élan we get from the master of suspense. Its post war foggy London and visiting playwright Philip Hannon (Van Johnson) is in a bitter mood. He is living in a luxurious suite by the Thames with a butler in his beck and call but when an ex fiancée (Vera Miles) visits him his mood is not lightened.

Things tense up when he overhears a plot in a pub to kidnap a child but the police do not take him seriously, not helped that he lacks detail because he has become blind, something he has tried to hide, hence the bitterness.

However with just Miles and the butler to help they try to track down the plotters but Hannon finds himself in danger.

With sumptuous art direction and sets, Technicolour and Vera Miles in the cast you can see why the Hitchcock comparisons are made. Van Johnson may be no James Stewart but he brings a style although he does seem a bit wooden here and there.

The finale does come across as rather absurd as our blind playwright puts himself in obvious peril but even with a capable director such as Henry Hathaway you can see that he lacks the touch to bring an extra dimension to this thriller.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An OK film but not a great one; and the shadow Rear Window casts over it doesn't help either
bob the moo2 April 2006
Philip Hannon is an American playwright living in London under the care of friends Jean Lennox (who wants to be more) and Bob Matthews. Having recently become blind, Hannon is frustrated and feeling a bit isolated. In a pub by himself though, he overhears a conversation between a man and a woman nearby that he thinks is about something sinister – something to do with a kidnapping of a child. Of course, in time-honoured fashion the police don't believe a word of it and, with nothing to go on they give him the brush off. Hannon is determined though and he and his friends follow up what little they have to try and get to the bottom of the mystery.

It may be a familiar sort of film (even if the details vary) but this film is solid and warm enough to wear that familiarity well without doing anything too spectacular with it. The plot uses an over heard conversation to launch our innocents into their dangerous investigation and at times it is engaging and quite tense. However it cannot do this consistently enough to make this a great film because it seems to lapse into melodrama too easily, whether it is in the characters or in the relationship between Hannon and Jean. It isn't helped by its similarity to the much better Rear Window that was made only two years before this film; this comparison makes it fade even as you watch it and it does tend to highlight the rather workmanlike delivery.

Of course this doesn't mean it is terrible because it isn't, just not as good as a classic film. I noticed it could easily have lost 20 minutes and been much tighter and tenser for it. Van Johnson isn't a great leading man and he can't "do" blind to save his life and he contributes to the sense of this being an OK film rather than anything more. That said he still does the job. Parker was a welcome addition to the cast but I was a little disappointed by how little he was given to do. Miles is good but she cannot do anything to lift the romance sections she has to deliver with Johnson.

Overall this is an OK film but no more than that. The concept is good but it can't get a consistent tension into the delivery – a problem not helped by how you can't help but compare it to the superior and earlier Rear Window. It is passable and entertaining but it doesn't do anything more than that.
6 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A blind man solves an impossible case
robert-temple-120 July 2013
This is a very good mystery film shot in colour in the mid-fifties in London by Henry Hathaway. There are lots of spectacular shots of the River Thames in the sunset and at night. It is fascinating to see the river as it was then, when so many more smokestacks were standing and none of today's developments had taken place other than the 1953 construction of the Royal Festival Hall. The river was still being used a great deal, but the streets of London are very bare of traffic, and there are still bombed-out buildings standing, in one of which there is a harrowing scene where the star, Van Johnson, nearly falls several storeys into the street from the top floor because the entire front of the building has been missing since the War and, ten years later, the house has still not been demolished. Bomb sites in London were still common sights right the way through the 1960s. In this film, Van Johnson plays a successful American playwright living beside the Thames in London who within recent years has lost his sight. He had been engaged to his former secretary, played by Vera Miles, but upon going blind he had called off the engagement because he decided he had become an object of pity, and a drag upon her. As the action of this film begins, Miles has just travelled from America to try to resurrect her relationship with him, but he keeps rejecting her out of pride and not wishing to become dependent. Johnson has a butler, chauffeur and valet, played by Cecil Parker, who looks after him. Johnson clearly has plenty of money and lives in a very spacious and well-furnished flat. Johnson is learning how to get about with his walking stick and has mastered the journey from his flat to a pub across the street called The Eagle, where the barmaid is played with whimsical cockney charm by the elderly Estelle Winwood. I knew Estelle very well when I was young (when she was, I believe, in her 80s) and she was far from being a cockney! As a genteel person by origin, how she must have enjoyed this, because she had a tremendous spirit of fun and, for someone so thin who looked like a handful of sticks thrown together, remarkable energy! In this film she wears a substantial wig, as her own hair was very thin. We only see Estelle far away from the camera. Henry Hathaway was not a closeup man. I cannot recall a single closeup of any actor in this entire film. Very bad directors sometimes make films in a series of long shots. Hathaway does not do that, because he is far too experienced, and he likes two-shots and mid-shots. We thus do not feel in the film that everything is happening at the wrong end of a telescope. But somehow we never get to see a face up close. This stands out today, in an era of twitching eyebrows and swivelling eyeballs, where the closeup is king. Vera Miles has very little acting to do, as she is merely a cipher in the script. It is her duty to 'stand by her man' despite all the discouragements he can throw at her. Somehow we know that true love will triumph, but I am not permitted to say whether it does or not. The story is a very good one. Sitting one night alone in the Eagle, with his back to the glass panel of the Ladies Bar, against which we can see two silhouettes of heads chatting with each other, Johnson's super-acute hearing picks up an alarming conversation. A dastardly crime of kidnapping a child is being plotted by a Mr. Evans and a woman who appears to be a nanny. Johnson, being blind, cannot see the pair when they leave, but notes that the woman is wearing the expensive perfume 'Plaisir d'Amour', which hardly seems appropriate for a mere nanny. Johnson becomes determined to prevent the crime, the date of which, July 10, he had overheard. He summons the police but they say there is not enough to go on, and will not investigate. Johnson determines to investigate on his own, with the aid of his valet and Vera Miles, who has clearly turned up again at just the right time to make herself useful. The story of how they accomplish the seemingly impossible task of tracking down the criminals is truly impressive, and the film is very engrossing. But there are still many more hurdles ahead of them, and they themselves are now in danger. The motif of the lone blind man being stalked by an assailant whom he cannot see, but from whom he protects himself by turning out all the lights so that they are both left in darkness, is played to the hilt. The film is based on a novel by the British writer Philip MacDonald (1901-1980), which perhaps explains its plot richness. MacDonald is perhaps best known as the screenwriter for Hitchcock's REBECCA (1940), and he wrote many mystery film stories and scripts. The screenplay for this one was written by Nigel Balchin (1908-1970), who also wrote many well-known films and stories for films. Henry Hathaway (1898-1985) was a famous director of 67 films, including the well-known NIAGARA (1953) with Marilyn Monroe and TRUE GRIT (1969) with John Wayne. One of his most fascinating thrillers was THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945, see my review).
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
ags1239 May 2018
It took several viewings for me to follow the storyline; not that it's overly complex, it's merely muddled. For a suspense thriller, there's little suspense and few thrills. It perhaps could have benefitted from a more tense musical score. Yet despite all that, and some clumsily directed sequences, this is a fun, atmospheric film. If you enjoy an old-fashioned approach to whodunits, you're in for a cozy ride. Van Johnson isn't a particularly compelling leading man though he does an adequate job here. Vera Miles imbues her slenderly written character with charm and professionalism. Cecil Parker displays the same wit he showed in "The Ladykillers." The Kino Lorber Blu-Ray DVD has a beautifully restored widescreen picture, but the audio commentary is by far the worst I have ever heard.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Fair Mystery Thriller
dglink3 November 2017
Henry Hathaway's fair mystery-thriller from the mid-1950's seemingly wants to repeat the success of "Rear Window." However, Hathaway is not Hitchcock, and "23 Paces to Baker Street" hinges on the audience accepting a protagonist who would independently pursue a hunch that was based on nothing more than a partially overheard conversation. The film is set in post-war London against Milton Krasner's often hazy cinematography of foggy streets and the mist-enshrouded Thames. An American playwright, Van Johnson, has lost his sight and become increasingly bitter about life; one day when drinking in a local pub, he overhears a conversation between a man and woman that implies they are plotting a crime. Unfortunately, another patron is playing a pinball machine, so Johnson only hears part of the exchange, although he does catch a whiff of expensive perfume. Viewers must also accept that Johnson has a perfect memory, because he tape records his memory of the overheard conversation word for word and returns to it as he tries to unravel the mystery. When Johnson contacts the police, they are understandably skeptical and downplay its importance. However, Johnson is convinced something sinister is about to happen; he is relentless in his own investigation and enlists the aid of his English manservant and his American ex-girlfriend.

Adapted by Nigel Balchin from a novel by Philip MacDonald, "23 Paces to Baker Street" is moderately engaging as the mystery unfolds. However, several situations are flimsily contrived, and Johnson's portrayal of a blind man is unconvincing. More an aging "boy next door" than a serious actor, Johnson is bland in the central role. He fails to explain why his hunches have such import and his motive for involvement in the mystery, other than too much time on his hands. Although the role is thankless, Vera Miles brings some charm to the unmarried-spouse part, who carries a torch for a marriage-shy man; the parallels between the relationship of Miles and the blind Johnson to that of Grace Kelly and the wheel-chair bound James Stewart in "Rear Window" are obvious. "Window's" MacDonald Carey role is ably played here by Cecil Park, who does the fieldwork that Johnson cannot perform because of his disability; however, Park's pursuit of one suspect is laughably clumsy and dependent on coincidence. Estelle Winwood as an amusing pub owner provides the comedy relief that Thelma Ritter brought to the Hitchcock classic.

While not a complete waste of time, "23 Paces to Baker Street" is a pale imitation of Hitchcock both made by and featuring lesser talents, although Miles was a Hitchcock protégé. The Master might have made something of this material, because the elements are there. However, as filmed, the movie is slick entertainment for the easily pleased and a must-see only for die-hard fans of Van Johnson.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews