Goodbye Piccadilly

vlcsnap-2014-03-29-11h07m28s84

I swear I’m not doing this on purpose! I stuck a disc of EAST OF PICCADILLY (1941) in the Maidstone, thinking it looked like an amusing Brit B-movie, and knowing it featured the alluring Edana Romney, star and author of the suis generis Cocteauesque Gothic drama CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS in one of her few other roles. And it turned out to be co-written by our chum J. Lee Thompson. Is there no escape?

Writing with Leslie Storm (I know! Leslie Storm!) Thompson this time serves up a more likable light-hearted murder romp in which Romney injects some valuable melancholy — she gets one scene, as the victim, but it’s a doozy. “Have you ever heard of Sadie Jones,” she asks her shadowy murderer-in-waiting, after putting a Sadie Jones song on the Victrola. “No, nobody has and nobody ever will,” she answers for him. Heartbreaking, since she’s about to die, and we know from the cast list that she’s Sadie Jones.

The rest of it is lighthearted thriller about a crime writer and a lady crime reporter joining forces to investigate, and bickering amusingly. Another master of the macabre is along too, Niall MacGinnis, the warlock from NIGHT OF THE DEMON, and he’s practically thrown at us with a lamp under his chin to make him a suspect. So he CAN’T be the killer… or can he? Or can he?

vlcsnap-2014-03-29-11h08m47s101

He and Martita Hunt both do those strangulated cockney accents people used to do in old British films — either the actors were faking being working class, or they were real working class but trying to be comprehensible to everybody. In this case Martita was born in Argentina but was naturally a grande dame, whereas MacGinnis was a Dubliner. Their cockney is no worse than the attempts by real cockneys of the time. I enjoy seeing Julian Karswell and Baroness Meinster together in the same scene.

It opens with what looks like the same car footage of neon-lit London that begins MURDER WITHOUT CRIME. Not a bad way to begin, mind you — I would be delighted if a modern Brit thriller began that way, but the closest thing to that we’ve had is RUN FOR YOUR WIFE.

vlcsnap-2014-03-29-11h09m39s120

There’s also a goofy red herring character played by George Hayes with demented glee. He’s a former Mr. Memory from the music halls who decided to go on the legitimate stage and lost his money, memory and marbles. Now, in the best THEATRE OF BLOOD manner, he keeps mutilated effigies of the top London drama critics in his closet — one of them, Ivor Brown of The Observer, is actually named — presumably he gave a particularly bad review to a work by Thompson or Storm.

Leads Sebastian Shaw and especially Judy Campbell have appeal, but it’s peculiar the way the film drops discomfiting moments of real tragic feeling in and then moves briskly along to the next quip. The ending makes unnecessary distress out of the killer’s capture and then slides into romance, then looks forward to the forthcoming blackout and blitz (the film was released in 1941) with a wholly un-foreshadowed ENGLAND CAN TAKE IT spirit of romantic pluck.

vlcsnap-2014-03-29-11h07m56s91

Also — it shares with Thompson’s MURDER WITHOUT CRIME a grubby fascination with single girl’s flats, and the way said girls leave underthings hanging up to dry. Here, a stocking becomes a murder weapon used against someone the film’s detective actually refers to as “a daughter of joy.”

13 Responses to “Goodbye Piccadilly”

  1. David Boxwell Says:

    Judy Campbell = Joe the NYMPHOMANIAC’s grandmum!

  2. You know, she’s rally good in this but I neglected to look her up. Film history suddenly just made sense. A unified field theory of Birkins.

  3. Edana Romny appeared in a BBC TV production of DARK VICTORY in the late 50s as well as running a short-lived social welfare program on the same channel. Definitely a subject for further research.

  4. Howard Fritzson Says:

    I remember seeing “Corridor of Mirrors” years ago on TV and being captivated by the images. The credits gave me only one clue as to who was the dreamer. The star and the writer were the same person but was she also the “behind-the-scenes” director? What is the story behind this film? It is not a masterpiece, by any stretch. It is closer to kitsch, but glorious kitsch.

  5. You can find a bit about Corridor of Mirrors elsewhere here, I think.

    Terence Young wasn’t just the man who brought James Bond to the screen, he did have talent which emerged in different odd places. But I think Romney was the real auteur of that one — she set Young on the right course and, surprisingly, he proved an excellent fit for the material.

  6. Howard Fritzson Says:

    I can remember a little of the Cocteau influence in the film…the floating quality of some scenes. I would love to see it again but I don’t think it is available anywhere.

  7. The BFI should get wise to that one and release it. There should be a whole Eric Portman box set.

  8. Niall MacGinnis was quite an unusual man; he was a qualified surgeon when he went into acting, was a Naval Surgeon during the War, and went back to medicine when the roles dried up……always handy for an actor to have a trade, but surgery ????

  9. That’s remarkable!

    I always think his low-key quality is what made Jacques Tourneur cast him, and it’s what made him an unlikely but effective Zeus. He’s preposterous in this, playing the part to the hilt when he should be diverting suspicion by acting simple.

  10. Also remarkable: when I posted this, I had no idea it was Niall MacG’s birthday.

  11. Yes, David. UNCONQUERED that they ran at Eric’s NFT Centenary should also be released and a major search recommence for SQUADRON LEADER X and ESCAPE TO DANGER. Andy Owen’s biography OUR ERIC id definitely worth reading.

  12. Daybreak is one of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen, a must for any retrospective or box set. See The Forgotten for full review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: