Do You Know This Voice? (1964)
Directed by Frank Nesbitt
Produced by Jack Parsons
Written by Neil McCallum, based on a novel by Evelyn Berckman
Cinematography by Arthur Lavis
(1:21) Network (UK) DVD
Although I’m not yet prepared to do so, a journey through the complete filmography of Dan Duryea would be an enormously fun project. His film noir titles alone (such as The Woman in the Window, Ministry of Fear, Scarlet Street, Black Angel, Criss Cross, Too Late for Tears, The Burglar, and many more) show an actor who could play slimy, dangerous villains like no one else, delivering lines with a sneering, nasal voice that makes you want to punch him out, only you don’t dare. He’s simply too intimidating and dangerous. He’d cut you down before you had a chance to catch your next breath. With 62 film credits and at least 20 television appearances, watching his complete body of work would no doubt be a pleasure. But with any filmography, you’re bound to hit some rough spots along the way. Could Do You Know This Voice? be one of them?
At night, a figure in a trench coat makes a call from a British call box, demanding ransom money for a boy who’s just been kidnapped. Wilson (Alan Edwards, above right), he boy’s father, takes the call and contacts the police, who soon discover the boy’s corpse. (This is early in the film and not much of a spoiler.) Since they believe the kidnappers probably don’t know the body has been discovered, the authorities ask Wilson to feign ignorance, continuing to take calls from the kidnapper so they can trace his location. On the recording, the kidnapper’s voice is vague, suggesting that it could be male or female, giving the police little to go on. With no other leads, the authorities decide to play the recording on the local television news, asking the public, “Do you know this voice?”
Meanwhile, a local woman, Mrs. Marotta (Isa Miranda, above right) is picked up by the police shortly after the call is traced to a call box near her home. Mrs. Marotta saw the person in the call box just ahead of her, but can’t remember any specific details. Perhaps her American neighbor, Mr. Hopta (Dan Duryea, above left) saw something after she meet him on the street earlier that morning…
Do You Know This Voice? is one of a long list of post WWII films involving American expatriates in England, a practice of placing marketable American actors in British movies in order to attract larger audiences. The quality of these films varies wildly, and unfortunately this is not one of the better ones. Do You Know This Voice? suffers from inconsistency in writing, acting, and direction. While some of the scenes in the film are filled with tension (the phone calls, Mrs. Marotta’s visits from Mr. Hopta), others (aspects of the police investigation, Mr. Hopta’s scenes with his wife, etc.) are often clumsily handled and pedestrian.
Without getting too deep into spoilers, let’s be honest: Dan Duryea is in the movie and he rarely played a good guy. We know he’s somehow involved in the murder of the boy. If you’ve seen even a few of Duryea’s movies, you know he’s normally a rock solid actor. Here, however, he’s surprisingly awkward in this first onscreen appearance, an extended scene which introduces both his character and Mrs. Marotta. We’re not quite sure what to make of this first scene, and while some of this confusion may be intentional, Duryea comes across as if he’d just woken up. Although this is easily his worst moment of the film, it threatens to taint everything that comes after (which, thankfully, is decidedly better).
The biggest culprit here is the material. Based on the Evelyn Berckman’s novel of the same name, Do You Know This Voice? was adapted for the screen by Neil McCallum, an actor who wrote only one other (uncredited) motion picture screenplay, Walk a Tightrope, also from 1964, also starring Dan Duryea, and also directed by Frank Nesbitt. (Although they were released four months apart, Do You Know This Voice? and Walk a Tightrope were probably shot back-to-back). Many of the scenes involving the police drag on, dissipating tension rather than creating it. At times the dialogue comes alive, but just as often it turns trite and wooden. (Although Duryea delivers the film’s best line: “Before you know it, I’ll be doing the trapdoor fandango!”)
Frank Nesbitt, primarily an assistant or second unit director, directed only two other films, the aforementioned Walk a Tightrope and Dulcima (1971). As is the case with McCallum’s script, Nesbitt creates moments of anxiety alongside stretches of stagnation. Since the director is largely dependent upon visually representing good (or bad) writing, some of the credit (as well as the blame) falls upon the screenwriter. All in all, Do You Know This Voice? is at best inconsistent, made quickly and on-the-cheap for British Lion Films. Duryea fans will definitely want to check out the film, but for everyone else, understand that it’s a mixed bag.
Do You Know This Voice? is available to rent on Amazon Prime and on DVD in the UK from Network.
Photos: IMDb, Classic Movie Ramblings