5 May 2011 | wilvram
Dark, gripping and memorable melodrama
Like one or two others here, I recall seeing this on TV years ago. It certainly made an impression and watching it again recently reminded me why it did.
The story never falters from the start and there's neither an extraneous scene nor wasted word of dialogue. The word 'noir' is often used inaccurately on IMDb and elsewhere these days to describe a run of the mill crime movie that happened to be shot in black and white, but this film is the real thing. Not a single scene takes place in daylight, and the often oppressive ambiance is caught in the opening shot as a bedraggled group of unemployed men are made up as clowns to go out in the pouring rain with sandwich boards to promote Vincent Barney's circus. The kindly Barney recognises one of the de Lisles, identical twins and trapeze artists who used to be his star attraction and who now recounts his fall from grace.
Director Alfred Travers did not enjoy a high profile, making few films, mostly obscure second features, but he clearly knew what he was doing here. By comparison, for example, the renowned Terence Fisher's 'noirs' for Hammer in the early 1950s are heavy-handed and soporific. Apart from Travers' skill in keeping the story moving, the circus atmosphere is conjured brilliantly through the judicious choice of background music, particularly Stanley Black's haunting trapeze theme, since the budget apparently didn't stretch to featuring any actual circus acts apart from the twins' high-flying act and brief glimpses of a horse and an elephant. Not least he gets some excellent performances too. Herbert Lom is superb as the twins, bringing out their subtle differences, and with the aid of James Wilson's masterly trick photography, all the more remarkable on such a poverty row production, it's easy to suspend disbelief. The talented and popular comedian of radio and concert parties Ronald Frankau, making a rare screen appearance, brings charm, authority, and a sense of fun to his portrayal of the avuncular and sympathetic Barney. Terence de Marney is convincing as the repellent and ruthless Mike Bergin, whilst playing his accomplice, Penny, is 'Britain's First Lady of Striptease' Phyllis Dixey. She doesn't do a bad job; but this was only her second and last film appearance. Her striptease act must have been of a very genteel variety, in fact according to one aficionado 'her girls did the stripping while she gave the audience the occasional "flash"! She was portrayed by Lesley-Anne Down in an excellent TV biopic THE ONE AND ONLY PHYLLIS DIXIE, broadcast in November 1978.
DUAL ALIBI concludes with a twist ending as unforced and logical as it is uncompromising, and should definitely be a candidate for DVD release by one of those companies specialising in forgotten classic British films!