Posts Tagged ‘Talking Pictures’

The Big Chance (1957) TPTV

Dir: Peter Graham Scott | Cast: Adrienne Corri, William Russell, Ian Colin, Penelope Bartley | UK Drama 59′

Yet another long-forgotten gem doing the rounds on Talking Pictures, the big chance – seized by both with both hands – those of director Peter Graham Scott and leading man William Russell (back then starting to make a name for himself as TVs Sir Lancelot).

Although billed second to femme fatale Adrienne Corri, Russell carries the film just like Joseph Cotton did in Andrew Stone’s The Steel Trap five years earlier, which seems to be its model; dreaming of escape to Honolulu, as Cotton had wanted to get away to Rio. Except here it gets even more complicated than Stone’s film when Corri enters the picture as a high maintenance dame in a fur coat.

Like Stone’s film vividly shot on location, the feature’s rough edges simply enhance the drama; and instead of Dimitri Tiomkin thundering away on the soundtrack we initially get Russell himself narrating the action (actually anticipating Stone’s Cry Terror the following year) and Eric Spear bringing out the cornet he later immortalised in his theme for ‘Coronation Street’.

Amazingly this all is all dealt with in under an hour during which you haven’t the foggiest idea how it’s all going to resolve itself; frequently thinking, as it grows more relentless, that it’s all going to have turned out to be a dream. Or a nightmare. @Richard Chatten


Dead of Night (1945)

Dir: Alberto Cavalcanti, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer, Charles Crichton | Cast: Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver, Google Withers, Mary Merrall, Frederick Valk | UK Horror 113′

The biggest mystery connected with Dead of Night is why the studio never made another film like it (Basil Dearden had recently made the literally haunting wartime fantasy The Halfway House; but apart from the multi-story film Train of Events and the spooky anecdote The Night My Number Came Up that was it).

Made by Ealing Studios with individual segments directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer, the drama centres on architect Walter Craig (Johns) who has arrived at a country house party in Kent to offer the owner, Elliot Foley (Culver), renovation advice. Craig soon realises he has seen the guests in a recurring dream despite never having met any of them, and senses impending doom as his half-remembered recurring nightmare turns to reality. The guests encourage him to stay as they take turns telling their own supernatural tales.

My personal favourite episode is Robert Hamer’s The Haunted Mirror (I found myself avoiding mirrors for a while after my mother died in case I saw her in them); while Hitchcock plainly lifted the final close-up of Michael Redgrave that concludes the ventriloquist’s dummy episode for the end of Psycho.

Unlike most commentators I rather like the episode about the golfers; especially as it’s always a pleasure to see Basil Radford and Naughton Wayne whatever they’re in. I agree however with Carlos Clarens, who dismissed the ‘official’ ending as “a final farandole which mixed all the stories together”; but consider the repetition of the opening sequence under the closing credits inspired. Since Walter Craig states earlier on that he’s never told anybody else about his dream, the seldom remarked upon comment by his wife that closes the film (underscored by Craig’s disconcertingly slowed-down reaction shot as he draws on a cigarette) gives the lie to that claim, and more than forty years after I first saw it I still haven’t figured out what it’s implications are…©Richard Chatten


Night of the Eagle (1962) *** Talking Pictures

Dir: Sidney Hayers  Wri: Fritz Leiber Jnr | Cast: Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Kathleen Byron | UK Horror, 90′

Two years earlier Anglo Amalgamated had realised the horrific potential of modern technology in Peeping Tom. This smart British shocker shows how telephones and tape recorders. as well as tarot cards. are employed by a twentieth century witch to cast spells (aided naturally by a cat) in a terrific Freudian version of ‘Bewitched’, played for chills rather than laughs (just as director Sidney Hayers’ early use of zooms and a hand-held camera anticipates the much clumsier later use of these devices by other directors).

Having already portrayed an evil spirit in Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961), a pre-Jason King Peter Wyngarde is here beset by them himself; and, like any average man, is bewildered and embarrassed when he investigates the contents of his wife’s handbag (her bedside reading is ‘The Rites and Practises of Black Magic’). Meanwhile a bunch of very average men are oblivious of the office politics seething behind their backs amongst a poisonous coven of spitefully ambitious faculty wives (including a tart little cameo from the wonderful Kathleen Byron).

Based upon A.Merritt’s 1932 novel ‘Burn Witch Burn! (its US release title), the triumvirate that adapted it include the venerable fantasy writers Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, with one sequence of a THING attempting noisily to gain entry worthy of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, but with a spool of magnetic tape instead of a pagan relic working its malign magic. 

The perpetrator wears an enormous fur collar creating the impression of a bird of prey that’s had a stroke, and also adding another layer to the traditional superstition that physical disability was the price paid for striking a pact with the devil. Richard Chatten.


Venetian Bird (1952) ****

Dir: Ralph Thomas | Wri: Victor Canning | Cast: Richard Todd, Eva Bartok, John Gregson, Morgot Grahame, Sidney James, Meier Tzelniker, George Coulouris | UK Thriller 95′

Another film shot on location abroad despite claiming in the credits that it was “Made at Pinewood Studios, England”. Adapted by Victor Canning from his own novel, and making vivid use of Venetian locations, marred Nino Rota’s noisy score; it attempts to do for the city of gondolas what The Third Man did for Vienna (except the venue for a meeting is the Cafe Orfeo rather than the Cafe Mozart) populated by spivs, sinister foreigners and such well-known Italian types as John Gregson, Sid James, Miles Malleson (who’s plainly been dubbed) and Meier Tzelniker.

A British private detective in the shape of Richard Todd travels to Venice to make contact with an ex-partisan, unaware he is just a pawn in a political assassination plot (hence the film’s US title The Assassin). After a meandering first half the drama picks up considerably midday when it turns into State Secret, complete with a speedboat tearing along one of the canals and Richard Todd obviously doing his own stunts. The cast even includes the earlier film’s General Niva (the equivalent in this film is called Nerva), Walter Rilla, who effetely requests of Todd:”Please don’t get blood on my cushions”.

Leading lady Eva Bartok isn’t called on to do much as the female lead, described by Todd as a “glacial, dark-eyed Madonna”. More interesting are Margot Grahame as a throaty-voiced lady who keeps a gun in her flat, “never kept a man UNDER my bed in my life!” and offers Todd “the nicest hide-out in Venice” as the action hots up. One would also like to have seen more of the young Eileen Way, who makes a dramatic entrance as a rather menacing Venetian policewoman before promptly disappearing again. Richard Chatten.



Once in a New Moon (1934) ** Talking Pictures

Dir-Scr: Anthony Kimmins/ Cast: Eliot Makeham, Rene Ray, Morton Selten, Wally Patch, Derrick de Marney, John Clements, Mary Hinton. Sci-fi/Fantasy. Fox British. 63 mins

Lurking on Talking Pictures at 6 in the morning is this extraordinary relic of the troubled 1930s (a front page briefly glimpsed during a montage bears the secondary headline ‘Nazi Terrorism in Europe’) in the form of this bizarre British hybrid of Duck Soup and Passport to Pimlico with a large ensemble cast (including a young Thorley Walters glimpsed in his film debut) headed by perennial ‘little man’ Eliot Makeham that anticipates the sort of thing that would soon become associated with the name of Frank Capra.

Much of it attractively shot on rural locations – with a noisy music score, Russian-style editing & directed with a restless camera by the always unpredictable Anthony Kimmins from a 1929 novel by Owen Rutter called ‘Lucky Star’ – the thing is fantasy rather than sci-fi as a tiny village called Shrimpton is blown into space precipitating civil war. There’s a lot of political talk but the suspiciously short running time of 63 minutes suggests substantial pruning before it was passed for exhibition. R Chatten


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