Saturday, April 06, 2013


In post-war London, John Graham heads up a code-breaking unit still working on deciphering enemy messages for use in war crimes trials. We learn that he is a Canadian veteran, has a wife named Carol who is pregnant with her first child, and has a photographic memory. John and Carol take her sister Peggy to the train station one rainy night and on the way home, she is killed, the victim of a thuggish hit-and-run driver and his girlfriend. John is devastated and when the police seem unable to find the killers, he uses his memory for details and his connections with old wartime friends to track them down. But rather than take what he knows to the police, he decides to take revenge himself and plots to kill them both. This was an early release from Hammer, the studio best known for their horror films of the 60s; this isn't horror but it is awfully close to film noir, and may be one the earliest uses of a likeable anti-hero in film (with the possible exception of some of Cagney's leads in the Warner gangster movies of the 30s). Robert Preston does a nice job as Graham, an admirable man whose sense of morality is twisted by his wife's death—it doesn't help that Carol (Elizabeth Sellars) had a limp which happened when she was tortured while working with the resistance, and her stoicism in that situation helped save John's life. His tracking down of the guilty parties (Harold Lang—pictured above to the right of Preston—and Sheila Burrell) is shot in classic noir style and the film works up some good tension as we actually root for John to get his revenge even as we realize he's going to have to pay somehow. An added complicating element is a coded message he accidentally drops at the scene of a murder he commits and which is brought to his code-breaking unit by the police. The message itself has nothing to do with the murder, but it remains a conscience-poking plot element in the background, as John's people can't figure out the code but John knows he's going to have to break it himself eventually. Highly recommended. [Netflix streaming]

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