Noirvember 2018, Episode 19: Little Red Monkey (1955)
Little Red Monkey (U.S. title Case of the Red Monkey) (1955)
Directed by Ken Hughes
Produced by Alec C. Snowden
Written by Eric Maschwitz, James Eastwood, Ken Hughes
Cinematography by Josef Ambor
Merton Park Studios
Distributed by Anglo-Amalgamated (UK) and United Artists (U.S.)
(1:11) New to me - Network (UK) DVD
When a scientist is murdered at England’s Norden Research Laboratory, security is ratcheted up, but to no avail. Soon another scientist is assassinated, then another. In each case, witnesses remember seeing a small monkey on the premises.
I know, it sounds like a farce, but stay with me here… U.S. State Department official Bill Locklin (Richard Conte) is summoned to England to make sure Soviet physicist Leon Dushenko (Arnold Marlé), who has defected to the West, makes it to America unharmed. Seeking to cooperate with the British Special Branch operative John Harrington (Russell Napier), Locklin finds the British methods lacking, but finds that Harrington’s niece Julia (Rona Anderson) is certainly not lacking.
Meanwhile, the group of East Germans responsible for the murders of the other scientists have their eyes on Dushenko, hoping to distract the his protectors long enough to murder him before he can flee to America. The ruthless leader of the group, Hilde Heller (Sylvia Langova), will do anything to make sure Dushenko never leaves England alive. Do we need more complications in this story? Yes, we do. Tabloid journalist Harry Martin (Colin Gordon) wants to get the scoop on where the authorities are keeping Dushenko hidden.
Writer Eric Maschwitz previously turned this story into a six-episode BBC television series in 1953, a series I’d very much like to see, but I think the pacing of the story is just right for a 70-minute movie. I’m not sure how much these concepts were developed in the series, but the movie touches on the frustrations of fighting an unseen enemy, the point of view of the enemy itself, international cooperation between law enforcement agencies, the ethics of journalism, and more.
The film also contains some really odd elements, including some weird musical choices. As the movie opens, the weird organ music seems to have gotten mixed up from a horror movie made by the same studio. Later, when a child appears on the scene wearing a spaceman outfit (keep an eye on him; he’s important), we’re treated to something that sounds like an outtake from The Addams Family TV episode. The Network DVD I saw also includes an alternate opening that might be more effective than the one that made the cut. While he’s not at his best here, Richard Conte is still good as the American who’s going to show ‘em how it’s done. More a Cold War thriller than a film noir, Little Red Monkey successfully delivers a suspenseful story that often works very well, and even when it stumbles, it does so with boldness.
Next time: Film noir’s favorite malady - amnesia, British-style!
Photos: CineMaterial.com, RareFilm, DVD Compare