4 November 2009 | robert-temple-1
Excellent Murder Mystery Filmed for the Third Time
'The House of the Arrow' was a successful murder mystery novel published in 1924 by the popular author A. E. W. Mason (1865-1948), and was the second of five novels written by Mason which featured his whimsical French detective named Hanaud. If you go into a secondhand bookshop in England, unless it is a very expensive one, you are liable to find many old novels by Mason, who was very widely read between the Wars. Of course, the secondhand bookshops are closing rapidly these days because of the high rents, largely finished off by a severe recession, so the days of finding piles of Mason novels for sale are coming to an end, and soon they will only be an abstraction for sale on the internet, where you cannot handle anything or smell the paper. This novel was filmed three times, in 1930, 1940, and finally in 1953. I don't know if the two earlier film versions survive. This one was directed by Michael Anderson, who was not one of the more inspired British directors in cinema history, and so I was frankly puzzled by the imaginative camera angles, framing and composition so evident in the cinematography for this film. One can only conclude that this was all due to the cinematographer, Erwin Hillier, who started in films by working for F. W. Murnau and Fritz Lang in Germany. Hillier, of mixed German and English parentage, was cinematographer on 51 films and only died in 2005 at the age of 94. Michael Anderson as director is best remembered for the huge hit 'Around the World in Eighty Days' (1956), 'The Wreck of the Mary Deare' (1959), and the highly successful 'The Quiller Memorandum' (1966). He directed this particular film very well, but as I hinted earlier, he was never one of the geniuses of his profession, and was often turned to as 'a safe pair of lenses' because everyone knew he could deliver, even if it lacked that 'something special'. I remember producers discussing him in these terms when trying to choose a 'safe' director for a large-scale film project. Oscar Homolka, a rascally and amusing actor with a face so ugly he makes the most of it by grimacing a lot with it, just to tease us, positively shines in a rare leading role as the detective Hanaud. When an actor who is not a handsome leading man gets the chance to play the lead in anything, he must grab it with both hands, or as in this case with both eyebrows. It all goes to show that character actors are often the best, given half a chance. (Bill Nighy proves this today.) Homolka, who was an Austrian born in Vienna, was nominated for an Oscar in 1948 for his performance in the film 'I Remember Mama'. He appeared in 98 films and died aged 79 in 1978 in England. He is generally remembered for playing Russian generals and spies when he was older. In this film, the handsome male love interest is Robert Urquhart, who plays a British solicitor (one of the rare occasions when the legal profession has been given such a romantic opportunity, as he gets to flirt with not one but two pretty women in the story). The two pretty women are Yvonne Furneaux and Josephine Griffin, one of them a villain and one of them an innocent, though I must not say which is which. This is a good sound murder mystery, well worth watching for that reason, and extremely amusing because of Homolka's impish and impudent portrayal of Hanaud the detective. There is an arrow in the story, hence the title.