Monday, October 11, 2010

The Limping Man (Banner/Eros, 1951/53)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was The Limping Man, a 1953 British production by Banner Films, released through Eros Films (whose logo, the company’s name emblazoned on a disc with two wings sprouting from either end, also appeared on the 1951 thriller Another Man’s Poison, the second of three films co-starring Bette Davis and her fourth and last husband, Gary Merrill), and a potentially good thriller that turned out in practice to be surprisingly dull. The credited director was Charles De La Tour, but apparently the main director was American expat Cy Endfield, who despite his very British-sounding name had ended up in the U.K. because he’d been blacklisted here and scarfed up whatever jobs he could get, including producing the surprisingly interesting TV show Col. March Investigates (a show about the real-life Department of Queer Complaints at Scotland Yard — a unit set up to investigate out-of-the-ordinary crimes — which effectively cast Boris Karloff as the head of it) and directing its first three episodes, which were later spliced together to form a theatrical feature.

The Limping Man opens with World War II veteran Frank Prior (Lloyd Bridges) flying back to the U.K. to get back in touch with his wartime girlfriend, Pauline French (Moira Lister). As he gets off the plane he sees a fellow passenger gunned down by a man with a limp, who had concealed a sniper rifle in his cane. The victim is, or appears to be, Kendal Brown (Bruce Beeby), and it turns out that Pauline married him and became part of his criminal enterprises just for the thrill of it all. There’s also a subplot involving a magician and his assistant, a singer named Helene Castle, played by Hélène Cordet, a Frenchwoman — at least if one goes by her name and her accent — who gets to warble a couple of songs, “I Couldn’t Care Less” by Hugh Raker and Arthur Wilkinson (Wilkinson also composed the film’s background score) and “Hey Presto!” by Cyril Orundel and David Croft, that have nothing to do with the main plot but are still among the most entertaining parts of the film. Eventually it turns out that Kendal Brown is still alive — after The Third Man British screens were inundated with stories in which master criminals faked their own deaths and turned up alive (including a second one in which Orson Welles played that character, Trent’s Last Case) — and he was not the victim at the airport, but the killer — and Frank is caught between Brown and the police until … suddenly Endfield and/or de la Tour cuts back to him asleep on the airplane taking him to England, and just when you’re thinking, “Oh, no, they’re not going to have the whole film turn out to be a dream,” they have the whole film turn out to be a dream.

I was really anxious to watch The Limping Man — it was the companion item to The Hoodlum on the disc within the Dark Crimes 50-CD boxed set and the description of it on the sleeve made it seem interesting — but it turned out to be an ill-paced film, with a serviceable but not especially interesting script by Ian Stuart Black and Reginald Long based on a story called “Death on the Tideway” by Anthony Verney (and was it he who thought up that horrible trick ending or was that Black’s and/or Long’s brilliant idea?) and good acting all around — Bridges holds his own against the Brits in the rest of the cast — but it’s still a surprisingly dull film for something that in purpose and intent was supposed to be a thriller. There’s also some confusion about exactly when this film was made, since the Mill Creek Entertainment package lists it as 1951 but gives 1953 — my guess is it was made in 1951 (the dialogue referred to the war as having ended six years earlier) but it wasn’t released in the U.S. until 1953 and that was what was going by.