During the past year or so, I’ve run across several articles on British film noir, examining how noir developed in a country that experienced World War II and its aftermath in ways far different from the American experience. The expectations may be somewhat different in Brit noir, but the essentials are still the same: people in desperate situations faced with few viable choices. So this year, I’ve decided to include at least 10 Brit noir titles for my Noirvember 2018 experience, starting today.
I’d also love to hear from British readers, not only for their opinions of these movies, but also to let me know how well remembered these titles are today.
You Can’t Escape (1956)
Directed by Wilfred Eades
Produced by Robert Hall
Written by Robert Hall and Doreen Montgomery
Based on the novel She Died Young by Alan Kennington
Cinematography by Norman Warwick
Edited by E.B. Jarvis
(1:15) New to me - Network DVD (UK)
Novelist Peter Darwin (Robert Urquhart, above right) rescues a female pilot named Kay (Noelle Middleton, above middle) from a dangerous landing in which she narrowly escapes hitting another aircraft. Once Kay is safe, Peter jokingly tells her he’s just broken his own personal rule to “never under any circumstances help a lady in distress.” Hmmm....
A relationship develops and we (and Kay’s Aunt Sue, played by Barbara Cavan, above left) see that Peter and Kay are making the local papers, photographed at a racetrack with the caption, “Personalities at Goodwood Constant Companions During the (horse-racing) Season.” Tellingly their picture is placed next to an article titled “Doubtful Futures.” Peter and Kay plan to marry.
This all happens in the film’s first seven minutes. But there’s more…
Peter gets a call from his former lover Claire (Elizabeth Kentish) who meets Peter to tell him she’s pregnant with his child. Too bad Peter’s got other plans and besides, he’s grown tired of Claire. As they take a drive together, Peter tells Claire “We don’t want the same things anymore. I’ve no use for that crowd you belong to… people that drink gin out of cracked cups until dawn, sleep until noon, always working tomorrow, never today.” Ah, the real character of Peter begins to come through…
A quarrel ensues and Claire (in a not very believable manner) accidentally falls from the moving car to her death. With no one else to turn to, Peter confides in Kay, asking her to help him dispose of Claire’s body. To everyone else, Claire is a missing person, causing a local newspaper reporter named Rodney Nixon (Peter Reynolds, above left) and Claire’s doctor David Anstruther (Guy Rolfe, below left) to investigate further. Both Nixon (seeking a story) and Anstruther (out of concern for Claire) are flirting with danger in different ways.
Peter's desperation comes through in all of his scenes with Nixon as the reporter's relentless pursuit of the truth begins to wear Peter down. (You could almost imagine a more subdued Dan Duryea in the role of Nixon.) Rolfe is good as the doctor/friend of the family whose tunnel vision for Claire may lead him into big trouble. Although much happens in the opening minutes, the pacing of the rest of the film seems erratic. Perhaps that's due to the fact that the film wants to be equal parts thriller and melodrama.
You Can’t Escape is a reasonably successful noir thriller, but suffers from believable character motivation. Sure, Peter saved Kay’s life, but there’s really no other reason for her to fall in love with him (especially as we come to like him less and less as the film progresses) and vice versa. Although my experience with Brit noir is rather limited, You Can’t Escape seems like a middle-of-the-road entry. It’s certainly enjoyable, but not very memorable.
Next time: noir in the courtroom
Photos: Classic Movie Ramblings, Avax, RareFilm