My late friend Lawrie Knight was an assistant director in the 1940s. He did some work for the Boulting Brothers, among others — I’m not sure what the film was. One time, he found himself trapped in a kind of airlock with one of the twins — not sure which, let’s just say Roy. Or John. The airlock was the space between the outer and inner doors of the studio, and just as they had passed through the outer doors, the red light had come on, signalling filming (not doubt under the aegis of the other brother, John. Or Roy.) So they were stuck at close quarters for a few minutes.
During the awkward silence, Roy (or John) noticed Lawrie’s school tie. And because it was a tie from one of our better public schools, he immediately started treating Lawrie a lot better, And Lawrie, who would confess to being a bit of a snob himself at times, was appalled, thought “You idiot,” and generally thought far less of John (or Roy) Boulting thereafter.
I mention this because TRUNK CRIME, an early (1939) opus, produced by John and directed (and edited) by Roy, deals with school in a way, and conveys a rather anxious view of it, perhaps anticipating the brothers’ 1948 film THE GUINEA PIG.
Manning Whiley plays an over-aged college graduate who takes a hideous revenge on the young man who’s bullied him since their days at public school, even to the point of once burying him alive. At the start of the story, the bully and his drunken pals break into Whiley’s digs and trash the room in a home invasion scenario only slightly less brutal and shocking than that in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Deranged with impotent fury, Whiley proceeds to drug his arch-enemy and lock him in a steamer trunk, having informed him just as he becomes insensible of his intention to ship him to his cottage in the country and sink him in quicksand.
It’s an unusual scenario: the victim is utterly unsympathetic, and the villain is someone you feel a lot of compassion for, but you can’t quite go along with what he’s contemplating doing (I nearly can: I hate bullies). Of course, Whiley is forever bumping into people who randomly want to open his trunk and have a shufty inside, and even Patch the dog, who gets his own screen credit, is very curious. It’s all very ROPE — some of the plot developments don’t quite convince or compel, and Boulting should have hired someone else to edit it — when we edit our own stuff, we often don’t try hard enough to solve our directorial mistakes, accepting them as somehow inherent. But it has a very nice denouement — we suspected the movie’s heart was in the right place, and it is.
Fiona, wandering in midway, couldn’t believe it was called TRUNK CRIME. There’s even a newsstand bearing the slogan ANOTHER TRUNK CRIME, so presumably this was a common phrase in 1939. I can’t seem to find out exactly what it meant, but I doubt it typically involved doping people, packing them up and submerging them in a handy quagmire. “Does he have a trunk?” she asked. “He has two,” I replied, which is true. There’s some unnecessary detail about Whiley planning to substitute one case for another. “Should it be called TRUNKS CRIME then?” But I think that might have suggested a crime committed by a swimmer.
Manning Whiley is good at being high-strung, that’s for sure. His every utterance is a-quiver with neurasthenic fervor. He also looks oddly Japanese. I see he was born in Australia… well, anything’s possible down there.
The movie also features a shockingly young and unrecognizable Thorley Walters, though once you get over the shock, his acting style is quite consistent. The bluff, ruddy, dopey Dr. Watson manner he assumed in all his Hammer performances has quite a different effect when filtered through the personage of a gangly youth — he’s much more of a P.G. Wodehouse twerp from the Drone’s Club. Interesting.
Boulting, anticipating Carol Reed, is not shy about getting his Dutch tilts out. (Why are they called Dutch tilts? Isn’t Holland notoriously flat?)