John Gilling Presents



A curiosity — the intro to John Gilling’s 1948 directorial debut, a 38-minute quickie called ESCAPE FROM BROADMOOR, states that it is the first of a series, a sort of “John Gilling Presents,” themed around the concept of “psychic mysteries” — but Gilling made no further short films of this kind. His next, the following year, is an hour long (a feature!) and comes from a different company, so evidently the idea didn’t catch on.

Obviously, it’s not a true story at all, just some baloney Gilling has made up. A gangster meets the ghost of a previous victim. Or is she? Or isn’t she? Or are he?

All the early Gilling movies are crime thrillers, aspiring to be hardboiled, but he was already flirting with the horror genre he’s remembered for, scripting THE GREED OF WILLIAM HART, a Burke-and-Hare film a clef starring Tod Slaughter. So, unlike a lot of Hammer’s employees, I think he had a genuine interest in the macabre. Odd bursts of creativity erupt amid lifeless stretches throughout his career.

In ESCAPE FROM BROADMOOR, nobody escapes from the titular asylum for the criminally insane, or not onscreen anyway. Isn’t it cheating to name your film after something that’s pure backstory? The film’s psycho is played by a surprise choice, the usually sweet-natured comedy actor John Le Mesurier, famous in the UK for his role in Dad’s Army as a superannuated sergeant in the Home Guard. He was in gazillions of films, usually in small, ineffectual, bureaucratic roles, a nervous fusspot. He plays a very queer king courtier in JABBERWOCKY.

As a cockney gangster with mental health issues, he’s surprisingly effective!



11 Responses to “John Gilling Presents”

  1. rockysmalls Says:

    Excuse my pedantry… But isn’t the king in jabberwocky played by Max Wall? Le Mesurier ( in stereotypical dad’s army form ) plays his blasé advisor… Or am I getting my Gilliams in a Gerfuffle?

  2. No, you are quite correct — I will fix the piece to reflect your correction.

    My late friend Lawrie had Max Wall as a sergeant when he was in training for the war. “He got no respect from his men.”

  3. He was also impressive in that Dennis Potter (?) play TRAITOR in the 1960s playing Guy Burgess. Also, David do you know if that ARMCHAIR THEATRE adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s YOU’LL NEVER SEE ME AGAIN with Ben Gazzara, Brenda de Banzie, and James Hayter has survived? I saw it twice in the late 50s.

  4. Bradstreet Says:

    He was also in one of the Edgar Lustgarten TALES OF SCOTLAND YARD as a cynical, hard-bitten Scotland Yard detective. He seems to have been rather like his DAD’S ARMY persona in real-life, but in the 40s/50s casting directors were still able to imagine him in other parts.

  5. Tony, I have no info about that episode, but I love the Woolrich story it’s based on.

    Le Mesurier’s last words: “It’s all been rather lovely.”

  6. henryholland666 Says:

    “He was also impressive in that Dennis Potter (?) play TRAITOR in the 1960s playing Guy Burgess”

    Is this what you were thinking of, it’s by Dennis Potter from 1971:

    Doesn’t look like it’s available on DVD or even VHS, even my usual file theft sites don’t have it. Knowing Auntie Beeb, it probably got destroyed at some point.

  7. 70s stuff is fairly safe, mostly — I can source this one. Dennis Potter and a tortured Le Mes seems impossible to pass up. I shall try to report back shortly.

  8. Le Mesurier had such a disturbed personal life – he obviously adored his wife hattie Jacques, and the two of them were some sort of embodiment of the words “National Treasures”, but it’s obvious that when Hattie moved her lover into the family home and Le Mesurier tried to be very grown up about it – was Design for Living the template? – the marriage was doomed. Thus Le Mesurier’s drinking began making its inevitable claims on his health, so that cirrhosis finally killed him. What a beloved actor he was; I can’t think of any comparable presence alive and working today.

  9. Where else but here do you get cogent analysis of two of my favorites, John Gilling (who I discovered with the bonkers THE GAMMA PEOPLE) and John LeMesurier, who must have played unflappable consulting physicians in half of his late career roles? Shadowplay is the rightful successor to the late lamented Dave

  10. Joe, Thank you for that very heartfelt comment which must mean a lot to David C. On TRAITOR, now that I’m back with the thread , I do remember seeing a repat on BBCTV sometime in the 70s and remember Australian actor Vincent Ball in the cast as one of the self-righteous journalists, Si, it may have survived. Last noght I finally got to see the Loach-Garnett-Allen 1969 THE BIG FLAME on the DVD set KEN LOACH AT THE BBC/ It was drama the like of which we will never see again. Yet I hope that TRAITOR did survive. Maybe because it was b/w and very somber Potter it may not be regarded as marketable. Yet Loach appears to have got the rights of his TV plays back from the BBC since the company bringing out the set is SIXTEEN FILMS. One also hopes that all episodes of the Dr. WHO Hartnell THE DALEK master plan will appear one day.

  11. Wow.

    I have sourced a copy of Traitor and can provide you with it, Tony. Looking forward to sitting down and watching the blighter, too.

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