Chance of a Lifetime
The Church Mouse
It begins by kidding about the march of progress, from the vantage of a thoroughly modern 1934, blessed by the advances of the dictaphone and women in the workplace. There’s an awful lot of kidding going on in the film – which charts the progress of Betty (Laura La Plante) from forgotten woman, super-efficient secretary and blossoming sexual being. Even unemployment is kidded about, although the light tone and comic exaggeration can’t conceal real feeling. This was 1934 and the very depth of the Depression. Mostly the film kids about sex. This is the earliest Dubjax I’ve yet seen, and also the raciest, with characters tenderly swapping Mae West catch-phrases. There might be something to this pre-Code business. Anything more graphic than a kiss, of course, would break the enchantment.
The Common Touch
Law and Disorder
The viewer’s response to Operation Diplomat depends on whether they’re one of those tolerant types willing to admit the film to the pantheon of so-bad-it’s-good. It certainly evokes a parallel universe unburdened by any link to reality, if that can be counted as a good thing. As it is, Operation Diplomat stands as a textbook example of an early phase in the development of the thriller genre. I realise that Dr Fenton and loyal Lisa Durand are supposed to be a doctor and nurse team, but even so, their nonchalance to dead bodies is breathtaking, and there’s something disconcerting too about their cheerful indifference to their own personal safety. The breakthrough came when thriller directors realised that pathological lack of emotion was scarier in bad guys than good guys.
Trent's Last Case
This British B-movie stars Orson Welles and the great Miles Malleson, yet it creaks so badly that I was forced to abandon viewing after about ten minutes. The same thing happened when I tried a second time. If anyone out there is more patient, perhaps they can tell me about Orson Welles’ guest cameo. For my part, I saw enough to know that Trent’s Last Case is no The Third Man, and the biggest cuckoo clock in Switzerland can’t turn it around.
The Two-Headed Spy
From out of nowhere, here’s a film that sheds light on the Peeping Tom controversy. Peeping Tom, made in 1960, was the first film Michael Powell made without his partner Emeric Pressburger since 1937’s The Edge of the World. A portrait of a serial killer, it uncomfortably made the link between film, voyeurism and sex crime, and outraged taste and decency upon its release. For an analogy, imagine if P.G. Wodehouse had followed through Uncle Fred in the Springtime with Last Exit to Brooklyn. A subsequent rehabilitation, led from the front by Martin Scorsese, means that we’re all supposed to hail Peeping Tom as Powell’s masterpiece. I’m not convinced. My own feeling is that Peeping Tom is as nasty and unpleasant as first supposed, and Powell went off the rails without his long-time collaborator’s steadying influence. Wanted For Murder blows that theory right out of the water, as a screen nasty from 1946 about a psycho who goes about London parks strangling women co-written by Emeric Pressburger. It’s every bit as glib about the desperate subject matter as Contraband is glib about World War 2. The tone of Peeping Tom was inappropriate too; that was part of its problem. The viewer began to suspect that Powell was indulging his macabre sense of humour, or worse, his in-jokes, at their expense. Cheerfully despatching Moira Shearer, the star of The Red Shoes, for example. What was that all about? But more than anything, Wanted For Murder raises concern about Eric Portman. What a strange cove he was, consistently drawn to dark and ambiguous characters. Let’s see, there was Eddie in Daybreak, a hangman in his secret life and catatonically numb in everyday existence (Wanted For Murder also treats of the devastating consequences of the hangman’s profession), and there was Thomas Colpepper, the celebrated deviant JP in A Canterbury Tale, sociopathic seaman Hobson in We Dive at Dawn, and an aloof and rigid patrician in A Child in the House. To this list we can now add serial killer Victor James Colebrook to the list. It makes you wonder about Portman the man. A tormented homosexual, I gather, without knowing much about it. PS You have to be eternally vigilant with Apple’s spellcheck facility: Emeric automatically turns into Emetic.