27 August 2015 | JamesHitchcock
Boring B-Movie Crime Thriller
When Billy Peters, an investigative journalist, is shot dead in a deserted London street, it soon transpires that the reason for his killing was that his investigations were getting too close to the reasons behind another murder, that of a wealthy playboy named Mark Buxton. This sounds like a job for Scotland Yard, but Johnny Carter, a colleague of the dead man who also happens to be his brother-in-law, starts doing his own digging, and uncovers a murky business involving Soho gangsters, blackmail and drug dealing. He also discovers another personal connection to the affair in that Peggy, the actress sister of his girlfriend Joan, has become one of the gang's victims.
The above could be the plot of a typical film noir, and some British directors, notably Carol Reed and Robert Hamer, did indeed adopt the American noir style. "Undercover Girl", however, is not really made in that style. A few night-time scenes do indeed recall expressionist noir photography, but for the most part the photography and the direction are flat and uninteresting; most scenes seem to have been shot on a single camera, without any cross-cutting, doubtless because the film was made on a very limited budget.
I assumed that a low-budget B-movie like this one would have been made for the home market only, but "Undercover Girl" was in fact also released in America where it was known as "Assignment Redhead", possibly to avoid confusion with another "Undercover Girl" made a few years earlier. Neither the British title nor the American one makes much sense; there are several girls in the movie, but none of them actually go undercover. Johnny is not given an assignment to investigate Billy's death- in fact, his editor tries to warn him off, and his investigations are all carried out on his own initiative. (The only "assignment" he receives is to photograph a Brazilian beauty queen, a character presumably introduced for the sake of younger male viewers happy to watch any film which featured, however briefly, a scantily-clad glamour girl). As for "redhead", the film is made in black-and-white, so we cannot tell if any of the characters are red-headed.
Both Johnny and Joan are played by Canadian actors, Paul Carpenter and Kay Callard, and I wondered if this was done to increase the film's appeal in the American market as their accents would have sounded more familiar to American ears. Joan and Peggy are supposed to be sisters, but nobody seems to have noticed that their accents do not match. Or, if somebody did notice, they did not care enough to do anything about it. Peggy is played by Jackie Collins, who at this period was trying to follow her sister Joan into the acting profession, but if this film is anything to go by Jackie did not share her elder sibling's dramatic talents and was wise to move into the literary world.
To be fair to Jackie, nobody else in the film displays much in the way of dramatic talent either. Admittedly, B-movie crime dramas were not generally noted for Oscar-class acting, but they did occasionally feature rising stars on their way up; Joan Collins herself, for example, had made a couple in the early fifties. Nobody involved here, however, appears to have gone on to greater things. Banal direction and run-of- the-mill acting are not the film's only weaknesses; the sets are drab and boring and the plot can be difficult to follow. The running time is only 68 minutes, but somehow it seemed much longer. "Undercover Girl" still occasionally turns up on British television, but I cannot say it is still worth watching. 4/10