Monday, December 10, 2007


A generally delightful British wartime mystery, a cross between a "cozy" (except the detective isn't a little old lady but a tall middle-aged police inspector) and an "old dark house" thriller (except it's set in a mansion which has been turned by the military into an emergency makeshift hospital). One night, during a bombing raid from German V-1's, aka "doodlebug bombs," a postman who also serves as an air raid rescue worker is injured and brought to the hospital. The man, whose injury is not life-threatening, dies as he is put under anesthetic and the head doctor (Ronald Adam) is concerned about an inquest. Later at a dance, the chief Sister (Judy Campbell) announces that the death was a murder and she knows who was responsible; she is found dead that night. When inspector Alastair Sim arrives to investigate, he considers everyone who was present for the operation a suspect, not just the anesthesiologist (Trevor Howard) who was involved in a similar inquest in the past, but also surgeon Leo Genn, a nurse (Rosamund John) who seems on the verge of a breakdown after the death of her mother in a bombing, and young and pretty Sally Gray, who may be in the middle of a romantic triangle. There are clues and red herrings and fisticuffs, followed by a re-creation of the original operation which leads to a somewhat convoluted solution and a neat last twist involving the fate of the killer. Sim, whom I'm used to seeing in parts that require some dithering, is a solid non-ditherer here, even though his character does mess up one major point near the end. The characters seem real and the wartime setting adds a nice extra touch of atmosphere. The sets are a little stagy but just right. There is some very nice camerawork throughout, especially during the scene that leads up to Campbell's death. The title is actually half-clue, half-spoiler, though its relevance to the proceedings is not made clear until near the end. The Criterion DVD is, as usual, crisp and clear, with a commentary track that sometimes wanders off into repetition. A movie that deserves to be better known, especially to mystery fans. [DVD]

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