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My Teenage Daughter

A failure to move with the times
From the mid-1950s comes this story of a widowed mother finding herself powerless as her teenage daughter gradually goes 'off the rails' after falling in with the wrong crowd, yet watched from a modern perspective it seems somewhat flawed in its attempts at moralising. Anna Neagle plays the mother, Valerie Carr, who works in lowly position in women's magazines. Supposedly having to save up for weeks to buy her eldest daughter a new dress, she nevertheless seems well kitted out herself and lives in a big posh house with two daughters and an aunt. Sylvia Syms plays the elder child, the 17-year-old Jan, and for some reason that is never properly explained she is in attendance at an elegant party at the exclusive Savoy Hotel, where she instantly falls for another attendee named Tony (Kenneth Haigh) who admits he finds it all rather staid and tells the impressionable teenager all about a livelier dance called 'jive', and later that evening teaches her the movements out on the veranda. It is the start of a romance and the pair start meeting regularly, with Tony taking Jan to funfairs, speedway races and teaching her to drive his Bentley on quiet country roads. Valerie, meanwhile, is unexpectedly given a promotion to the position of fiction editor of a new magazine for teenagers, through which she meets Hugh Manning (Norman Wooland), who writes novels for young adults. Hugh is attracted to Val from the beginning, and when he hears she is unattached he begins to woo her. As events develop, Val becomes increasingly disapproving of Jan's frequenting of nightclubs and of Tony's influence over her. She wants Jan to instead hook-up with straight-laced farmboy Mark. However, Jan rebels more and more against her mother's interference. When she finds out that Tony isn't as wealthy as he claims, that he has only borrowed the Bentley and that he is in debt, she is no less attracted to him, but her loyalty to him eventually results in her being arrested by the police, bringing great shame on herself and her family. Although the film is engaging and tells an interesting story, it has two fundemantal problems. The first is that it totally misunderstands youth culture and the second is that it can't seem to make its mind up whether the viewer is supposed to dislike the character of Tony or sympathise with him. The combination of the two severely impairs its depiction of a youth's slide into bad character and ultimately leaves one questioning the behaviour of the mother. A lot of the things that 'the wrong crowd' are doing in this film are, in fact, perfectly innocent and suggest some paranoia on the part of the writers and producers towards the changing culture of the times. The worst things that 'bad boy' Tony does in this film are that he encourages Jan to smoke and drink, he teaches her to drive, he gatecrashes parties, he lies about his wealth (but later comes clean), he engages in fisticuffs if some drunken lout makes a move on his girl, and, when driven to absolute desperation, he steals money. On the plus side he is shown to generally care for Jan, and he is well mannered and well dressed. There's no suggestion he's pressuring her into sex. Compare this with the behaviour of the mother, Valerie, who can clear off to New York for a few days without a thought for her daughters, who can enjoy her own romance (with a man who smokes, no less), who chastises her daughter for borrowing one of her dresses and for using a taxi cab, who locks her daughter in her bedroom and who denies her access to her own savings. She even lets the younger daughter stay unchaperoned on the farm with Mark. The attempts to portray youth culture frequently make the viewer cringe. For a start, the film only has the one 'hip' music track (the ironically named "Get With It"), which is played repetitively, as though it's the only number the live musicians in the nightclub know how to perform. "What's the meaning of that look on your face?" the aunt asks Jan as she's demonstrating the jive to her. "Oh, that's getting into the MOOD!" comes the excited reply. When Val tells her boss that she finds the idea of her promotion "Absolutely blissful", she has to explain this strange new teenage expression to him. Even the opening titles and theme tune would have you think you are going to be sitting through some romantic period costume drama rather than an insight into the modern problem of juvenile delinquency. Edmond Greville's "Beat Girl", released in 1960, which explores some similar ideas, gets so many things right that this film gets wrong. In spite of the fragile quality of the material, Sylvia Syms performs her role well and it's little wonder she was destined for better things, and very soon, too. It's remarkable to think that just two years later she'd be starring in the exemplary "Ice Cold In Alex".

Spaghetti Two-Step

Well worth staying for the dessert!
This television play takes the simple but brilliant premise of showing an evening in a restaurant and allowing the viewer to dip into the lives of everybody present. The people dining there are all in different situations, such as the young pair on an awkward first date, the small group on their works' night out, the older couple supposedly out to enjoy a social occasion but still trapped in one another's company, and, of course, the 'three's a crowd' set-up. Things are also eventful behind the scenes in the kitchen area, and even the customers who have to be turned away when the restaurant is full up are given some air time. There's also some marvellous bitching in the Ladies' washroom. Not everybody is quite what they initially seem to be, and this comic drama scripted by the late great Jack Rosenthal keeps the viewer thoroughly absorbed as events gradually unfold. There are plenty of well-known faces from 1970s British television within the cast. The result is quite delightful with some great dialogue and plot twists. Had this been a BBC production it probably would have enjoyed many repeats and become as legendary as Abigail's Party. But it was made by Yorkshire TV and has had little exposure since the decade that spawned it, so thank goodness Network DVD made it available as it really is television gold.

The Skull

Needs a bit more meat on the bone
I've not read the short story by Robert Bloch upon which this feature film was supposedly based, but it's often difficult to stretch a short story plot out to effectively fill a full-length film, and I think this 1965 entry is indicative of that.

The first half-hour is strong, compelling stuff as the viewer is introduced to Peter Cushing's character of Christopher Maitland, a student and avid collector of the macabre, and Patrick Wymark's Antony Marco, the man who sells him rare and remarkable items just so long as no questions are asked.

When Marco produces what is purported to be the skull of the Marquis De Sade, Maitland cannot help but want it for his collection, and ignores the warnings of fellow collector - and previous owner of the skull - Sir Matthew Phillips (played by Cushing's frequent co-star Christopher Lee) who believes it possessed of evil spirits and dangerous.

Of course Phillips' warnings aren't without substance and Maitland finds his calm, ordered life quickly starts to unravel.

However, the film starts to unravel a little, too. The latter third will test the attention of many a viewer, given that it largely lacks dialogue or character interaction and could have been a disaster were it not relying on the fine performance of Peter Cushing and the directorial talents of Freddie Francis. That the person most under threat at the climax is Maitland's wife, a character with very little presence throughout the film, rather serves to undermine the horror rather than enhance it.

In fact, only Cushing, Wymark and Lee have much to do in the film at all. The cast is littered with some outstanding character actors including Nigel Green, Michael Gough, George Colouris and Patrick Magee, but they generally only have a scene or two each which seems a waste of such talent.

The film's saving grace is its direction, which has some great moments and is very effective at giving the titular skull a tangible screen presence even when it is seen sitting stationary in long shot at the back of a room.

Definitely worth a watch for genre fans but one can't help but wish that its script was rather more balanced and had a stronger second half.

The Break

A remote hotel, and three guests with different reasons for being there...
It's often the case that 'B' pictures from the 1940s, 50s 60s make for very unsatisfying viewing nowadays but occasionally some titles pop up which are true gems and I'd certainly put The Break into that latter category.

Although its core premise of all-round decent guy chancing upon a violent, escaped prisoner isn't especially exceptional, this 77min b&w film finds all of its contributors at the top of their game and rises comfortably above the average fare.

As good as the isolated Dartmoor location and Brian Fahey's memorable musical score are, the real delight of this piece is the way that all of the multi-dimensional characters link in with one another, especially as they are portrayed by an excellent group of actors whose expressive faces could tell a story all on their own. William Lucas is the homicidal villain of the piece, Jacko Thomas, completely selfish and yet devoted to his sister; Tony Britton is an unlikely yet effective choice as the action hero, Greg Parker, who goes from being suicidal to fighting for his very life; Robert Urquhart is Mr Pearson, the other guest in the remote hotel who is not quite everything he seems; Eddie Byrne is Tredgar, proprietor of the hotel who is running a second, more secretive business; Gene Anderson is Tredgar's wife, whose diminished opinion of him has eroded her patience - and her loyalty; then there are Moses and Sarah, God-fearing siblings who are not wholly without sin. The plot unfolds nicely with some clever twists and a ramping up of the action as Parker becomes increasingly mired in a life-threatening situation, cut off from outside help. But can he possibly find help from among those at the hotel?


Good, honest, seaside fun!
A generally enjoyable 1980s series from the BBC, Seaview was a children's comedy drama centering around the lives of teenage brother and sister George and Sandy Shelton, whose parents run a hotel in the northern seaside town of Blackpool. The first series has the Shelton family newly arrived. The idealist Sandy is trying to pursue her dreams of fame and a creating a better world, a situation not always helped by the machinations of her mother, who has high aspirations for the girl. By contrast, younger brother George seems undervalued by his family even though he's bright and generally has a far better grasp of everything going on than the people around him. His predilection for answering everything with a wisecrack does him few favours, however, nor does his habit of initiating money-making schemes (often in tandem with his new-found friend, local boy James) which invariably end up going awry. The first series oversaw situations such as Sandy going for an audition, George installing Space Invaders machines in the hotel, the kids going on strike as they hold out for decent wages from their parents for helping out with the running of the hotel, James finding himself abandoned, and Sandy trying to make the big time with a pop group. When Seaview returned for a second series, there was a slight change of emphasis as it became more soap opera than situational, with the ongoing story arc of Sandy's romance with new boyfriend Ian. By now the Sheltons had moved into a different hotel (presumably the BBC could no longer film at the original site) and there was a new baby brother (who is only ever seen and referred to in the opening episode). With the children now being slightly older, James forms an attraction to Sandy and George also has his first dalliance with romance when he meets keep-fit enthusiast Lisa. Throughout the series' run there was plenty to see of Blackpool, the dialogue was often sharp and the acting of a high standard. Maggie Ollerenshaw, best known as the dithering Mavis in Open All Hours, played the overbearing mother with David Gooderson (one-time Davros in Doctor Who) as the more level-headed and empathetic father. Aaron Brown, then a familiar face from a Rice Krispies commercial, made for a likeable George and the young Yvette Fielding, just before achieving real fame a Blue Peter presenter, coped admirably with the singing and emotional wrangling required in the role of Sandy. Perhaps Seaview's greatest strength lay in its presentation of a teenage brother-and-sister relationship, with the two central characters forever at odds but on occasion demonstrating a grudging mutual respect and, touchingly, a deep emotional bond.


Simple little mystery film that oozes quality
In films, so many mysteries are investigated by police officers, investigative reporters or family members, all of whom usually conform to a certain 'type', so it's a refreshing change to find a film such as 'Smokescreen' where the person doing the snooping is a very atypical character, a quirky insurance claims investigator who goes about searching for the truth in an efficient yet coldly detached manner. In bringing this character to life, the film affords us a rare early leading role from the excellent Peter Vaughan, but just about every character in this piece is portrayed by a gem of a British actor from the period, even those that appear rather fleetingly.

Added to which, the film is beautifully shot, making very good use of its Brighton location yet not to the point of distracting from the plot. From the dramatic opening scene, in which two young lovers on a clifftop have their tryst disturbed by a burning car zooming along nearby perilously out of control before it plummets over the edge, it is apparent that this is a film of superior quality. Whether or not the car's owner was actually in the vehicle when it plunged into the sea isn't clear, and that is the question which Vaughan's character, Roper, must find the answer to. And even he himself is guarding a secret, as becomes apparent among the various twists and turns this pleasing yarn takes.

My only sense of disappointment as I watched it was that I'd worked out the solution long before the end. Or so I thought, for at the climax I discovered that the film outsmarted me. See if it manages to outsmart you.

Radar Men from the Moon

So, what exactly is a 'Radar Man' anyway?
Having enjoyed several viewings in the past of Republic Pictures' 1949 serial 'King of the Rocket Men', I had long been intrigued by the supposed existence of a follow-up serial using the same type of 'Rocket Man' character and finally got around to seeing it.

And what a let-down it proved to be!

I was prepared to cut this production a lot of slack. Firstly, it was a story about space travel made before such a thing became a reality, so the science was expected to be somewhat off the mark. Secondly, the requirements of the chapterplay format was always going to be a handicap to the progression of the plot. Some of the old film serials still managed to work extremely well in spite of the need to cram action set-pieces and the all-important cliffhanger into each individual 15-minute segment, whereas others suffered from turgid repetition.

Radar Men From The Moon has enough of an expansive plot for it to avoid the pitfalls of such repetition and at least gives the sense throughout most of its individual chapters that plot is actually progressing. But only just.

The main storyline is a simple one, yet bold: Earth is under attack by the inhabitants of the Moon (I said I'd cut it some slack), who are preparing for a full-on invasion of our world.

Yet despite such a broad canvas, the limitations of the budget mean that this interplanetary battle is actually played out between three small groups of protagonists, each in their own private headquarters.

Firstly there is our group of heroes, a team of crack scientists headed by Commando Cody (George Wallace) whose achievements include building himself a rocket suit which allows him to fly in the air, and also the construction of a rocketship capable of travel through space.

Which is very handy, as this allows Cody and his pals to travel to the moon to investigate the cause of a series of mysterious attacks on major installations on Earth.

There Cody discovers evidence of an advanced civilisation in the form of a vast city, and on further investigation he just happens to wander into the main laboratory where the first person he meets is the ruler of the Moon, Retik (Roy Barcroft), who in perfect English reveals that the attacks from the moon's advanced ray guns have the aim of softening up man's defences prior to a planned invasion. Retik explains that because the moon's atmosphere has become so thin, his people now need a new home, and intend to make the Earth their own world. In this incredibly low-key portrayal of mankind's first ever encounter with an alien intelligence, Cody responds in rather deadpan fashion by telling Retik that he won't find the Earth so easy to conquer, and rather than seek a peaceful resolution by offering help to the endangered civilisation, he pulls a revolver on him and initiates a fight which ignites an action-packed runaround between the Moon and the Earth as he and his team seek to thwart the planned invasion.

The third group who play a major part in the proceedings is Retik's agent on Earth, Krog (Peter Brocco). Hiding in a cave which he has converted into a makeshift laboratory, Krog is assisted by two petty thugs, Graber (Clayton Moore, before his Lone Ranger fame) and Daly (Bob Stevenson). It is Graber and Daly who prove to be the biggest thorns in the side of Cody as they drive around the countryside using their alien ray cannon, or generally just turning up somewhere (including at his office) to try and put him out of action. Why two Earthmen are so hellbent on assisting an alien takeover of their own world is never addressed.

There are many of the expected set-pieces present, such as cars going over cliffs, planes going into a crash-dive, heroes seemingly trapped in a dead end inside an underground cavern as a deluge (of lava, in this case) approaches... And sadly far too many are cheaply resolved with the insertion of a previously unseen shot of the hero escaping the situation before the deadly climax.

Of the other action, again as might be expected there is the obligatory fist-fight in virtually every chapter, and a plethora of shoot-outs in which the hero Cody often shows a blatant disregard for the safety of others - for example, at one point he's shooting at a plane knowing full well that his pretty assistant Joan (Aline Towne) is held captive aboard it, and in another sequence he's shooting indiscriminately at Graber and Daly's car as it speeds along a city street full of innocent bystanders.

In fact, although he's meant to be the hero, Cody cuts a very questionable figure. His objectives often end in failure (for example, his insistence that his colleague Ted leave the vital alien ray gun behind so that they can save their own necks ultimately places the Earth in greater peril) and he's not even very chivalrous, failing on every occasion to check that Joan is okay whenever she suffers some mishap such as when she is rather brutally slugged unconscious on the rocketship by their unwilling alien passenger.

I struggled to be convinced by George Wallace in the leading role, he looks decidedly unlike a typical action hero when not dressed in the rocket suit. Though I gather he was a tough cookie in real life and suffered for his art in making this serial by performing many of his own stunts.

There's plenty throughout the serial that just lacks sense. Whether it's the moon ruler's lab or Cody's lab, the enemy can just walk right in unchallenged, and not just once but repeatedly. Graber and Daly, with a weapon in their possession capable of reducing a whole building to rubble in an instant, instead go to the ridiculous lengths of trying to kill Cody by feeding a deadly gas into the air conditioning of his laboratory. Realising the room is filling with this gas, Cody doesn't think to throw a chair or something to smash the window.

Then there's Al's Diner, a place where Cody learns that Graber and Daly sometimes hang out. Sure enough he finds them there and engages them in combat. So, knowing that they might no longer be safe to frequent the place, Graber and Daly continue to go back. And the proprietor, knowing that last time Cody turned up there his place got trashed and his customers were all scared away, calls him back and suffers the same outcome.

Oh, and I can't post this review without pointing out that this invasion of Earth also relies on the moon's Earthbound agent Krog raising necessary funds by organising a bank robbery!

Some of the special effects are very good, but the best ones are generally pieces of footage lifted from earlier productions. The rocketship looks quite unspectacular compared with the ones that populated the Flash Gordon serials many years earlier, likewise the alien laboratory lacks the kind of visual impact that the labs of Ming the Merciless or Doctor Frankenstein could boast back in the 1930s.

Yet in spite of being utterly ridiculous, Radar Men From The Moon is good solid fun in the best tradition of the old film serials. It certainly never gets dull!

Phantom from Space

Some good work all gone to waste
Although made on a limited budget, much of what is seen on screen in Phantom From Space actually looks quite decent. It is generally well shot and although there are no big names among them, the cast generally acquit themselves very well.

Unfortunately the film is poorly served by its script. Dialogue lacks punch, characterisation is flat and one-dimensional and there's not even a hint of any sub-plots. Even these shortcomings might be excused, but for the fact that the main plot is just very thin.

Much can be made from the concept of an alien visiting Earth and certainly scores of other movies, particularly in the 1950s, make use of this idea in many entertaining ways. Yet Phantom From Space contrives to squander the opportunities for a good, exciting tale.

There's a complete lack of suspense, particularly in the first third of the film when the visitor isn't even seen, and an almost documentary style of presentation has too many key events being reported rather than actually shown, such as the visitor's arrival and his initial, somewhat violent encounter with two men.

Things improve a little when the mysterious alien becomes more involved in the on-screen action but even then there's just too little happening... He's running away (to where?) and to aid his escape, he discards his essential spacesuit because he's invisible without it on. So there's a bit of cat and mouse action as the token crew of scientists and the obligatory investigative reporter attempt to track him down, and of course it's the female member of the group who finds herself locked in a room with him - but not, it seems, in any actual danger, so again suspense is minimal.

Ultimately the creature needs to retrieve his discarded spacesuit in order to survive which begs the question as to why he discarded it in the first place rather than attempt to make peace with his pursuers. And ultimately, when he does get it back, this being from an advanced race is so scared by a camera flash that he flings his essential helmet against a wall, smashing it and thereby effectively condemning himself to death. Which is rendered even more bizarre by the fact that up until then the scientists have been remarking upon how indestructible his spacesuit is, so how come the helmet is so easily smashed into smithereens?

The film ends with very little attempt to explain any of the preceding events, ultimately leaving the viewer with the nagging question "Well, what was the point of all that?"

Any Old Port!

Not just Any Old Short
By 1932 the Laurel and Hardy comedy partnership was at the top of its game and Any Old Port! is a fine example of the resultant product. The two star performers and the characters they had honed naturally steal the show, but make no mistake, they are far from being the only talents present here.

In order to fit the short two-reel running time the plot is, of course, a simple one - Stan and Ollie, eager to do the right thing, come to a girl's rescue when a brute tries to force her into marriage. But in so doing they make an enemy, one which they must face again when Stan finds himself drawn against the very same man in a boxing contest.

The magic of the Laurel and Hardy series is just how simple everything appears to be on the surface, belying just how carefully crafted every detail actually was. Comedy is injected into every moment, not just the obvious gags but the deft little touches such as the brief cutaway shot of Long's incredulous reaction as Stan and Ollie make the simple task of signing in at the guest house a cumbersome exercise, or the nervous fumbling with the pool table cues when Long calls the Boys over.

Long excels in this film every bit as much as Laurel and Hardy, making a truly frightening opponent. At the same time, however, and like just about every supporting character in this successful series of shorts, there remains that perceptible undercurrent of the comically absurd even in the scenes when he is threatening the girl. It was this comedic depth to all of the characters that was so sorely missed when Laurel and Hardy made the switch to the big studios , but that's another story.

One of the other unsung stars of Any Old Port! is the pacing; the cutting, the skillfully-planned chase sequence, the comic timing of the performers all contrive to enhance the experience of watching this film and keep the viewer's interest at a high level throughout.

And whilst the passage of decades has wrought many changes on the world, the core themes within this short have ensured that the comedy has not dated: the basic ideas of good against evil, David pitted against Goliath, money corrupting morals and, fundamentally, grown men still being capable of acting like children.

Carry on England

A film series which had Carried On too long...
Not everybody enjoys the Carry On films, but even those that do are generally in agreement that Carry On England is a complete misfire.

It's easy to suggest that it fails because many of the series' regular lead performers are absent this time around but it's difficult to see how their presence would have improved things very much, it's not as if the familiar faces were able to save the equally bad Carry On Emmannuelle, for instance. The few established regulars who do grace Carry On England, such as Kenneth Connor, Joan Sims and Peter Butterworth, are severely restricted by the lacklustre material they are given to work with.

The biggest losses are not those in front of the camera but the likes of regular writer Talbot Rothwell and also Eric Rogers, whose musical compositions gave a consistent feeling to the Carry Ons regardless of their setting.

Rothwell built his best Carry Ons around a strong storyline, often with clearly defined goodies and baddies and with something at stake. This entry is more of a throwback to those by Rothwell's predecessor, Norman Hudis, who based the earliest Carry Ons around mockery of the establishment. Indeed, the plot of Carry On England, which concerns a commanding officer in the army trying in vain to convert his troops into a crack squad mostly resembles the very first entry in the series, Carry On Sergeant, but on that occasion Norman Hudis made the story work through well-defined characters and subplots.

Here, the superficial plot has nothing to underpin it other than... Well, I was going to write sexual innuendo, but a lot of the content in England isn't even suggestive, it's spelt out. The 1940s air defence base that serves as the setting for this film is populated by both male and female recruits, and the 'comic situation' is that the troops are more interested in making love rather than war.

Even that might be something to build a comedy on, but too much of the attempts at humour are weak, involving Connor's authoritarian character losing his dignity by losing his trousers, falling in mud, even getting stuck in a waste paper bin or having his face stained blue. It's all rather weak and lacking in imagination. Other than Connor and his bawling Sergeant Major (Windsor Davies, in a virtual carbon copy of the role that made him famous in TV's It Ain't Half Hot Mum), the characters are paper-thin and bland, with rather too little to do unless you happen to be a fan of Jack Douglas' twitching routines, which I personally found to be an ill-fitting addition to the later Carry On films. It's difficult to know where to start to repair the script, but making the characters more individual would help, and I think the plot would have been enhanced if it had been the female recruits joining the camp for the first time rather than the Commanding Officer. Given that the men are already having their wicked way with the women on a nightly basis, there's not much direction left to go in.

Although the attempts to get the big laughs fall flat, some of the throwaway lines do hit the mark, if you're able to catch them. Connor's Captain Melly, for example, has called his dog Hitler, and at one point says "Heel, Hitler."

Production values are quite high, the period setting accomplished very well and everything is well shot. Even the stock footage of fighter aircraft is surprisingly well integrated. But there were plenty of signs before this film got made that the Carry On series was past its best, and by this point Producer Peter Rogers and Director Gerald Thomas had clearly taken their eye off the ball. This entry was well below par and nearly killed the series. Looking at what came next, it's unfortunate that it didn't.

Still, even a dire Carry On is a step up from some other British comedy films of the same era and Carry On England remains watchable. It's just that watching it will only remind you how much better Carry On films usually are.

Woman in a Dressing Gown

A sensitive study of human emotions
Behind this unassuming title is a simple premise. It is the story of a man who, having become weary of his domestic life after twenty years of marriage, is tempted to walk out and begin a new relationship with his beautiful young secretary whom he has fallen in love with.

Such a scenario is a familiar one now, having been played out in many a television soap opera, but back in the 1950s when this film was made, extra-marital affairs and divorce carried much more of a stigma than is the case nowadays, and so one might think that this production carries little impact. That is far from the case, however, as this film relies not on sensational plot twists but instead concentrates on the effects that the situation has on the main protagonists. And in doing that it succeeds superbly in conveying the raw emotions of each character.

Anthony Quayle is the man torn between his status as a family man and the promise of an exciting and passionate new life with a beautiful woman who loves him. Quayle could play tough villains well but here he is exemplary playing the weak man, an individual swept along by circumstances rather than by having the drive to make him master of his own destiny. The two different lives he must choose between are personified by the different names each woman calls him: to his long-standing wife he is 'Jimbo', to his secretary he is 'Preston' (his surname). Yet Jim is never presented as a sly, scheming womaniser, only as a good man without the inner strength to be something better.

Sylvia Syms (who would become one of Quayle's co-stars in Ice Cold In Alex the following year) is 'the other woman', the secretary Georgie. The character's background is largely unexplored but we learn enough of her to know that her love for Jim is sincere and that she is not vindictive or manipulative.

But stealing the show is Yvonne Mitchell in a superlative performance as eponymous Amy, Jim's wife. Even after twenty years of marriage Amy is loving and devoted, but she is hapless, disorganised and a little overbearing. Her blind devotion means that she hasn't noticed her husband growing bored with their life, except perhaps on a subconscious level for when the bombshell is dropped, she immediately guesses the reason behind it. The reactions of Amy are varied, not always expected, but wholly convincing and touching. Much of the credit for that must also go to Ted Willis who wrote the screenplay, crafting rich dialogue that skillfully avoids all the hackneyed old cliches that this subject matter often serves up.

J Lee Thompson's direction is considered. He generally keeps the piece tight and close up to maximise the conveyance of feeling, the shots are well composed and occasionally imaginative, and scenes are lit most effectively.

So, does Jim leave Amy or end up staying with her? I won't spoil the outcome here, although the real joy is the getting there and in following a conflict where all three participants are good hearted and evoke sympathy. To pull that off so well is no mean feat.


Substandard thriller
This crime thriller is one of many that the British film industry churned out quickly and cheaply in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Some titles managed to overcome their limitations and emerge as taut pieces of superb character drama that remain powerful some fifty years later. Alas, Crosstrap is not one of them.

Briefly, it's plot concerns a young married couple celebrating their anniversary with a return to a remote romantic haven only to find that is now being utilised by a gang of jewel thieves who take them prisoner. This gang in turn are soon under siege from a rival gang of crooks, which makes their captors more desperate and limits the chances of the husband and wife escaping with their lives even further.

Sadly, the film frequently gives the impression that it has been thrown together with little thought. Many shots just don't match up, with jarring changes between studio work and location filming, and lighting levels are inconsistent, with a character appearing in twilight, then broad daylight, then twilight again in a single sequence.

The incidental music seldom reflects the events that are unfolding on screen.

The plot seems hopelessly confused at times and largely centers on the lead villain allowing an instant and unlikely infatuation with the young woman to risk the success of the whole operation. The gang are waiting for an aircraft to arrive for them, so naturally they have chosen a densely wooded area to facilitate this move. Hmmm....

The characters themselves range from the bland to the mildly interesting, and that's about as good as this one gets, unfortunately. It might help you pass an hour, but there are much better examples of the genre out there to be found.

Danger by My Side

Crime thriller without the thrills
It's difficult to disagree with the reviews that other users have already posted for this title. This is a crime drama that plods along without being very dramatic and, although Maureen Connell is an attractive and engaging lead, the characters are all very bland and one-dimensional. The title number is reasonable enough but otherwise the musical score is very weak.

Things start out with some promise - the opening scene depicts a high street robbery on a security van (the crew of which don't seem remotely security conscious) which ends with one of the crooks being caught, and then cuts to his subsequent release from prison two years later and tracking down his former associates. But this has rather little to do with the main plot which concerns the murder of a policeman who was working undercover spying on a diamond smuggling ring. Connell plays the dead policeman's devoted sister, Lynne Marsden, who is determined to avenge his death by finding out who the killer was and bringing him to justice. The police, headed by pipe-smoking Detective Inspector Willoughby (Anthony Oliver), are not only aware of Marsden's foolhardy plan, they actively encourage it, which is just one aspect of the plot that stretches credulity. It all centres around a nightclub where women sing on stage and perform strip-teases to the polite applause of elderly gentlemen. The manager, Sam Warren (Bill Nagy) is smitten with Marsden and offers her a job there, which she accepts before even bothering to check whether or not it will involve disrobing before a live audience or scrubbing out the men's toilets at the end of each evening. In fact, we don't even find out exactly what the work does consist of - a trivial detail, since this is just a clumsy plot device to integrate Marsden with the criminal ring, whose leader is Nicky Venning (Alan Tilvern, not the most convincing of evil masterminds), the owner of said nightclub.

The plot then proceeds with Marsden dividing her time between Sam, Nicky and Willoughby, before the inevitable happens and her true motives are discovered. The few moments of real drama (such as the arranged murder of one of the nightclub acts, or Marsden getting captured and tied up) are merely reported as having happened rather than actually seen and the apprehension of the criminals at the climax is very straightforward and lacks any real punch or suspense.

The plot itself doesn't hold up to close scrutiny - if the police already knew enough about Venning's activities to place a spy in his warehouse, then why are they subsequently so clueless about him? If Venning doesn't want to attract the attention of the police, is bumping off one of the performers affiliated to his own nightclub the best way to achieve this? Why don't any police officers come to the club to ask questions? If Venning's game is smuggling diamonds, then what was that high street robbery at the beginning of the film all about? Worst of all, Lynne Marsden's blossoming romance with Sam Warren just seems to get dropped (as does Warren's character) although the closing line of the film suggests it is still on the cards.

In summation, this film is little more than a piece of escapist fluff. It ticks along without ever getting dull but it lacks drama, tension, twists and depth. Some cheap British crime thrillers from this era are absolute gems, but this isn't close to being one of them.

The Birthday Present

Absorbing morality tale
Completely devoid of action or incidents of extreme drama, this 1957 film lets its story unfold in a rather matter-of-fact fashion and yet manages to remain absorbing throughout. Essentially a study of morality, it follows a young enterprising travelling sales representative played by Tony Britton who returns from a business trip abroad, bringing back with him an expensive watch he is going to give his wife (played by Sylvia Syms) as a birthday present. Having already managed to purchase the watch at a bargain price, he tries to save himself even more money by sneaking it unseen through customs to avoid paying import duty on it upon his return to the UK.

However, his attempt to cheat is discovered by the customs officials. His initial laissez-faire attitude is an indicator that he regards neither the action he has committed or its consequences as anything really serious, but it has in fact triggered a chain of events that sees his entire life falling down around him. Britton and Syms deliver excellent performances as the situation grows more desperate at each turn, as the main character's career, home, social standing and maybe also his very marriage are threatened by an unexpected spell in prison, a humbling experience for a man who sees himself as being above the status of the warders, let alone the other inmates.

Is it fair for a good man to lose everything he has because of one momentary lapse of judgement which didn't harm anyone? That is the predominant question asked by this film, which will challenge the viewer to think through the possible consequences of any decision more fully in future.

The Strange World of Planet X

Giant bugs, but it's the human characters who might bore you to death
This film was a British attempt to get into the 1950s craze of "giant monster" sci-fi thriller movies, and ends up being a bizarre hybrid of "The Day The Earth Stood Still", "Tarantula" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space". Unfortunately, this film takes far too long to get to the point and an opening 45 minutes of tedious talk and precious little action is likely to make viewers give up on it.

A film can easily get away with being short on action if there are other elements in place to maintain the viewer's interest, but this one is horribly lacking, with the most lacklustre dialogue and direction, ham-fisted plotting and truly dreadful, one-dimensional characterisations. The romance between Forrest Tucker's 'hero' (who actually doesn't do very much throughout the film) and Gaby André's token female scientist who is brought in to assist him (with some overtly sexist reactions, even by the standards of the time) is forced through with no natural or credible development. Some characters are completely superfluous and others could do with more screen time to flesh them out. For instance some of the female characters appear to be included just so that they can put under threat, but the sense of menace against them is considerably diluted in every case when the viewer has had no time to warm to the character in the first place.

A sense of menace is ill-served by the direction also. Dramatic events just happen without any build-up of suspense, such as when the woman is attacked at the bus-stop: we don't see her being watched, we don't see mysterious feet creeping towards her, we don't see her growing sense of unease as she begins to feel that something is wrong... And then when she is set upon, she's saved almost instantaneously (by a man arriving in a car who has somehow weighed the whole situation up before he's even close enough to see what is happening).

The shots in scenes where characters are interacting are, almost without exception, composed with very little imagination, and too often actors are static, standing there with their bodies facing the camera straight on with both arms hanging straight down by their sides as though they have been placed there like mannequins.

The plot lacks proper thrust and although there's a lot of debate about the merits of the scientific experiments going on at the research centre, in the first half of the film there's no foreshadowing of the startling effects they will have on wildlife, with the only things to worry about seeming to be that they make strips of metal become flexible, briefcases fly across rooms and television sets in the local pub explode. Resultingly the viewer is left wondering where the film is possibly heading, but not in the sense that one is compelled to see what happens next.

Of course what ultimately happens is that the experiments cause the area to be exposed to cosmic rays, which naturally enough cause all of the insects to grow to giant proportions... Not just doubled in size or anything, but conveniently large enough to be bigger than humans. At least at that point the film becomes more interesting, albeit rather nonsensical. At times the effects of the magnetic field generated by the laboratory are described as covering 80 miles, and yet the threat from the cosmic rays appear to be neatly confined to just a small area of woodland and this is where the giant insects appear, causing no damage to the vegetation yet vigorously pursuing any woman they see. André foolishly gets herself tangled up in the web of a giant spider, but luckily Tucker, being a macho man, can simply tear it off her to set her free. And then a lot of soldiers turn up and start shooting at the insects.

This film, wisely perhaps given some unconvincing equivalents such as those in "The Monster From Green Hell", opts to use footage of real insects in extreme close up to achieve the illusion of its giant mutants, images which must have been unsettlingly effective when seen on the big screen. They move quickly and naturally, avoiding all the pitfalls of lumbering props, but regrettably the integration of these cutaway shots is seldom satisfactory as the different lighting levels and frequent view of soldiers shooting at something off-screen highlight that these are just film inserts rather than give any sense that the insects are really present in the same scene. To be fair, though, there is an unexpectedly graphic shot of a dead soldier having his face chewed away by one of the bugs.

Martin Benson plays "Smith", the requisite alien visitor concerned about man's tampering with forces he does not fully understand, and delivers a pleasing performance of calm assurance given the constraints. Too much about Smith's involvement with events seems fortuitous, and it is his character who delivers most of the solutions which perhaps doesn't say much for mankind's chances. His eventual departure in his flying saucer is the final act of cheapness in this film, as we neither see him entering his craft nor see it taking off, instead only getting a glimpse of a rather hilarious cutaway shot of the other characters raising their heads as though they are watching the ascent of a spacecraft.

I did like the twist about the real identity of the titular Planet X, but there's precious little to like overall in this piece. Its final third is a bit of silly but escapist hokum, but the opening two-thirds are utterly dull, and there's no harsher judgement to place on a film than it being dull!

The Night Caller

Actually much better than it really should be
A curious film. It starts off very much as a Quatermass-style mysterious-alien-object-lands-on-Earth science fiction tale, with a trio of likeable scientists trying to get on with their job of working out exactly what the strange meteorite is whilst being both helped and hindered by the military. Then, after about half an hour, the film suddenly does a volte-face and turns itself into a detective yarn as Scotland Yard's finest attempt to unravel the mysterious abductions of numerous young women. Along the way there's also a comedy interlude where the parents of one of the missing girls are interviewed by the investigators, an extended scene which feels somewhat out of place and serves to slightly undermine the drama of the whole piece.

In spite of straddling different genres the overall narrative does hang together (just) and it is, of course, an alien visitor that is abducting the women. The purpose behind this has some logic but the methodology is rather ludicrous. And that's the main problem with this film: the script. For all its good intentions and, it has to be said, some bold thinking, it's very hit-and-miss with some ideas working well and catching the viewer off-guard, and other ideas so banal that they leave the viewer wondering how they could possibly have ever got off the drawing board.

Usually a film based on such shaky foundations fails in most other respects too but this is a rare exception when everyone else helps pull it out of the mire: the direction (by John Gilling) is good, the lighting very considered, achieving a wonderfully gloomy atmosphere to key scenes, and the special effects, though cheap, are generally competent with glimpses of the visitor wisely kept indistinct for the most part. Best of all, the film boasts a stellar cast, drawing on the cream of British character actors of the day for both the major parts and the minor ones. True, the cast is headed by a token American, as was so often the case in order to help sell the film to overseas markets, but when the American happens to be the wonderful John Saxon that's not such a bad thing. And I'm pleased to report that his role doesn't suffer from the usual stereotypical failings of a dashing American hero being written in a manner of how British writers think a dashing American hero would speak and behave.

It is Saxon's character Dr Costain who is initially involved in the recovery of investigation of the alien sphere who then goes on to advise the police investigation, thus being the constant through the film's duration. Maurice Denham gives one of his trademark authoritative performances as Costain's senior colleague, and Alfred Burke, just before his memorable ten-year stint playing Frank Marker in TV's Public Eye, excels as the dour but determined police superintendent. For me, the highlight was a scene where Burke's Superintendent Hartley questions a rather fey, effete character richly brought to life by Aubrey Morris, just for a glimpse of two great actors at the top of their game playing off one another superbly.

In conclusion, this is a very ropey film that still has much to commend it, and is well worth a look. However, as a word of warning, when you have that look please make sure you avoid the ghastly colourised version. Unlike many purists I am not actually against the notion of adding colour to black and white films per se, but this is a film that carefully uses its monochrome medium to maximum advantage, so it is an odd choice to undergo such a process. Furthermore, the colouring job is surely the very worst I have seen applied to a film with everything painted in very flat, unnatural hues and some things, such as Alfred Burke's hair and jacket, not even coloured at all. So if this is the version that comes your way, do yourself a big favour and turn down the colour on your TV!

The Delavine Affair

An amateur detective tale - in every sense
Typical fare for its time, one of a rush 'em out on a production line style of cheap crime thriller. It was probably considered no better than average when it was released over 60 years ago and looks even more amateurish nowadays.

Peter Reynolds stars as the enterprising reporter who unwittingly finds himself the number one suspect in a murder case. But he has one vital clue, linking the killing to a recent jewel theft, and thus turns detective in order to clear his own name and get himself a scoop in solving the crime. Aiding him are his wife and photographer friend.

The whole film looks rushed and badly under-rehearsed, and completely lacks any kind of proper pacing, ticking along at exactly the same tempo whatever the situation being played out. There's no build up of suspense, no crescendo of drama... Everything just plays out too matter-of-factly. Dialogue is delivered in a quick, unconvincing manner and is mostly very bland, not a good thing when your leading character is supposed to be witty. Many of the exchanges between characters are just big dumps of plot exposition with little regard for nuances of natural conversation or characterisation.

The police seem rather inept and incapable of action without the involvement of the reporter, Banner. The film is mostly studio-bound, and the limited number of scenes shot on location are sometimes poorly integrated with the interior shots. And certain ideas within the film are just plain daft. For example, a character hiding behind a narrow pillar so that his arms and legs still stick out. And a professional photographer trying to get shots through a glass window whilst using his flash? Good luck with that one mate, all you'll get is reflection!

Being in practically every scene, Reynolds carries a big responsibility on his shoulders and I don't think he is really up to it as his one-note performance fails to get the most out of what the script offers up. In his few scenes, Gordon Jackson shows much more skill, throwing in just a facial expression or movement of the eyes among his words that gives a far greater impression of thought processes going on, and it's a shame that he wasn't given the lead role instead. Honor Blackman, beautiful as ever, struggles a little in the earlier half of the picture when her character has too little to do but her performance improves as the material does. And it's a treat to see Katie Johnson here, albeit in a small role, just before she was to play her career-defining role in The Ladykillers.

In summation, a work that is likely only to have appeal to dedicated fans of the genre and/or the cast members present.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

This Hound's still got bite
When an actor is so inextricably associated with the role of Sherlock Holmes, as Basil Rathbone most surely is, it comes as something of a surprise to see him take only second billing in this, his first outing as Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle's master detective. That Richard Greene, in the role of Sir Henry Baskerville, is considered the star is indicative that either Rathbone wasn't yet considered a bankable enough name or, perhaps more likely, 20th Century Fox were very much looking at this project as a one-off rather than the first in a potential series.

'Hound' may well be the best known Sherlock Holmes story, but in having the Baker Street sleuth absent for a considerable chunk of the narrative it is perhaps not the character's best outing so in that sense perhaps it is only right that Rathbone takes second place. Make no mistake, however, it is he who steals the show.

There are many other screen versions of this famous story, however it is very difficult to find a better one than this. From start to finish it maintains a steady pace, and absorbs the viewer with not only an intriguing mystery but also a pervading atmosphere of foreboding menace. There are so many great cast members in this piece, such as Nigel De Brullier, John Carradine, Eily Malyon and especially Lionel Atwill as Dr Mortimer, whose mere faces are compelling to watch when photographed and lit so effectively.

It cannot be easy to recreate Dartmoor within the confines of a soundstage and yet the sets and model work are utterly convincing, not to mention gloriously atmospheric. Even when it comes to one of the most difficult aspects of the story to achieve on screen, the hound itself, this film succeeds and the beast comes across as wholly real and savage, unleashing what appears to be a truly devastating attack on its victim without any sign of a close-up showing a fake paw being dragged across an actor's face.

In transferring the novel to screen, some minor tinkering has been made to the story in order to keep it tight and make it more suitable for this medium. Characters such as Dr Mortimer and Barryman (Barrymore in the novel) are given a greater air of menace. The character of Laura Lyons is removed altogether whilst others are added such as the neighbour Frankland, a morose man who speaks his mind. Certain scenes are new additions, such as a séance and a glimpse of the inquest into Sir Charles Baskerville's death. The dog is not covered with phosphorescence. The most crucial change, perhaps, is that Beryl Stapleton really is John Stapleton's sister in this version and that she is oblivious as to the plot against Sir Henry. All of which is very well, but it does then leave open the question of who sent the anonymous warning letter to him at the outset.

Rathbone and Bruce nail their roles of Holmes and Watson immediately and already show a great chemistry in their scenes together. There has been much debate over the years about Nigel Bruce portraying Watson as a buffoon but there is little evidence of it here, other than lapses which are present in the original novel. On the whole Watson is brave, courteous and intelligent. A mention also for Mary Gordon, making her debut as Holmes' housekeeper Mrs Hudson, a role she would retain when the series switched to the Universal film studios.

There are a few minor faults, such as not quite seeing the villain of the piece get his final comeuppance (it happens off screen) but overall this remains a wonderfully watchable film version of a famous Sherlock Holmes adventure and a masterful demonstration into achieving subtle menace on the screen at almost every turn.

P'tang, Yang, Kipperbang

A universal tale of love
Through their collaborations on TV in the 1960s and 1970s, writer Jack Rosenthal and director Michael Apted had crafted a number of popular and acute studies of human character through plays, sitcoms and even episodes of Coronation Street. Little wonder then that by the 1980s when the new fourth British television channel was being planned, that these two talents should be earmarked for the first project of its film wing.

Rosenthal returns to the landscape of his own youth for this story, a middle-class British school of the 1940s. In simple terms, it is the story of a fourteen-year-old boy, Alan Duckworth, and his two great loves: a very public passion for cricket and a more private, unrequited adoration of one of his female classmates, Ann Lawton. In the transitional stage between childhood and adulthood, he is able to maintain a friendship with the school groundsman, Tommy, and discuss intelligent topics with him, yet is still something of an unruly pupil, larking about with his 'gang' friends at inappropriate moments. It is the club greeting of this gang, an obligatory exchange of the password "P'Tang, Yang, Kipperbang - uhh!" that gives this film its title, one to rank among the most bizarre in the history of cinema along with Laughing Gravy (1930) and The Film That Rises To The Surface Of Clarified Butter (1968).

Duckworth's growing infatuation with Ann seems doomed to progress no further than longing gazes across the classroom until an unexpected turn of events propels him along a course whereupon it seems inevitable that he must declare his feelings to her. However, as this is a course of action he is now being pressured into, he begins to wonder if asking God to bring him this opportunity was such a good idea after all.

But this is a Jack Rosenthal script, so although this tale of adolescence is told in a quite charming way, there is so much more going on in the film and it explores love and sex as driving forces for most of the other characters in the film also, and how it differs for each. Tommy, recently back from serving overseas during the war, is now working the land at the school and has also been 'working' Miss Land, Alan's teacher. Miss Land, rather prim and proper in class, has quite an appetite for men, and when all the young eligible ones were away fighting it is revealed that she took on older men for lovers rather than remain celibate. The boys in Alan's class have reached an age where they want sex but haven't achieved it, and thus even a claim to have groped a girl's chest over her clothes affords a boy some superior status over his peers. But even the girls seem rather obsessed too, having a poll to see which is the most desirable boy in the class. The juxtaposition of these events help to illustrate that Alan is truly motivated more by love than mere lust. And just as they also demonstrate a depth to Alan, the events also show this unexpected depth of Alan's character to Ann Lawton, who had never previously given him a second thought.

There's a top-notch cast at work here, many of them just starting out on what have turned out to be successful screen careers. Watch out for one-time Eurovision entrant Frances Ruffelle as the girl who offers out hugs for all the boys in the class.

The film is not full of action or incident and although it explores some adult themes, it is subtle rather than explicit. As a snapshot of British life just after the war, I am not sure how much this will appeal to audiences of different ages or from different cultures but as its themes are so fundamentally human, the underlying story should surely be appreciated universally. And in its approach to exploring those themes, the film is practically faultless.

Warp Speed

Nice idea, badly plotted
Another low-budget sci-fi feature from the Sandler-Emenegger stable. This one involves a Marie Celeste type of situation: a spaceship sent out on a five-year mission to Saturn to conduct research has unexpectedly returned early, damaged and with its crew mysteriously vanished. In a final bid to uncover the truth, the authorities have brought in a psychic, Dr Janet Trask, to go aboard the abandoned vessel and attempt to reconstruct the events using her extraordinary sensory powers.

Camille Mitchell plays Dr Trask, supposedly the lead character although in fact she ends up having very little to do other than wander hesitantly through empty corridors or keep her distance as an unseen observer as exchanges between members of the ship's crew play out.

The ill-fated crew themselves are the expected mixed bunch, headed by a stoic Adam West as the experienced commander whose determination for the mission to succeed is fuelled more by his own career ambitions than a true sense of duty. His team are an even mix of young men and women, fairly one-dimensional characters and it is disappointing that, with one or two exceptions, their backgrounds and the precise nature of their roles on the ship are barely explored. However, a nice touch is the explanation that each had to come through a lengthy and gruelling selection process in order to qualify for the mission, meaning that they are, by nature, all extremely competitive individuals who are now confined together for a projected five years with no more outlet for this urge.

In fact it would seem that they have very little outlets for anything, given how sparse the spaceship's interior appears. The feeble budget means that the bridge, the corridors, the gymnasium and each member's private quarters are almost barren, and the recreation room where much of the action is centred has the most basic table and chairs and, would you believe, a couple of Space Invaders machines! There are a couple of those 1970s-style tall computer banks in evidence, but they look very static with the big spools of tape not spinning. The command centre where Trask is dispatched from looks a much more complex set-up yet is less crucial to the plot, so perhaps an example of the limited budget not being used as sensibly as it might have been. Model work is basic but competent. There's one optical effect and it fails because it involves a laser weapon being fired at an individual's head but they collapse clutching their stomach.

I found the film very disjointed early on. It very strangely opens with a brief scene of Dr Trask waking up in her bedroom before cutting to other events, and this gives a false impression that everything thereafter is some kind of dream or flashback, which it isn't (at least I don't think it is). Then, after some predictable preamble in which a hardened authority figure insists that bringing in a psychic will be a waste of time and money, Trask gets going on her mission and there's a lot of switching between her present and the past events on the ship which she is sensing. The continual chopping about doesn't help the narrative flow at all. Trask picks up some events out of sequence, which I assume was a device employed to try and intrigue the viewer as to how these events came about, but instead this idea is somewhat disorientating. Confusion is increased further by the presentation of images resulting from crew members using some kind of special recreational device which lets them escape into their fantasies, as it's not at all clear what this device is at first. And when it does become clear, you assume that this piece of apparatus will have some bearing on the subsequent plot, but then it doesn't.

Thankfully, the second half of the film follows a more linear form of storytelling, without the unnecessary interruptions from Trask or her colleagues, and instead focusses on the fate of the lost crew. As events conspire against them and they become embroiled in a battle for survival, the film becomes a more compulsive watch despite some moments where credibility is stretched. The ending has a strange twist, and never quite satisfactorily explains exactly what happened to the final crewmember, but sometimes a little ambiguity is not a bad thing if the viewer is given sufficient data to make some educated guesses as to the final outcome.

The musical soundtrack is weak, the acting and dialogue passable without ever excelling, and the direction similarly fails to fully exploit the moments of drama. Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, an example comes in a scene where the crew have to draw lots to decide which of them will sacrifice themselves to save the others. Quite recently I was re-watching the 1980 TV mini-series Shogun which, coincidentally, featured a very similar scene in its first episode. Whereas Shogun managed to convey all the fear and tension of such a situation, Warp Speed completely fails in comparison, and that's the problem really - whatever this film manages to achieve in its best moments, you've still seen it done much better somewhere else.

The film's best attribute, once it gets going, is its story, so that will serve as some reward for those viewers patient enough to get through the confusing first half-hour. In better hands, this might have been a really good film. As it stands, it's not poor, but it's certainly no more than average.


A failed experiment
This is a low-budget sci-fi flick concerning an alien race snatching a small number of human beings out of their everyday existence in order to study their behaviour.

There are six humans in all, and although the characters interact quite well, they are rather clichéd stereotypes comprising the handsome hunk (Martin Kove, probably the most familiar face among this small cast), the shy, pretty blonde girl who falls for him, the technical expert who becomes the unofficial thinker/leader of the group, the spoilt wealthy woman more concerned with her own welfare than that of her companions and the older religious man who is convinced that all their problems can be solved by placing their faith in God. There is also a Southeast Asian woman (a token ethnic minority character?) who is killed off in somewhat bizarre circumstances very early on, presumably to heighten the tension and convince the viewer that the lives of the remaining quintet really are on the line.

After an initial sequence in which the various parties are each abducted from their home environment by means of a fireball-like phenomenon descending on them from the sky, most of the action takes place in the eponymous 'laboratory', which oddly resembles the interior of a rather squalid, abandoned government office building. Although this obviously saved on the budget, within the context of the film it is not made clear whether the aliens were recreating a familiar environment for their captives or had, in fact, merely transported them to a convenient place elsewhere on Earth. Occasional exterior shots of the facility would tend to favour the latter theory.

Perhaps it is explained at some point, unfortunately the aliens' speech, a synthesised effect not dissimilar to that of the Cylon voices in Battlestar Galactica, is difficult to follow, particularly since the overall sound and picture quality of this film is rather substandard. The aliens themselves are humanoid in shape but lack features and have skin resembling the surface of a disco glitterball.

The main thrust of the film is following the central characters, who are all initially unknown to one another, as they try to figure out what is going on and how they can escape their predicament. Cooperation would appear to be the key, however each has their own very firm idea as to how to proceed.

The premise is sufficiently strong to maintain viewer interest to the conclusion, although at times the behaviour of the characters seems to lack credibility. For example, one would imagine that the first course of action would be to explore the strange new environment they find themselves in, however it appears to be the case that they each go back to bed and have a night's sleep before doing so! The characters all suddenly becoming hysterical near the end seems forced in order to achieve a plot development rather than arising naturally.

The cheapness of the film often undermines plot developments. Whilst it is perfectly reasonable that it would be the woman with the musical background who is the character to learn how to use a sound machine to decode the aliens' language and communicate with them, that she is able to quickly achieve this with a machine capable of playing only six different musical notes and displaying the crudest of graphics seems far-fetched in the extreme.

Ah, I mentioned music. Probably the biggest failing of the film is the musical soundtrack. I use the term 'musical' in the loosest sense, because rather than being remotely tuneful, it is a continual (and I mean continual) bombardment of solemn chords that only serves to maintain a dismal atmosphere throughout rather than to enhance moments of drama or emotion.

It is a shame because even with its limited budget this film could have been so much more. I suspect it was a mistake to reveal the aliens too soon, and the mystery element could have been played up considerably by having the film start with one of the characters waking up in the laboratory with no idea of where they are or how they got there, and then following them as they encounter each of the others and trying to piece things together. As it is, the film rather clumsily gives us the answer first before asking the questions. Having said that, waiting an hour or more to see the aliens revealed only to then discover that they are the rather unimpressive beings depicted in this film would not be a very satisfying pay-off!

Overall then, this film is average at best. It has some nice ideas and will probably keep you watching in order to discover how everything pans out, but you will never once be fooled into believing you are watching a masterpiece, and it's unlikely that this is a film you would be in any hurry to return to again.

Vengeance Is Mine

Dyall M For Murder!
From 1943, Valentine Dyall was making himself one of the most well-known voices in Britain as the so-called 'Man in black', host of the popular BBC radio series Appointment With Fear. He was frequently seen on screen also though usually just in supporting starring roles, so Vengeance Is Mine is a rare opportunity to see him as the lead.

Dyall plays Charles Heywood, an embittered man whom we learn has recently been released from prison. He had spent several years incarcerated after being framed by a crooked business partner, Richard Kemp (Arthur Brander). By making the evidence point towards Heywood, Kemp was able to remain free and continue to build his own corrupt business empire.

Now that he is at liberty once more, Heywood is determined to revenge himself by bringing Kemp to ruin, and recruits some old friends to assist him, notably Stacy, played by the ever-reliable Sam Kydd, one of the most ubiquitous faces in post-war British cinema.

However, events take an unexpected turn when Heywood falls ill. An initial diagnosis gives him just six months to live, which leaves Heywood with the prospect of falling short in his plan to bring down Kemp. He then devises another scheme and hires a hitman to give him a quick, mercy killing before his illness can run its course, but to make the death look like an act of murder on Kemp's part. This will give Heywood the satisfaction he craves even in death.

But when Heywood subsequently decides to cancel that plan, he can't as the hitman is nowhere to be found. Consequently Heywood must live with the knowledge that he could be murdered at any time...

This was a low-budget affair hence being devoid of any real big names in the cast. Most of the hour-long running time is taken up with conversation in the confines of an office and has a rather stagey feel, not helped by some rather flat, clichéd dialogue: "A man can do a lot of thinking in prison", "I know what you're thinking, that I'm mad, but I'm not, just hear me out." etc etc.

Although the premise has excellent potential for drama, the plot construction is very awkward. Considering the short running time of the piece, the audience has to wait too long for Heywood to explain his plan, and when he finally does, this is by means of a long-winded flashback which shows nothing of his original interaction with his enemy or of his arrest, yet labours on him renting a new office and negotiating the price. It's not even all that clear why Heywood needs a new office and a secretary anyway, except of course that she acts as his love interest in the last third of the film, a relationship which isn't explored very deeply.

The eventual confrontation between Heywood and Kemp at the climax is brief and not really worth the wait.

The film's greatest triumph is arguably the choice of Richard Goolden to play the hired assassin, Parsons. Not the expected moody, sinister character but a rather genial, well-spoken gentleman. This actually makes a lot of sense, as such an individual would attract a lot less suspicion and be able to strike at targets from close range.

Overall, this is a rather thin and clumsy realisation of a decent story. Even within the tight constraints of the budget, much more could have been done to tell the story in a more exciting, dramatic fashion. However, the decent premise and cast make it a pleasing watch, if one can put up with the rather inferior standard of the film print which is used for the current TV broadcasts.

Out of the Fog

Foggy thinking behind this murder mystery
The basis of this film is fairly simple: a series of murders begins just as a man arrives in the area having been released from prison. Whilst perhaps not the most innovative of ideas there is certainly no shortage of potential from which to craft an intriguing and entertaining thriller. Unfortunately the film becomes something of a frustrating watch as it consistently fails to make the most of its opportunities.

The murders - well, there are only two, as it happens - take place in the fog on a patch of undeveloped land within the city on nights when there is a full moon, and the victims are young blonde women who get strangled. You would imagine that this would be fertile ground for a film director, and that such visual imagery would be ideal for audiences, but the events are only ever mentioned rather than portrayed, as is also the case with an attack on a third victim who manages to escape.

In fact the majority of the film takes place indoors, probably the result of a lack of time and money, and so rather than being a creepy thriller, the film takes on the guise of a character piece centering around newly-released jailbird George Mallon. Mallon, with nowhere else to go, is given board by an altruistic old gentleman who is helping to rehabilitate ex-convicts and re-integrate them into society, consequently Mallon finds himself sharing digs with a host of other crooks. However, whereas they are a close-knit group, and not necessarily keen on the idea of reform, Mallon rebuffs all opportunities to join their coterie, keeping himself very much to himself. In the aftermath of the first murder, however, the police learn that he was at the scene around about the time of the offence, and so becomes a suspect, and as their enquiries - and more attacks on women - continue, nothing arises which comprehensively eliminates Mallon from the enquiry. Indeed, the circumstantial evidence grows, since a subsequent murder victim was seen arguing with him in a coffee bar shortly before she was killed.

In a desperate bid to snare their man the police use an undercover WPC as bait, getting their prettiest blonde to ingratiate herself with Mallon. Sure enough, events contrive to have Mallon and the policewoman alone together on a foggy night under the full moon and the audience will soon find out whether or not Mallon really is the serial killer...

The film's first mistake is that very few of the characters are likable. Mallon, presumably to convince the viewer that he is a credible suspect, is portrayed as harsh and abrasive throughout regardless of who he is interacting with, which hardly elicits any sympathy for his situation from the audience. He continually insists that people have no time for ex-cons, yet his attitude does him no favours. The other crooks sharing the house are more genial, but nevertheless all to a man they are taking advantage of their host's good nature whilst simultaneously plotting more crimes. As for the police, they are portrayed as bullies. Mallon is quite right in saying that the Sergeant shouldn't have gone through his room without a search warrant. Their skills in investigation and detection would appear to be decidedly limited. Not once is it questioned why a man with form for robbery should suddenly turn his hand to murder, nor why he should volunteer that he was at the scene of the crime when he had the option of an alibi. They give the victim who survives, useless though she is, the briefest of interrogations and don't even bother to get her to take them to the place of the attack so that they can look for clues, or to speak to her boyfriend who allegedly frightened the attacker off. Instead the Superintendent comes up with the ludicrous theory that the murders are taking place on nights where there is a full moon (he somehow knows there was a full moon on each date where an attack previously took place), as though a full moon can be seen in thick fog anyway. Why not just assume the attacker chose to work under the cover of fog?

Only when Susan Travers enters the fray about halfway through the film as the policewoman asked to go undercover do we get a character we can warm to and although there is a suggestion that Mallon has a softer side which might show through, we never quite get to see it. There are hints at there being much more to him, in his meeting with his mother and his propensity to sketch women, but nothing is ever really developed, and the other characters are all rather one-dimensional, especially the policemen who are essentially just men doing their jobs rather than personalities in their own right.

The film is rather dated in its style now, of course, with some hammy dialogue, exaggerated accents and some very intrusive incidental music. The saving grace is the cast, which contains a rich array of character actors, the majority of whom rise above the pervading flatness of the whole thing to deliver performances which are interesting to watch. The likes of George Woodbridge and James Hayter may only be confined to smallish parts, but they are somehow compelling all the same. A fairly short running time prevents the plot from ever dragging and so this title is entertaining even if it never hits the heights it should. But the 'ex-con released back into society' routine had already been done to much more exemplary effect in "Hell Drivers" a few years earlier, and sadly even the comedic "Carry On Screaming" had a better idea of how to draw suspense from women being stalked in foggy woodlands than this film does.

Not Tonight, Darling

Not too good, darling
The Talking Pictures TV channel has been serving up a feast of obscure British films from years gone by, hence I chanced upon this offering from 1971. Right from the opening moments it was so poor as to be cringe-inducing, yet quickly became a strangely compulsive watch as I persevered with it thinking that it couldn't possibly get any worse, only to be proved wrong at each successive plot turn.

One would think that with such talents as James Hayter and Denis King on board that the film might have something going for it, and even performers such as Luan Peters and Vincent Ball, although not noted as acting heavyweights, have at least demonstrated elsewhere in their careers that they are capable of far better than what is served up here. There are rare cases when just about every element in a film – plot, characterisation, dialogue, direction, photography, acting, music, location all click into place perfectly to produce something of stunning quality that is worthy of the description 'classic'. Unfortunately, this is an equally rare case where every single one of those elements fails, and the contrivance is so embarrassingly bad that you wonder why anybody was prepared to put their name to it.

The plot is a simple one, and clichéd, though not without potential: attractive housewife has grown weary of her husband's lack of attention and is tempted into finding satisfaction elsewhere, only for things to go disastrously wrong. The film is clearly striving to be an erotic drama but fails so spectacularly that you would be forgiven for mistaking it as a comic spoof of the genre. Even from the beginning, when the set-up explores how the main character, Karen Williams, finds herself trapped in a mundane, loveless existence, the dialogue is so boring and the acting so wooden that you can't imagine how there was ever a spark of romance between Karen and her solicitor husband, John. The fact that Karen won't even attempt to discuss her feelings with him doesn't help the viewer sympathise with her plight, nor does the fact that she hardly seems to have much of a relationship with her six-year- old son either. There's no attempt to give the characters any depth, explore their past, their backgrounds, show them in different situations. Even if hubby is working long hours, he must get at least one day off a week so how do they spend it?

Everything seems to revolve around Karen going to do her shopping in the local grocery store, where one of the assistants (unbeknown to her) has been spying on her through her bathroom window at night – not very successfully, as he seems to be incapable of keeping his binoculars in focus. One day the assistant is ogling Karen in the shop with the visiting sales rep Alex, and the latter wagers that he can get Karen into bed within three days.

That he succeeds hardly seems credible as once again this is a one- dimensional character and there's little exploration of why Karen would be drawn to such a sleazy character, although she does laugh at his lame jokes as though he's the world's greatest wit. He drags her off to watch Thunderclap Newman rehearse at a nearby venue, giving the film an unusual dose of historical cultural interest, and then takes her into what looks like a hotel room (but apparently isn't) and talks her into getting down to business whilst traffic noisily rumbles past outside. The fact that they close the curtains somehow fails to prevent a photographer from a neighbouring building capturing the moment for posterity. And so, the drama unfolds...

Absurdity manifests itself in practically every scene, whether it be Karen telling her son to dry his hair even though it isn't even wet, or her timid acquiescence when pressured into situations that ought to invoke stern resistance or at least strong emotion. But there's a complete lack of emotional intensity throughout, save for a couple of scenes, when the story is crying out for it.

There's also a pervading air of cheapness, most obvious in the lack of extras populating scenes. Drinking venues are practically empty, shops are devoid of customers, no other children or parents are to be seen at the school gates (in fact, you can't even see the school...). Even the live strip-show only musters an audience of about four men. The direction is limp and without imagination, and whether it's shapely young females working out in a gymnasium, Luan Peters showing off her fantastic body or the visual splendour of a firework display, the film struggles to stimulate the senses. Even the cars move slowly and undramatically, as though trying to make life easier for the cameraman.

Unforgivably, even despite the lack of resources, the film lacks a proper conclusion, coming to a somewhat abrupt end almost as if the money had run out.

But, bad as it may be, the film does tell a story and is easy to follow, even if credibility is stretched on occasion. It never gets dull. It has Thunderclap Newman in it. It still manages to titillate in spite of its clumsiness. So I have to award it some points for all that, and I'd rather watch this than a very boring film. But I'm still quite stunned that a British film of the 1970s era could be as appalling as this.


A Jackpot that lacks a big pay-off
A low budget British crime thriller from the early 1960s. The plot centres around a crook, Carl Stock (George Mikell). Having previously taken the rap for a robbery, he ended up doing time in prison and being deported from Britain, which not only cost him his share of the loot but also his marriage. Now he has finally managed to slip back into the country to reclaim what he considers to be his. However, his former colleague (Eddie Byrne) is now something of a big shot and is unwilling to entertain Stock's requests for financial recompense. Likewise Stock's wife, Kay (Betty McDowall) has moved on with her life and isn't altogether pleased when he turns up again out of the blue. And so the situation plays out, and it isn't long before the local police, headed by Superintendent Frawley (William Hartnell, just before he would land his defining role as television's original Doctor Who) are concerned with events.

Although the situation has plenty of potential, unfortunately the film plods along in a very pedestrian fashion and seems incapable of delivering a genuinely surprise twist, tension or intrigue. The majority of the characters are completely one-dimensional and the relationships between them, including crucially the one between Stock and his wife, lack any depth whatsoever. The film's saving grace for me was the character of Lenny Lane, former safe-cracker now gone straight, who is dragged back into the mire. The role is played by Michael Ripper, too often relegated to bit parts in films but here he gets something more substantial and shows how capable a performer he is. Lane and his young friend Sally (Sylvia Davies) are probably the only characters in the whole piece who are anything other than bland. Even settings in the London streets, a nightclub and (notably) Arsenal FC's football stadium fail to come alive under Montgomery Tully's limp direction.

Little-seen for many years, Jackpot recently underwent a restoration allowing it to be broadcast on television again. This restored print unfortunately still shows signs of damage and ends very abruptly before cutting into what are clearly recreated closing captions. I would hope the original release had a more satisfying closing scene but given the amount of dross that makes up the bulk of the picture, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it hadn't.

As a point of interest, this was the third project that Eddie Byrne and Betty McDowall had starred in together in little over a year, having previously collaborated on the film Jack The Ripper and the TV series Call Me Sam.

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