1 January 2008 | silverscreen888
Brilliant Adventure Noir with Comedy, James Mason and Fine Direction
To begin, "They Met in the Dark" is a mystery that is seamlessly turned into a WWII espionage film, all the while remaining a film about two attractive and courageous people gradually falling in love. Analysts of recent vintage who try to watch the film, I suggest, routinely fail to understand its strengths and make too much of its very few weaknesses. It also confuses them because it is a film directed by a Czech, made with British actors, and yet its style is superior U.S. 1940s narrative of unusual clarity, swiftness of pace and occasional brilliance. The story involves a young naval officer who is cashiered from the service under suspicion of incompetence (James Mason) and who manages to become involved with a young woman (Joyce Howard) who finds a body and has cause to suspect him of having been the murderer. Following parallel paths--she to clear herself of suspicion in the case and he trying to find the truth about how his career came to grief over his botched assignment at sea--he tries to protect her while she is busy eluding him. The clues lead them both to a Dance Academy cum talent agency, which is really a nest of spies, wherein a quintet of villains has been manipulating innocents and finding a way to extract secret information from British naval officers, such as that knowledge those loss wreaked havoc on Mason's life. The last portion of the film, maintaining the light-hearted tone carried out throughout the proceedings, becomes an anti-espionage caper led by Mason and a fellow officer, leading to a very satisfying conclusion. Carl Lamac (as Karel Lamac) directed with a fluid and amazingly adept camera style, handling varying sorts of indoor and outdoor, group and chase, two-shot and nightclub scenes with extreme skill. Marcel Hellman produced, with music by Ben Frankel, outstanding cinematography by Otto Heller, art direction by Norma G. Arnold and period dance arrangements by Philip Bruchel. The screenplay was adapted from the oft-imitated novel "The Vanished Corpse" by Anthony Gilbert. Others involved in the screenplay included Basil Bartlett, Anatole de Grunwald, Victor MacLure, Miles Malleson, and James Seymour. Phyllis Stanley is outstanding as a singer, David Farrar and Edward Rigby are Mason's closest confederates. The evil quintet are portrayed by Ronald Ward, powerful Tom Walls as the leader, capable Karel Stepanek, Eric Mason, and Ronald Chesney, aided by Walter Crisham and Betty Warren. Brefni O'Rourke plays a police Inspector, with Kynaston Reeves, Terence de Marney, Robert Sansom, Patricia Medina and Peggy Dexter in supporting roles. As the young woman caught up in intrigue, Joyce Howard is far better here than she had been in the much darker "The Night Has Eyes"; though she lacks some voltage, she is attractive, and more than adequate. As the hero, James Mason gets to essay a great variety of interesting scenes, all of which he performs with convincing and skillful art throughout. He wins the girl in this one, but only after playing a variety of dramatic, comedic and challenging scenes; and as usual; he is able to sustain his character throughout the proceedings and make everyone around him look better than they do in the film at any other time. Comparing this delightful film to many routine program films of the war years, I suggest any critic worth his salt would have to applaud the success of this often brilliant entertainment. This is the sort of film people with a positive sense of life used to be able to make; I find it to be one within which complex story elements are made clear and scene follows scene with both logic and a continual sense of discovery. This is a very underrated noir adventure with most successful comedy used to advance the plot at every turn. Recommended.