Monday, March 27, 2017


Dick Barton, a kind of scruffy, rougher-edged Bulldog Drummond-type adventurer, was the lead character in a popular British radio show of the post-war years. Along with his sidekicks Jock and Snowy, Barton ran down crooks and spies in serial adventures for seven years. This is the first of three Barton films that Hammer would make with the character. Barton, with Jock and Snowy (and a bagpipe) in tow, heads to Echo Bay for a vacation at Rosemary Cottage with his girlfriend Jean and fluttering housekeeper Betsy sent ahead to tidy up. But really, Barton is on a mission to find some smugglers, and on the road, he is shot at by a nasty thug named Roscoe who keeps insisting he never misses. But he misses Barton, who nevertheless plays dead long enough for Roscoe to assume he finished his job. Roscoe and his buddy Regan run a fresh fish shop, but their leader in illegal activities is Dr. Casper, a German disguised as a Swedish biologist. When the folks at Rosemary Cottage have local fish for breakfast, they discover stolen property (gems, jewels, silk stockings) inside the fish, and Barton knows they have their men. But when Schuller, a Nazi war criminal, shows up, we know something more sinister is going on: the smuggling is mostly a front for a plan to poison England's entire water supply. Caught up more or less unwittingly in all this is young Adele, working as Casper's secretary, assuming he really is just a biologist, and her boyfriend Tony, an innocent lad with a secret in his past who is being blackmailed into helping out.

Though obviously a low-budget affair seemingly aimed at the young teen matinee crowd, this does have its charms. At 70 minutes, it's chock full of cliffhanger incidents making it feel like a longer serial that has been trimmed way down for easier consumption. Unfortunately, short as it is, some of the non-action scenes feel like padding, and the comic relief, which is plentiful, only works on occasion. In particular, the duo of Jock and Snowy get very old very quickly. The nervous Betsy (Beatrice Kane), always threatening to faint, is actually quite funny, and the young lad Snub (Ivor Danvers), who idolizes Barton via his magazine exploits, is a welcome presence; when asked, as he is frequently, what he's doing mixed up in these dangerous activities, he replies smartly, "I'm a Barton Boy!" The acting is nothing special, though I did enjoy Don Stannard (pictured with Danvers) as Barton—he's energetic, handsome, and throws himself into the character with abandon.  My favorite scenes: when Barton is captured and bound up in a knight's outfit, and when a warehouse full of bad guys pile on top of Barton to beat the hell out of him, only to wind up beating each other up when he wiggles out. I'm on the fence about whether I want to see more of these films, but this one was fun. [YouTube]

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