Friday, June 29, 2012

Somewhere in the Night (1946)

Somewhere in the Night (1946)

Somewhere in the Night was one of many 1940s movies to explore the idea of amnesia, a subject that fascinated Hollywood at this time. This 1946 20th Century-Fox film noir was also Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s first feature film (although he had earlier taken over as director on Dragonwyck when Ernst Lubitsch fell ill.

A Marine (played by John Hodiak) wakes up in a military hospital. He had been unconscious after getting much too close to an exploding hand grenade. He is well on the road to recovery but he now has no idea who he is.

Somewhere in the Night (1946)

His ID tells him that his name is George Taylor. It means nothing to him. For some obscure reason he is afraid to admit that he has lost his memory. It may have something to do with a letter he found, a letter telling him he was such a louse he ought to be dead. He feels compelled to find out about his past if only to discover why someone hated him so much to wish him dead.

He has one major clue to work on, another letter from a certain Larry Cravat. Cravat wrote to tell him he’d deposited five thousand dollars in Taylor’s bank account, and calling him his buddy. When he starts looking for Cravat he discovers that this upsets a lot of people. It upsets one of them enough to earn Taylor a savage beating. But he is still determined to track down the mysterious Larry Cravat.

Somewhere in the Night (1946)

And of course he meets a girl, Christy (Nancy Guild). They get off on the wrong foot but pretty soon Christy has fallen for him in a big way. He tells her his story and she has faith in him, even when it appears that Taylor’s past may have been somewhat sordid and that he may be mixed up in a spectacular crime - the theft of two million dollars smuggled out of Germany by the Nazis. She is confident that he can’t really be a bad guy.

Christy introduces Taylor to some people who may be able to help him. Firstly there’s her boss, Mel Phillips (Richard Conte). She assures Taylor that he’s a really nice guy and he is. Mel suggests that Detective-Lieutenant Donald Kendall (Lloyd Nolan) may be able to offer him the assistance he needs. Kendall is a homicide cop whose good humour hides a deceptively acute mind.

Somewhere in the Night (1946)

New clues appear, only to lead to more blind alleys. Cravat was definitely involved in the hunt for the Nazi money but so were lots of other people, including self-described small-time chiseller Anzelmo (Fritz Kortner) and would-be femme fatale Phyllis (Margo Woode). There was also a murder connected with the theft and both Larry Cravat and George Taylor seem to have been at the crime scene. Could George Taylor really be a murderer? Christy assures him he could never have done anything like that but Taylor is not so sure.  The plot just keeps throwing more curve balls at poor George but eventually he feels he is getting close to the truth. But can he handle the truth?

Hodiak is solid and the supporting cast is excellent, especially Richard Conte and Lloyd Nolan while Fritz Cortner does his best to steal every scene he’s in. Margo Woode is a terrific low-class dangerous dame who is not as smart as she thinks she is.

Somewhere in the Night (1946)

The potential weak link is Nancy Guild. It was the nineteen-year-old’s film debut and her inexperience shows at times, especially with so many old hands in the cast. She also has the misfortune to be playing the good girl, and making the film noir good girl interesting was always tougher than making the femme fatale interesting. She does her best and she just about gets away with it.

Manckiewicz’s inexperience also shows at times but he had a good crew and the result is a solid and entertaining if unspectacular movie with some nice noirish photographic effects. It’s a second-tier noir but it’s enjoyable.

Fox’s DVD as usual for their film noir releases boasts a great transfer and a commentary track.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Song of Songs (1933)

Song of Songs (1933)Song of Songs was one of the first times Marlene Dietrich acted for someone other than Josef von Sternberg, leading the actress to make the anguished comment, “Jo, why hast thou forsaken me?” In Song of Songs she was directed by the very competent Rouben Mamoulian, but he was no Josef von Sternberg and the results indicate that Dietrich was right to be upset.

In this 1933 Paramount production Dietrich plays an innocent country girl (yes, really) named Lily who is sent to live with her aunt Mrs Rasmussen in the big city after her father’s death. The aunt runs a bookstore and Lily is soon put to work there but, unbeknownst to the aunt, she soon finds herself a second job as an artist’s model. Lily is at first not entirely sure about the idea of posing nude but sculptor Richard Waldow (Brian Aherne) assures her it’s all in the name of art so Lily figures it must be OK.

Lily’s great passion is the Bible, especially the Song of Solomon, a passion she inherited from her father. It’s all about love, a subject on which Lily’s views are a trifle hazy. But she knows love is a good thing, a spiritual thing.

Song of Songs (1933)

The aunt is not well pleased with the idea of her niece being a nude model but she soon senses an opportunity. The wicked and lecherous Baron von Merzbach (Lionel Atwill in full-on moustache-twirling melodrama villain mode) will pay Mrs Rasmussen generously if Mrs Rasmussen will encourage Lily to look fondly on his attentions.

The Baron is a great patron of the arts but he appears to be mostly interested in nudes, and his interest is perhaps not quite as artistic as he would like people to believe.

Song of Songs (1933)

Richard is now hard at work on a sculpture of Lily that he hopes will make his reputation, and Lily and Richard fall in love. Lily is an old-fashioned girl and her ideas on love tend to involve marriage while Richard’s ideas are somewhat more carnal. The sculpture has already been bought by the Baron, but the Baron wants to own more than just the naked Lily in marble. He wants to add the teal thing to his collection. He offers to take Lily off Richard’s hands. He will marry her and turn her into a lady of accomplishments. Lily, feeling betrayed by Richard, is willing to marry the Baron. The Baron doesn’t mind that he has bought Lily’s love, but for Lily love should be something more.

The marriage is, predictably, unsuccessful and Lily takes to a life of pleasure. But still she dreams of true love.

Song of Songs (1933)

Dietrich is not entirely convincing as the innocent country girl but as her character suffers through love betrayed her performance becomes steadily more sure-footed. Dietrich is certainly charming as the naïve Lily and Mamoulian seems just as obsessed by her beauty as was von Sternberg but while von Sternberg was a true visionary Mamoulian was merely a very capable studio director and the poetry of the von Sternberg-Dietrich collaborations is missing. Dietrich seems less in control but she still manages to convince us that when she strips for Richard it is for her something pure and artistic and yes, even spiritual.

Brian Aherne is competent while Lionel Atwill overacts outrageously but it’s the sort of performance that worked in pre-code Hollywood cinema.

Song of Songs (1933)

Like so many pre-code features this one is a mixture of prudery and naughtiness, of morality play and peepshow. It’s by no means a complete success and it’s probably best not to take it too seriously. It’s always worth watching Marlene Dietrich of course. Worth a look if you’re a serious Dietrich fan but don’t expect the magic of the von Sternberg-Dietrich films.

Universal’s Region 2 DVD is a reasonably impressive transfer although noticeably lacking in extras.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Johnny Apollo (1940)

Johnny Apollo (1940)

Johnny Apollo is an interesting 1940 proto-noir from 20th Century-Fox. The American film noir style had not yet emerged fully formed but a number of the key elements are already present in this movie.

Robert Cain Jr (Tyrone Power) is a rich college kid whose whole world collapses when his millionaire stockbroker father (played by Edward Arnold) is imprisoned for embezzlement. What hurts him most of all is that his father is guilty. Now he has nothing to believe in. And his father’s high-priced lawyer (played by Lionel Atwill) can’t even arrange for his dad to get early parole.

Johnny Apollo (1940)

The son decides to engage the same crooked lawyer who was able to get early release for mobster Mickey Dwyer (Lloyd Nolan). A chance meeting at this lawyer’s office with Flynn’s girlfriend Lucky (Dorothy Lamour) will have momentous consequences. Soon Robert Cain Jr has been transformed into gangster Johnny Apollo and is working for Mickey Dwyer. He figures that if he can’t believe in anything any more, and can’t get a decent job because of his father’s tarnished reputation then he might as well become a criminal as well. And Johnny and Lucky fall in love.

His father, Robert Cain Sr, has become a model prisoner and despite being a convicted criminal himself he has developed a strong moral conscience and disapproves of his son’s new career choice. Meanwhile Johnny’s career as a mobster is thriving but trouble is looming and it soon arrives - both Mickey Dwyer and Johnny are indicted by a grand jury.

Johnny Apollo (1940)

Mickey has a plan and he wants Johnny to be in on it but if Johnny agrees he will have burnt his final bridge and will never be escape the life of crime. And Lucky couldn’t stand that. She knows that deep down Johnny is a decent guy and she loves him so she comes up with her own plan to save him. Johnny’s dad, now a reformed character, also has a plan to save his son. But both Lucky and Robert Cain Sr will be putting their lives on the line.

Johnny Apollo is a noir hero in the sense that he’s never really evil. He chooses a criminal career as a way of saving his father. The underrated Tyrone Power gives a solid performance while Lloyd Nolan has great fun as a mobster.

Johnny Apollo (1940)

Dorothy Lamour as a gangster’s moll is an odd casting choice that works better than you might expect. She’s both a femme fatale in the sense that she’s indirectly responsible for launching Johnny on his criminal career and a noir heroine in the sense that she then tries to save him.

Arthur C. Miller’s cinematography is impressive but it’s not really noir. The noir elements of this film are mostly in the content - the decent guy dragged into the noir underworld and the atmosphere of official corruption. Director Henry Hathaway would go on to make several genuine noirs.

Johnny Apollo (1940)

Bounty’s Region 4 DVD is without any extras but it’s a good transfer.

Johnny Apollo might not be pure noir but it’s certainly a pointer towards the emerging noir style, although mixed with elements of the classic gangster movie. Recommended.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Portrait of Jennie (1948)

Portrait of Jennie (1948)Portrait of Jennie is one of those movies that demonstrates that David O. Selznick, in spite of his idiosyncratic and dictatorial producing style, sometimes could produce the goods.

Made in 1948 by Selznick’s Vanguard Films, it’s a romance and a fantasy, a story that may or may not be happening entirely inside the head of the main character, a story that may be impossible or it may be true. It might be a ghost story or it might not. It’s also a story of romantic and artistic obsession, but it’s obsession without the kinds of perverse connotations that such a story would inevitably have if filmed today.

William Dieterle directed with Jennifer Jones (soon to be Mrs Selznick) and Joseph Cotten starring. Selznick was notorious for his penchant for interfering in areas that should have been left to the director but in this case the end result is a movie that works perfectly. Like most Selznick films it had a troubled production history but despite these problems it’s a strange and beautiful film.

Portrait of Jennie (1948)

Eben Adams (Joseph Cotten) is an artist, and a very unsuccessful one. He’s your archetypal starving artist. He can’t give his paintings away. He’s not without talent but his pictures are lacking something. They’re technically excellent but they’re soulless. A couple of kindly art dealers, Mr Matthews (Cecil Kellaway) and Miss Spinney (Ethel Barrymore) buy one of his paintings but it’s more out of pity than anything else.

Then one day he meets a strange young girl, little more than a child, in the park. It is 1934 but somehow she looks like she belongs to a previous age. And she says odd things. She tells him her parents are high-wire performers at Hammerstein’s, but everybody knows that Hammerstein’s was knocked down years ago. And she tells him she wants to hurry up and grow up so they can be together always. He’s vaguely puzzled but fascinated.

Portrait of Jennie (1948)

He does a sketch of the girl and it’s the best thing he’s ever done. Matthews and Miss Spinney buy the sketch immediately. Suddenly he starts to believe he might actually be an artist. His next meeting with the girl is even more puzzling. Only a very short time has passed but somehow she seems older. She offers to pose for a portrait but she tells him he’ll have to wait until she’s older. And then he meets her again, and now she seems more like a young woman than a girl. She’s obviously the same girl, he can’t mistake those eyes, but she seems to be growing up abnormally quickly. She tells him she’s hurrying up so they can be together always.

By this time he’s thoroughly unnerved but more and more fascinated, and more and more anxious to paint her. He decides to find out who she really is. He discovers that there really was a Jennie Appleton whose parents were high-wire performers but her parents died years ago. She can’t possibly be this same Jennie Appleton but an old vaudeville performer shows him a very old photograph and there she is - the very same girl he met in the park just a short time before.

Portrait of Jennie (1948)

Matthews and Miss Spinney and his friend Gus humour him but it’s obvious they don’t believe Jennie exists. And he’s the only person who ever sees her. But he’s sure he’s not dreaming. He speaks to her. He can even touch her. She’s real. She was a young girl just weeks earlier, now she’s a beautiful young woman. He paints her. Eben and Jennie are convinced they were destined to be together always, to be married, to spend their lives together.

The painting makes his reputation immediately. What was missing in his pictures before is now there. He has found his muse. But his friends are more and more convinced there is no Jennie. He has simply found his artistic inspiration. Perhaps he’s crazy but if he can paint pictures like Portrait of Jennie they figure it’s a good kind of craziness.

Portrait of Jennie (1948)

But does Jennie exist? The whole story is of course impossible, but the movie cleverly leaves the question open. Is she a ghost? Has she somehow become dislocated in time? Is it possible that if two people are destined to find another then somehow they will do so even though they live in different times? Or is she just an illusion? Eben is a lonely and rather unhappy man, a man longing for love. Has he created this woman out of his own longings? And if she is somehow, impossibly, real, can such a love survive? Does the world, or God, or whatever it is that controls our destinies, allow such a thing to be? The most likely explanation would seem to be that she is a ghost but the movie leaves open other possibilities. She may be a product of Eben’s spiritual and/or artistic quest.

This is a movie that verges dangerously close to sentimentality but it avoids the worst pitfalls and is instead strangely moving. Its success is at least partly due to Joseph August’s breath-takingly beautiful cinematography. It was shot in black-and-white but with some judicious use of tinting, a common practice in the silent era but unusual in 1948. The tinting is effective and is more than just a gimmick. Bernard Herrmann was replaced by Dimitri Tiomkin during the production and the score (and very effective it is) borrows heavily from Debussy.

Portrait of Jennie (1948)

The two leads, Joseph Cotten as Eben and Jennifer Jones as Jennie, give fine performances which also contribute in large measure to the film’s success.

The British DVD from PT Video looks splendid.

A haunting movie about love, loneliness, spiritual emptiness, art, life and death. Highly recommended.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Man Hunt (1941)

Man Hunt (1941)Man Hunt was released by 20th Century-Fox in 1941 and it’s one of Fritz Lang’s finest American movies.

Based on Geoffrey Household’s excellent 1939 novel Rogue Male it’s the story of an English big-game hunter who decides to stalk the most dangerous game of all. Not just a man, but a heavily-guarded European dictator. In the book the dictator is never named although it’s obvious that it’s Hitler, a point the movie makes explicit.

Captain Alan Thorndike (played by Walter Pidgeon, although the character is never named in the book) believes he is just making a “sporting stalk” - that he has no intention of actually killing the dictator. He has grown tired of killing and even when he stalks animals he no longer kills them. The thrill of the chase is enough. Once he has the animal in his sights the result is, as he says, a mathematical certainty and there is no need to pull the trigger. But in the case of Hitler is he really deluding himself?

Man Hunt (1941)

He is captured by the Nazis and tortured, at the orders of the smooth but brutal Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders). The Germans want him to sign a confession that he was acting under the orders of the British government. He refuses, and they arrange an “accident” for him. But the following day they discover that he has survived. Now the big-game hunter becomes the hunted.

He escapes from Germany, with some help from a cheerful cabin boy (Roddy McDowall in his first major film role) on a Danish freighter. He thinks his problems are over when he gets back to England but in fact they’re just begun. The Nazis are still hunting him and have despatched an assassin (John Carradine) to deal with him. He finds another unlikely ally in the person of a young Cockney streetwalker named Jerry (Joan Bennett in her breakthrough role). The odds seem stacked against him but his hunting skills give him a chance for survival.

Man Hunt (1941)

What follows is a tense and thrilling chase, initially through London until he finally goes to ground in a cave in the English countryside where he will have his final confrontation with Major Quive-Smith.

The novel is essentially a series of internal monologues with the hero’s only emotional bond being with a feral cat who befriends him. This makes great reading but it’s hopelessly un-cinematic so screenwriter Dudley Nichols major changes had to make major changes to the story. Most importantly the hero has to have other characters (both enemies and allies) to whom he can express his thoughts. So the character of Major Quive-Smith is beefed up and fleshed out and the Cockney prostitute more or less takes the place of the cat (and both her fate and the hero’s reaction to it remain essentially the same). Despite the significant changes to the story the spirit of the novel is retained quite effectively.

Man Hunt (1941)

Jerry is also needed in order to provide at least some vaguely romantic interest and to provide the story with at least one important female character. There were major problems with the Production Code Authority over Jerry’s means of earning a living, but it’s still perfectly obvious that she’s a prostitute.

Lang had a reputation for being very controlling with actors but Joan Bennett had enough intelligence to realise she needed strong direction and she would go on to work with Lang on three subsequent movies and she and Lang got on remarkably well.

Man Hunt (1941)

George Sanders makes the most of his role and he is perfectly cast. Walter Pidgeon is also very effective and this is one of his best performances. John Carradine is delightfully villainous.

The subject matter might not be very noir but the visual treatment certainly is. Lang and his cinematographer Arthur C. Miller have really excelled themselves. This is a dark moody film filled with threatening shadows. Some superb art direction also helps and the result is a movie replete with arresting images. Lang makes the most of some fine sets including a subway in which one of the movie’s pivotal scenes occurs.

Man Hunt (1941)

Lang’s American movies have been both well-served and badly-served on DVD. Most are at least available, which is the good news, but the bad news is that few have been given the treatment they deserve. But in this case Fox have done a terrific job - a great transfer, a commentary track and a documentary.

Man Hunt was one of a series of spy movies Land made between 1941 and 1946, all with a strong anti-Nazi message. Lang was always fascinated by spies and Man Hunt is one of his best American films. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Garden of Allah (1936)

The Garden of Allah (1936)

The Garden of Allah was Marlene Dietrich’s first movie in colour and while it could be unkindly argued that all it has going for it is Marlene Dietrich and some glorious Technicolor photography, that’s a slightly unfair judgment on an interesting film and besides, Marlene Dietrich and the photography are more than enough reason on their own to see this picture.

Dietrich is Domini Enfilden, a convent-educated girl in Africa who yearns to see the desert. She meets Boris Androvsky (Charles Boyer), a monk who has fled his Trappist monastery. He had been happy in the monastery where his job was to make the liqueur for which the monastery was famous. The secret of this liqueur had been passed down from one brother to another and now that he has fled he has taken the secret with him. There will be no more Lagardine liqueur.

The Garden of Allah (1936)

Boris had been tempted by the thought of the life outside, and mostly by the thought of women. Domini and Boris fall in love and marry and journey off into the desert to live happily ever after. Well, not quite.

Boris is haunted by guilt for breaking his vows. He has never really lost his faith and is torn between that faith and his love for Domini. His past will of course catch to him and he will face a terrible choice.

The Garden of Allah (1936)

Boris is really the central character but Dietrich, being Dietrich, still manages to dominate the movie with her extraordinary screen presence. While it’s true that she misses the guiding hand of Joseph von Sternberg (this film was directed by Richard Boleslawski) she still has that Dietrich magic. And she looks as beautiful in colour as she did in black-and-white.

Charles Boyer is good and does his best with a demanding role but he is overshadowed by Dietrich and by Basil Rathbone who plays a mysterious Italian count with an interest in Domini, and plays the role with his customary dash.

The Garden of Allah (1936)

C. Aubrey Smith gives a typical C. Aubrey Smith performance as a kindly priest who disapproves of Boris’s actions but can’t help having a good deal of sympathy for the unfortunate lovers and in his own way he hopes that both will find some kind of happiness and fulfillment.

And overshadowing all the characters is the desert itself, a place that brings them face-to-face with their deepest anxieties and longings. 

The cinematography is truly breath-taking. This was a David O. Selznick production and it’s as lush and sumptuous as you’d expect from a Selznick picture. Selznick is a somewhat misunderstood man, perhaps too ambitious for his own good and with an unfortunate tendency to sabotage his own movies through his perfectionist tendencies and constant interference and his insistence on trying to get a movie to conform to his own vision, but he did have a vision and despite some failures his contribution to Amercan cinema was considerable.

The Garden of Allah (1936)

This is a movie about faith and it approaches the subject seriously and with sensitivity. Movies about faith are nowadays profoundly out of fashion and some modern audiences may find this concern with faith, and with the sanctity of vows (vows that Domini takes as seriously as does Boris), puzzling and alienating. That’s unfortunate because unless you can accept that this concern really does matter to the characters you may have difficulty appreciating the film.

The movie can of course be viewed as merely a love story (and it is a love story) but really it’s more than that and it succeeds fairly well in achieving its aims.

The Garden of Allah (1936)

My advice would be to give this very underrated movie a chance. If nothing else it’s a visual feast and it’s a chance to see Marlene Dietrich in a very sympathetic role. Not a movie for everybody perhaps but I still recommend it.

The Region 2 DVD from PT Video is magnificent, preserving all the qualities of the superb Technicolor cinematography.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

FBI Girl (1951)

FBI Girl (1951)FBI Girl, a Lippert Pictures production from 1951, is really more of a low-budget police procedural than a film noir although it does have some affinities with vaguely noirish movies like The Naked City and Call Northside 777.

Crooked governor Owen Grisby (played by Raymond Greenleaf) is actually a man wanted for murder, a murder committed years earlier. Now a senate crime commission is about to pay a visit (from the governor’s point of view a very unwelcome visit) to Capitol City. The governor’s only chance would be if someone could get access to the FBI’s fingerprint files and remove his fingerprint file. The governor’s crooked chief advisor and henchman Blake (Raymond Burr) believes that may be possible. If one of the women employed in the FBI fingerprint section could just be persuaded to do it, or blackmailed into it.

He has found such a woman but Blake makes an error of judgment. He intends to kill the woman afterwards, so there won’t be any loose ends, but she is killed by his over-enthusiastic goons before handing over the file.

FBI Girl (1951)

The FBI of course are not complete fools. They soon realise this was murder, and the murder of someone in their fingerprint section naturally excites their suspicions. Two veteran agents are assigned to the case, Agent Glen Stedman (Cesar Romero) and Agent Jeff Donley (George Brent).

The two agents are convinced the murder was connected to the woman’s enployment in the fingerprint section and they even know the name of the man whose fingerprints are involved - John  Williams (Governor Grisby’s real name). Unfortunately the FBI has 10,000  John Williams on file and nothing else to go on so that’s not much help.

FBI Girl (1951)

The agents know another attempt will be made and they’ve got as far as tracing a link back to Capital City. But to nail the bad guys they’ll need help. They think they’ve found that help in the person of Shirley Wayne (Audrey Totter). She works in the fingerprint section and her boyfriend has approached her to steal the John Wiliams fingerprint file. This could be the break Agents Stedman and Donley need. But it will be dangerous work for Shirley.

The movie builds to a thrilling and very effective climax. Will the agents get their man, and most importantly will Shirley escape with her life with Raymond Burr gunning for her?

FBI Girl (1951)

For a Robert Lippert production this one boasts a pretty good cast. Audrey Totter is at least  a minor noir icon while Raymond Burr is a very major noir icon. Totter is solid enough but as you’d expect the picture belongs to Raymond Burr. This guy oozes menace and evilness from every pore and he’s in fine form. Cesar Romero is good and while George Brent’s career was on a downhill slide at the time (that’s why he ended up in several Lippert pictures) he was a decent actor and he gives a good account of himself.

Despite it’s low budget this doesn’t have too much of a cheapjack feel. Director William Berke (who also produced the movie) had a reputation for churning out cheap movies on time and on budget and although his approach to directing is kind of basic (don’t expect too many artistic flourishes) he certainly gets the job done and he maintains a brisk pace (helped by the taut 74-minute running time) and he knows how to build the tension without resorting to anything fancy.

FBI Girl (1951)

This film is included in VCI’s Forgotten Noir DVD boxed set and it’s a very acceptable transfer indeed for what is a relatively obscure low-budget B-movie. And there’s even a commentary track. Some of the movies in the Forgotten Noir set are at best borderline noir but if you love crime B-movies it’s a very worthwhile purchase, and the price is certainly right.

On the whole this is a much better movie than you might expect. There’s something here for police procedural fans and something for fans of gritty crime flicks with a fair amount of action towards the end. If you’re a Raymond Burr fan you want this movie. Warmly recommended for any aficionado of crime B-pictures.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Clouded Yellow (1950)

The Clouded Yellow (1950)

The Clouded Yellow, directed by Ralph Thomas and scripted by Janet Green, is a 1950 British thriller very much in the style (and deliberately so) of Hitchcock’s British thrillers.

David Somers (Trevor Howard) used to be a secret agent for British Intelligence, until he made one mistake and they decided to pension him off. Now he has found a job cataloguing a butterfly collection, of all things. Not that he has any interest in butterflies, but it sounds like a nice relaxing quiet job in the countryside and he’s rather looking forward to it. After all, you can’t get into too much trouble cataloguing butterflies. Or so he assumes.

The Clouded Yellow (1950)

In fact it turns out that you can get into a great deal of trouble in such a job. The first sign that perhaps all is not quite right in this apparently peaceful country house is when his employer warns him to be careful of his wife’s niece, Sophie, because “she gets things all muddled.” Sophie (Jean Simmons) turns out to be even more disturbing than the warning would suggest since apart from being obviously troubled she is also young and beautiful. And lonely. And David Somers is lonely also. David feels sorry for her, tries to be friendly, and of course they fall in love.

There’s also the unsettling presence of the obviously villainous gamekeeper Hick, a man Sophie clearly dislikes and is afraid of. She is also afraid of her aunt, Jess (Sonia Dresdel).

The Clouded Yellow (1950)

When Sophie finds herself accused of murder Somers finds himself drawn into the case. He is convinced of her innocence, and soon finds himself on the run with her. When British Intelligence sends a former colleague of his (played by Kenneth More) to hunt him down he has to use all his old skills to evade the pursuit. 

There are several things that make this more than just a retread of The 39 Steps. One is the acting – Trevor Howard is superb, and Jean Simmons sparkles as the young woman accused of murder.  The chemistry between these two is wonderful. Kenneth More gives an exceptionally likeable performance (as he always did). 

The Clouded Yellow (1950)

Geoffrey Unsworth’s superb cinematography is another major factor in this film’s favour, especially in the very effective and very exciting climax. 

Director Ralph Thomas went on to have a long and varied career, encompassing everything from Dickens to light comedies to some of the best spy spoofs of the 60s. He was no auteur but he was always very reliable and in this film proves adept at suspense.

The Clouded Yellow (1950)

The Region 4 DVD is barebones but it’s a fine transfer. It’s also available on a Region 2 DVD from Eureka.

This is an extremely well-made and very lively film offering suspense, romance, and some humour (mostly provided by Kenneth More). Highly recommended.