Thursday, August 29, 2013

John Mills, Jane Greer, and Richard Basehart: It's Triple Feature Time at the Cafe!

Jim--haunted by memories of the tragedy.
The October Man (1947). A bus accident on a dark, rainy night leaves Jim Ackland (John Mills) with a skull fracture--and the tragic memory of a friend's young daughter who died while under his care. After spending a year in a hospital, Jim emerges a fragile man who still battles suicidal thoughts. He resumes his work as an industrial chemist and takes a room in the nearby Broadhurst Common Hotel. He makes no friends at the hotel, but finds love with a co-worker's sister. But, just as his life begins to brighten, darkness falls again when he becomes implicated in the murder of a hotel resident.

The luminous Joan Greenwood.
Hitchcock might have crafted a classic suspense film had he adapted Eric Ambler's novel. However, in its current form, The October Man remains a tidy "B" movie with quality performances and atmospheric direction. John Mills is ideally cast in the lead, giving a nuanced performance as a man who finally gains a foothold in society, only to begin to doubt himself again. As his fiancee, Joan Greenwood--she of the marvelous voice--projects quiet strength and determination.

The October Man marked Roy Ward Baker's directorial debut. Baker, who befriended producer/writer Ambler during World War II, never gained acclaim as a director. Still, he had a solid career behind the camera with films such as A Night to Remember (about the Titanic) and Quatermass and the Pit, the best of Hammer's three Quatermass pictures.

There's nothing surprising about the outcome in The October Man. Indeed, in Hitchcock fashion, the killer's identity is revealed well before the climax. That works well enough, but the plot falters with how Ackland's innocence is ultimately confirmed. Still, The October Man is an intriguing, well-done effort worthy of a viewing.

The alluring Jane Greer.
The Falcon's Alibi (1946). The twelfth installment in the long-running Falcon "B" detective film series has one thing the previous installments didn't have: Jane Greer. In just her fifth movie, Ms. Greer plays Lola, a nightclub singer secretly married to a disc jockey called Nick the Night Owl (Elisha Cook, Jr.). Both Lola and Nick work in a hotel building that has been the site of several jewel robberies. Rita Corday (Joan Meredith) works as a secretary to one of the robbery victims. Fearing that she may be implicated in what turns out to be a jewelry scam, she enlists the aid of Tom Lawrence, aka The Falcon. And when has the handsome and suave Falcon ever passed on an opportunity to help out a pretty lady?

Tom Conway as The Falcon.
Of the three actors who played The Falcon--George Sanders, his brother Tom Conway, and John Calvert--my favorite is easily Conway. He approached the role with a light touch, yet never mocked these "B" mysteries. He also possessed a harder edge than his brother, implying that The Falcon could get his hands dirty if he wanted to--he just didn't desire to do so.

The Falcon's Alibi is a solid mystery, but lacks the sparkle of the series' best entries (e.g. The Falcon and the Co-eds). There's also too little of Jane Greer, who sizzles softly in every frame in which she appears. Finally, the picture stretches credibility: Really, Wilbur from The Maltese Falcon (a different bird altogether) married to Kathie from Out of the Past? I don't buy it!

The Extra Day (1956). Shortly after a film production wraps and its cast members go their separate ways, the film's final reel falls out of the back of a truck and goes rolling into the English countryside. Faced with a movie with no climatic scenes, the egotistical director sends production manager Joe Blake (Richard Basehart) to round up the extras so the footage can be reshot the next day. Over the next 14 hours, Joe rescues an elderly couple from an uncomfortable living arrangement, poses as a gangster to prevent an extra from being pummeled in a boxing match, and enlists groupies to kidnap a pop singer to prevent a marriage.

Colin Gordon and Richard Basehart.
This pleasant British comedy starts slowly, but steadily improves en route to its ironic ending. The appealing cast has much to do with the film's charm, especially Simone Simon as an actress romantically interested in one of the extras (George Baker) and Colin Gordon as the uncle of the extra about to be married. Gordon was a familiar face in British cinema and television in the 1950s and 1960s. His film credits range from The Man in the White Suit with Alec Guinness to The Pink Panther and Burn, Witch, Burn. On television, he appeared twice as Number Two in The Prisoner and also guest starred in UFO, Doctor Who, and The Baron.

Simone Simon--pretty in pink.
American audiences probably remember Simone Simon best as Irena in Val Lewton's Cat People and Curse of the Cat People. However, Simon spent most of her long career appearing in French films, to include Jean Renoir's 1938 classic La Bête Humaine (later remade by Fritz Lang as Human Desire). At age 46--but not looking it--Simon gives a bewitching performance in The Extra Day. She subsequently retired from acting, though she returned for one final role in the 1973 comedy-drama The Woman in Blue.


  1. "And when has the handsome and suave Falcon ever passed on an opportunity to help out a pretty lady?" Is that a trick question?

    "The Extra Day" is a new one to me and sounds like a genuine charmer.

  2. "The Extra Day" sounds like a good little British comedy gem and I'll definitely be seeking that one out. Those British comedies have something very appealing about them. I've been hoping to see "The October Man" for years. Joan Greenwood looks so pretty in that photo! She was a darling actress. One of my favorite film appearances of hers is in "The Detective" aka Father Brown, as Lady Warren.

  3. I'm just starting to discover British comedies made in the late 1950s, and what an excellent collection of films from that period. "The Extra Day" sounds like another one I must see. However, these ALL look terrific!

  4. Thanks, Rick, for 3 new-to-me films that are now on my watch list. John Mills is so underrated - I always enjoy watching him (and am so grateful for his daughter, Hayley, who was the light of my adolescence until I discovered boys!).

  5. Add me to the list of people who truly enjoy John Mills. He is wonderful in "The October Man" and was delightfully assisted by the luminescent Joan Greenwood. I also enjoyed Jane Greer in her appearance in "The Falcon's Alibi" but could never believe she would have married the weasel Wilbur character from "The Maltese Falcon". Thanks for a fascinating profile of a lesser known trilogy of films, Rick.