Archive S

Strange Experiment (1937)

After he is attacked by a thieves looking for a pearl-making formula, a scientist has to undergo an experimental brain operation. Weird.

Script adapt.: Edward Dryhurst. (o.a. Hubert Osborne, John Golden)

Director: Albert Parker

Players: Donald Gray, Amy Wemyss, Mary Newcomb, Alastair Sim, Ronald Ward, Henri de Vries, James Carew, Eric Hales, Lilian Talbot, Joan Pereira, Henry Caine, Charles Howard, Arnold Ball

The Stranger Left No Card (1953)

A magical magician arrives in town with a dark mission. Wendy Toye's direction, Doreen Carwithen's music (from a suite by Hugo Alsven) and lots of location footage of Windsor make this short a little gem.

Script: Sidney Carroll

Director: Wendy Toye

Players: Alan Badel, Cameron Hall, Geoffrey Bayldon, Eileen Way 

Street of Shadows (1953)

An arcade owner with a sideline in fencing stolen goods is suspected of murder when his discarded girlfriend is killed.

An interesting cast with Cesar Romero showing more star power than he did in his Hollywood films, but still being overshadowed by Victor Maddern.

Script adapt.: Richard Vernon. (o.a. Gerald Verner)

Director: Richard Vernon

Players: Cesar Romero, Kay Kendall, Victor Maddern, Simone Silva, Edward Underdown, John Penrose, Molly Hamley-Clifford, Annaconda, Bill Travers, Eileen Way, Liam Gaffney, Robert Cawdron, Rose McLaren, Michael Kelly, Paul Hardtmuth

The Street Singer (1937)

Star chucks in the high life for a job as a busker, but still hits big with the new love he finds.

This rare film outing for Arthur Tracey (The Street Singer) is a must for nostalgia fans, with Lew Stone and his band as an added bonus. Margaret Lockwood provides the love interest.

Script: Reginald Arkell

Director: Jean de Marguenat

Players: Arthur Riscoe, Ellen Pollock, Hugh Wakefield, Emil Boreo, Wally Patch, Ian MacLean, John Deverell, Rawicz and Landauer, The Car Hyson Dancers

Street Song (1935)

There are those who reckon René Ray should have been a big star, and there are those who reckon Bernard Vorhaus was one of the great unsung heroes of directing. But this is the case for the prosecution. It's a muddy, heavy musical about a pet shop owner (Ray) who helps a busker get on the radio. In fairness to Vorhaus, he did say this was "the worst thing I've done". Honesty is the best policy I say. It certainly isn't a patch on his The Last Journey.

Script: Bernard Vorhaus, Paul Gangelin

Director: Bernard Vorhaus

Players: John Garrick, Johnny Singer, Wally Patch, Lawrence Hanray

Strip! Strip!! Hooray!!! Or (Fun with the Sunbathers) (1932)

A cub reporter is sent to infiltrate a sunbathing club to get some saucy scandal. His suspicious girlfriend follows him. Her father, a morals campaigner, is also going undercover at the club.

No one is ever going to accuse this of being a good film, but in its breezy way it's rather entertaining and at 36 minutes doesn't overstay its welcome. The performers vary from the inept to the rotten, but they're all enthusiastic and good-natured. There's a lot of fun to be had with the changes in morality between then and now, and it's fascinating to get a rare 30s glimpse of a British comedy tradition that would culminate in the Carry Ons.

Script: Leslie Arliss

Director: Norman Lee

Players: Ken Douglas, Betty Norton, Albert Rayner, Muriel White, Hal Gordon, Frank and Albert, June Seymour, Charles Castella, Eric Pavitt, Freddie Bartholomew, Anita Sharp-Bloster, Muriel Aked, Binnie Barnes

The Student's Romance (1935)

Romantic entanglements in old Vienna.

Dull operetta which treads familiar ground to little effect.

Script adapt.: Clifford Grey, Norman Watson, Richard Hutter. (o.a. Beda and Ernst Newmann)

Director: Otto Kanturek

Players: Patric Knowles, Mackenzie Ward, Carol Goodner, Grete Natzler, Steven Geray, W.H. Berry, Haver and Lee, Iris Ashley, Ivan Samson, Wallace Lupino, Hugh Dempster

Subway in the Sky (1958)

Van Johnson is hiding from the authorities for drug trafficking while he tries to prove his innocence. No matter how hard he tries to act the tough guy, his resemblance to Danny La Rue makes him hard to take seriously. Another fading Yank who should have stayed at home.

Pressbook for Subway in the Sky

Script adapt.: Jack Andrews. (o.a. Ian Main)

Director: Muriel Box

Players: Hildegarde Neff, Vivian Matalon, Albert Lieven, Edward Judd, Carl Jaffe, Brian Wilde

Suddenly Last Summer (1959)

A doctor is hired to perform a lobotomy on a young woman. But is she really mad enough to need one?

Thanks to its being shot at Shepperton this very Hollywood production counts as British. Tennessee Williams' one act play is both stretched and bowdlerised to the point of incomprehensibility, and only the star power of Taylor, Hepburn and Clift saves it.

Script adapt.: Gore Vidal, (o.a.) Tennessee Williams

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Players: Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Mercedes McCambridge, Gary Raymond, Mavis Villiers, Patricia Marmont, Joan Young, David Cameron, Maria Britneva, Sheila Robbins, Roberta Wooley

Summer Madness (1955)

Spinster Katherine Hepburn holidays in Venice and finds romance.

Director David Lean gets the most out of Hepburn and out of the slightly thin story.

Script: David Lean, H.E. Bates. (o.a. Arthur Laurents)

Director: David Lean

Players: Rossano Brazzi, Isa Miranda, Darren McGavin, Geatano Autiero, Mari Aldon, Jane Rose, Jeremy Spencer, MacDonald Parke, Virginia Simeon, Andre Morell

Suspected Person (1942)

Two American gangsters head for the UK in search of their missing robbery money.

The sort of programmer that would be common in the 1950s is a rarity here in the middle of the war, which it ignores. That's really the film's only distinguishing feature, apart from Gunther Krampf's cinematography which gives it a slight lift.

Script: Lawrence Huntington

Director: Lawrence Huntingdon

Players: Clifford Evans, Patricia Roc, David Farrar, Anne Firth, Robert Beatty, Eric Clavering, Leslie Perrins, Eliot Makeham, John Salew, Terry Conlin, Anthony Shaw

Suspense (1930)

A troop of British soldiers in World War One, arrive at a dug-out to relieve their comrades. The dug-out is clean, dry and easily defensible. So why are their comrades so anxious to leave? 

Cinema has never been shy about adapting existing material for the screen but when talkies arrived the temptation to take a play and just plonk it in front of the cameras was hard to resist. Mostly this proved to be a mistake and this gave early talkies a reputation for being static and, well, talky. Sometimes, however, they picked the right material, gave it to the right people, and produced great films. Suspense was one of those films.

The premise is fairly simple: the soldiers are stuck where they are until they are relieved and there's nothing to do but bicker good-naturedly among themselves. However, they soon notice a scraping noise and realise that a group of Germans are undermining them and, when the noise stops, the Germans will fill their tunnel with explosives and blow them to Kingdom Come. And so the tensions between them ratchet up and having the filming largely confined to the one set becomes an advantage as the claustrophobia grips the cast and audience.

Most of the people involved in the production had served in the war and there's an authenticity to the film that carries it over the melodramatic parts. This is a film in which working-class characters are more than just comic relief in other people's stories. They have a depth to them which would be rare to find in British cinema until the 1960s. They get to laugh and moan and sing mucky songs and treat the war as more of an inconvenience than a grand adventure. They're not up for heroics or duty - they just want to get through the war and get home.

When the play was originally produced, it was overshadowed by the much more successful (and much more middle class) Journey's End. The film did better but it has now faded into history.

Script adapt.: Walter Summers. (o.a. Patrick MacGill)

Director: Walter Summers

Players: Cyril McLaglen, Mickey Brantford, Jack Raine, Fred Groves, D Hay Petrie, Syd Crossley, Percy Parsons, Hamilton Keane

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1935)

If you need an introduction to the work of Tod Slaughter, this is the film for you. Sweeney was the part he was born to play. The Demon Barber is part of our folk-memory and Slaughter embodies the role like no other actor could.

The roots of the story are hidden in the mists of time but the essentials are clear enough: Sweeney Todd slits the throats of his victims and his accomplice Mrs Lovatt turns the carcasses into meat pies. It's the classic Victorian horror story: born of an age when razors were cut-throat and people were swallowed up by the great conurbation of London. It's the flip-side of the great Victorian success story where commerce is all and a respectable surface is the only thing that matters.

Slaughter and director/producer George King exploit our knowledge to the full. As soon as Sweeney is introduced on the quay-side looking at the latest batch of sailors to arrive in town he's making quips about shaving and polishing-off his customers. As usual, Slaughter's so damn obvious that it's a miracle that no one around him realises he's a madman. Nowhere is this more glaring than in the scene when the Beadle (Ben Soutten) brings him a workhouse boy, Tobias (Johnny Singer), to be his new apprentice. It's his seventh in seven weeks! and Slaughter seems like the creepiest child molester you can imagine. Still, the Beadle doesn't care and by implication neither does the rest of society.

The other way he exploits our knowledge of the story is in the little matter of Mrs Lovatt's pies. Nowhere do they mention what the pies contain. No doubt the censor would have found such an issue distasteful. There's a scene where the comic-relief sailor (Jerry Verno) examines the pie he's eating in an idle sort of way where you'd expect him to find a fingernail or some sort of remains, but it never quite happens. 

The cast, apart from Mr Slaughter, is workmanlike; drawing from the George King repertory company. Stella Rho makes a good Mrs Lovatt and Bruce Seton is excellent as Mark the handsome hero. Seton is probably the most distinguished actor to work with Slaughter and certainly the poshest, since he was actually Sir Bruce. He's now best known for his Fabian of the Yard TV series from the early 60s.

The production, though cheap, doesn't look too poverty-stricken. The small sets are filled with extras which makes them look more impressive than they actually are. Future director Ronald Neame's photography is adequate but the film could have done with more atmospheric lighting. The script is the best Slaughter had to work with, with virtually every other line a reference to money or commerce. This must come from the original play since H.F. Maltby never showed much aptitude for textual depth in his other scripts.

Sadly, the film is let down by Mark's trip to Africa to get rich. The jungle is unconvincing and full of natives on the rampage. It looks slightly dubious to modern eyes (the "good" black servant is called Snowdrop - did they never tire of giving stupid names to black people?) and, though it's meant to be an action packed sequence, feels like a diversion from the main fun of Slaughter's performance.

Despite the flaws, this film is a valuable record of a personality actor at his height. Maybe it's time melodrama made a comeback. It's certainly entertaining.

Script adapt.: Frederick Hayward, H.F. Maltby. (o.a. George Dibdin-Pitt)

Director: George King

Players: Eve Lister, D.J. Williams, Jerry Verno