Silent Dust (1949)
Directed by Lance Comfort
Produced by Nat A. Bronstein
Written by Michael Pertwee, based on the play The Paragon by Michael and Roland Pertwee
Music by Georges Auric
Cinematography by Wilkie Cooper
Production by Associated British Picture Corporation
Network (UK) DVD (1:22)
“Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust, or flattery soothe the dull cold ear of Death?”
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard - Thomas Gray
British film noir titles often contain other elements not necessarily associated with film noir, such as class distinction and family drama (sometimes bordering on soap opera). Other themes - repercussions from the war, suspense, terror, etc. - work themselves into noir titles on a regular basis. Silent Dust is a mixture of all of the above, but not in equal parts.
Wealthy estate owner Sir Robert Rawley (Stephen Murray, best remembered as Father Crompton in 1955’s The End of the Affair) has decided to build a new cricket pavilion in the local village, a structure to honor his son Simon, who died in three years ago in WWII. Rawley’s neighbor Lord Clandon (Seymour Hicks) urges him to dedicate the new pavilion to all the local men who died in the war, but Rawley’s having none of it. Rawley’s rich, privileged, brash, insufferable, and used to getting his way.
Rawley’s also blind, but that doesn’t stop him from “looking” deeply into motives of the people around him, particularly his daughter-in-law (and Simon’s widow) Angela (Sally Gray, Green for Danger) who’s ready to move on with her new husband Max (Derek Farr). All signs point to Silent Dust becoming a fairly standard soap opera, that is, until Simon (Nigel Patrick) mysteriously appears, very much alive.
It seems the war made Simon realize the truth about himself: he’s a coward. I won’t tell you how he works himself out of the army, but it’s the film’s best moment. As Simon (a totally unreliable narrator) explains to Angela how he made his escape, we see a flashback that gives the audience the real story. (This is a technique that you see from time to time, but rarely as effectively as it’s done here. The scene also includes a nifty camera trick showing us that we’re now inside Simon’s memories.) Simon demands enough money to start a new life and he knows Angela will give it: if Rawley finds out his son’s not dead, but rather a cowardly deserter about to be honored with a lavish dedication, it would kill the old man.
Silent Dust is probably best described as a family drama with elements of film noir, but don’t let that keep you from seeking it out. Its stage origins are evident, but the magnificent setting of the estate, combined with Wilkie Cooper’s excellent cinematography, help you forget you’re watching an adapted play. The actors are all fine, especially Nigel Patrick (excellent in two noir-stained Basil Dearden films, Sapphire  and The League of Gentlemen , both of which you can rent on Amazon Prime) in an early role. Simon may be a coward on the field of battle, but once he returns home, it’s clear he’s retained the boldness and impudence of his father and is just as insistent on having his way.
Lance Comfort is a director that should get more recognition in the noir community. I previously reviewed his 1954 film Bang! You’re Dead, where I pointed out that Comfort’s British B pictures were far better than they had to be. I’m looking forward to exploring more of his work. Excellent direction, compelling performances, and nice tension make Silent Dust a title worth seeking out.
But how can you find it? Silent Dust is a Region 2 DVD, but if you have a region-free player, you’re in good shape. You can often find many Brit noir titles on Amazon UK for a reasonable price, and also directly from Network.
Photos: DVD Beaver, Noirish, Network