Blind Tuesday: Justice is Blind

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A return of our intermittent series of posts on thrillers about the sightless. This one is kind of a departure though. Nobody in the movie is blind or pretends to be blind.

CRIME UNLIMITED is a 1935 Warner picture made at their UK studio in Teddington. Being post-code, it reconfigures some of the plot tropes of earlier films, adjusted to make them morally uplifting — for instance, James Cagney’s jewelry store scam from BLONDE CRAZY gets trotted out again, only here the perp is an undercover man seeking to ingratiate himself with a gang of heisters, so it’s all above-board, really.

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The leading lady is a heartbreakingly young and succulent Lilli Palmer, but of more interest to our jaded sensibilities is the fact that the hero is played by Esmond Knight. During WWII, Knight was blinded for real during a battle at sea with the Bismarck. He lost one eye and was almost totally blinded in the other — some sight returned to it in his extreme old age. He can be seen, minus glass eye, at the start of ROBIN AND MARIAN, but he played numerous sighted characters for Michael Powell, including a film director (parodying Powell’s own temperamental style) in PEEPING TOM and the Maharajah in BLACK NARCISSUS, which required him to ride a donkey through a forest. “I’ll be fine,” my friend Lawrie reported him as saying, “The donkey doesn’t want to hit a tree any more than I do.”

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Slightly eerily, the CRIME UNLIMITED features scenes where Knight is blindfolded and led to a baddie’s lair.

He also reports to his superiors by standing at a window and moving his lips. A deaf man in the building opposite reads his lips with binoculars and passes the info to Scotland Yard.

The movie is a reasonably enjoyable potboiler, well made (by Hollywood director Ralph Ince) and decently acted. Knight is an adequate leading man, but he was really waiting for a few years to pile on to turn him into a fine character actor. One does miss the more mature moral ambiguity of the pre-code era. One has to settle for fated social attitudes instead — Raymond Lovell plays a club owner in league with the crooks as a nasty Jewish stereotype. A good accents man, the portly Canadian would redeem himself during the war by specialising in Nazis.

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12 Responses to “Blind Tuesday: Justice is Blind”

  1. Virtually blind as he was Knight was consistently employed by P & P in Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes and Peeping Tom

  2. Yes, Powell had real loyalty to him. He’s even in The Boy Who Turned Yellow, as a doctor, about the only member of the P&P stock company still on hand at that late date.

  3. revelator60 Says:

    Off-topic, but of interest, and my apologies if it’s old news:
    “Nazis, French Porn, and Film Studies: Bernard Natan’s Strange Saga”
    http://chronicle.com/article/Nazis-French-PornFilm/146735/?cid=cr&utm_source=cr&utm_medium=en

  4. Thanks! Hadn’t seen it, and am delighted.

    Herb Jeffries sounds fascinating. I’ve been meaning to see some of those “race westerns.”

  5. Penfold Says:

    Powell first cast him in his Quota Quickie years, in Knight’s next film after crime Unlimited, the now-lost Someday, opposite an equally young Margaret Lockwood and Raymond Lovell (again); but their connection goes right back to 1931, when Knight was in 77 Park Lane, a film Powell wrote, but didn’t direct…..they must have been quite close, as you say they worked together in nearly all Powell’s films over forty years, essentially creating a rehabilitation programme for Esmond after his injury and disfigurement, but also Powell recruited Esmond’s uncle, CWR Knight, and his tame Eagle Mr Ramshaw, to play a version of themselves in I Know Where I’m Going.
    You might find this interesting; Knight on This Is Your Life in 1957, with actress daughter Rosalind who is still active on the telly ; ‘Chas’ is CWR…… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2EdQX-znMs

  6. Thanks, Penfold!

    My friend Lawrie Knight, source of my Esmond story, first got into the studio because they though he was related to CWR Knight. He presented himself, looking for a a job, they asked if he was a relative, and he quickly said, “Er, yes.” On such things are careers founded.

  7. David Boxwell Says:

    EK: From CRIME UNLIMITED to THE ELEMENT OF CRIME (Von Trier) in almost half a century.

  8. I’d forgotten he was in that! Paul Duane spoke to star Michael Elphick about it — Elphick couldn’t believe someone had seen it.

  9. David Boxwell Says:

    I love Von Trier’s film, which looks like it was shot through a large aquarium filled with urine.

  10. Sodium lighting! Along with the dubbed soundtrack, it makes for the most airless viewing experience imaginable. I do prefer his bizarre genre exercises to his “heartfelt” later work.

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