Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Key Man (1957)

Another day, another B-movie. The Key Man is a 1957 British effort released by Anglo-Amalgamated. It was made at Merton Park Studios so you know it’s going to be very low-budget but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

In 1945, just after VE-Day, Arthur John Smithers is arrested for the murder of Nick Domigo. Domigo had supposedly been making advances to Smithers’ wife. Smithers is convicted of manslaughter and sent to prison.

That’s the prologue. We then move forward in time to the present day (1957 that is). Lionel Hulme (Lee Patterson) is a radio broadcaster who does a regular true crime show. He’s certain that there was a lot more to the Smithers case that didn’t come out at the trial. He thinks Smithers pulled a bank job with Domigo and that Domigo’s slaying was a falling out among thieves, possibly connected with a double cross. The money (and it’s a good deal of money) from the robbery in question has never been recovered. Lionel thinks he can solve this mystery and thereby come up with a great story for his radio show, with the prospect of a nice little bonus if his executive producer Larry Parr (Colin Gordon) is sufficiently pleased with the story.

That nice little bonus would come in handy. Lionel is broke and is being sued by his landlord for arrears of rent. His marriage to Pauline (Paula Byrne) is also not doing too well. Pauline is not the most understanding of women and she doesn’t think much of Lionel’s career choices.

Lionel’s first task is to track down Smithers. Smithers was released from prison in 1954 and subsequently disappeared. There are those who say he is dead. There are those who say he’s very much alive. There are those who say that he had a key and if that key could be found it would open a lock and that’s where the money is. If you could find the key, and the lock. There are those who say that Smithers’ wife Eva may well have the key, or know where it is.

Finding Eva (who is now night club singer Gaby) promises to be easier than finding Smithers although persuading her to co√∂perate might be more difficult. Gaby (Hy Hazell) is one tough cookie and she’s the sort of blonde who always spells trouble.

A more pressing problem is that a mysterious someone does not want Lionel Hulme to find Smithers or to continue his investigations. Lionel has been warned off but that’s not going to stop him from pursuing a story as good as this.

In fact someone is very determined indeed to put a stop to Lionel’s nosing about in the Smithers case. They’re prepared to take drastic action to stop him.

The whole affair seems like it could be insanely dangerous but apart from the thought of that bonus there’s also the little matter of the generous reward being offered for the recover of the stolen money.

Lee Patterson was a Canadian actor who became a fairly popular B-movie leading man in Britain in the 50s. He was perfect for low-budget crime films. He had the right persona to play the kinds of heroes you find in film noir - likeable losers or smart guts who are usually not quite as smart as they think they are. He could play heroes quite successfully as well and he could do the hard-boiled thing reasonably well. I’ve now seen quite a few of his British movies (such as The Flying Scot and Deadly Record) and so far I haven’t come across a bad performance by him.

Hy Hazell is the blonde who is clearly destined to play the femme fatale role and she shows she can be very hard-boiled. There’s a solid enough lineup of supporting players, certainly more than adequate by B-movie standards.

Director Montgomery Tully worked almost entirely in B-features and was always competent. In this movie he gets a bit ambitious - there’s an excellent fight scene lit only by a flashing neon sign (or at least it’s filmed to make it appear that it’s lit only by the neon sign) which is really quite impressive stuff for a low-budget movie. There’s also a decent car chase which unlike so many movie car chases of this era is not spoilt by shoddy rear projection.

As far as the visuals are concerned there’s a definite film noir ambience.

This is a typical Network DVD release. Virtually no extras (just the spoiler-laden theatrical trailer and an image gallery) but an excellent transfer and at an affordable price. 

The Key Man is a well-crafted above-average and very satisfactory B-movie crime thriller. Highly recommended.

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