Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Chris (Patric Knowles) is a young up-and-comer at an interior design firm run by the middle-aged Mr. Stevens. He's in love with a tramp named Mamie (who clearly doesn't deserve him) and he brings her a ring he's planning to buy for her if he gets a raise. He has the ring out "on approval" from a pawnbroker and moneylender named Blayleck, but Mamie won't give it back, and his boss won't give him a raise, so Chris goes to Blayleck's hoping to work something out. When he gets there, he finds the man dead and a woman with a gun leaving the scene, claiming she killed him in self-defense. He lets her go and takes advantage of the situation to burn Blayleck's account book so any evidence of his debt is gone. When the death makes the news, he struggles a bit with his conscience, but life goes on and he begins dating Molly (Glennis Lorimer), a client of his. While running an errand for his boss one day, he meets Doris, the boss's wife (Beatrix Thomson), and is startled to discover that she is the woman who killed Blayleck. She has a hard-luck story about needing money that her stingy husband wouldn't give her and getting in over her head with the moneylender, leading to his death. Chris agrees to remain silent, and soon Doris, who becomes something of a party girl, hatches a fairly ingenious plot to kill her husband. When Chris finds out about it, will he step in and risk exposing his own role in the death of Blayleck?

This rarely-seen early effort from British director Michael Powell was aired recently on TCM in a series of films made by Warner Brothers in England as "quota quickies," films made cheaply and quickly to satisfy a government demand that foreign studios operating in England produce a certain percentage of homegrown product. While nothing here indicates that Powell would eventually become a film legend (THE RED SHOES, BLACK NARCISSUS, PEEPING TOM), this is a briskly paced B-thriller (not, as its title might indicate, a courtroom drama) with a couple of nice plot twists and an almost noir-like feel, though this was produced a few years before the noir style would be "invented." Thomson seems too bland and subdued at first to be an effective femme fatale, but she grew on me. Knowles, who soon became a busy supporting actor in Hollywood, is remarkably handsome and appealing, even though he's playing a somewhat passive male who can't take control of any aspect of his life until the last few minutes of the film. (As young and good looking as he is here, there was a weird moment when he looked exactly like Elisha Cook Jr., the gunsel in MALTESE FALCON.) Davina Craig is a comic-relief maid who plays a crucial role in the finale--and sounds like the "Computer says No…" woman in the British comedy series Little Britain. I enjoyed this unpretentious, unheralded film, aired in a beautiful pristine print, and I picked up a new saying: "Oh, go sit on a tack or something!" [TCM]

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