Blind Date (1959) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

Losey-Blind-Date-posterThis above average whodunit was directed with style and conviction by Joseph Losey, an American émigré in London who brought much of own feelings of cultural and social displacement to bear. Hardy Kruger is the foreigner in London who gets framed for murder  and Stanley Baker the flinty Welshman from Scotland Yard. Both men are caught in a class system they resent but remain resolute in their commitment to the truth. Also known as Chance Meeting, the first part of the story is told largely in flashback from the scene of the crime …

The following review is offered for Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his fab Sweet Freedom blog.

“I understood the London police were famous for being polite, decent people”

Kruger plays Jan Van Rooyer, a young man who as the film begins is full of the joys of Spring, hopping and leaping around London as he carries a small bunch of violets on his way to an assignation. A Dutch painter currently working as a lowly assistant in an art gallery in Bond Street, he arrives at a mews apartment to meet Jacqueline. Finding the door open he goes right in and throws his coat on the divan but doesn’t notice when it falls off and takes something down with it. He waits for a while, looks over the rather upmarket if also vulgar apartment, plays some music on the stereo and eventually starts to think that he has been stood up. He is then surprised by a couple of policemen (one played by Gordon Jackson, later a huge TV star on Upstairs Downstairs and The Professionals), who are open hostile and not at all happy that he is there. Jan is taken aback and demands to see the man in charge – this turns out to be Inspector Morgan (Baker), but nothing is simple in this film as another Inspector arrives to jointly run the investigation – but what is the crime?

Blind-Date-03

It turns out that Jacqueline was there all the time – dead, barely covered on the divan where he threw his coat. When Jan sees the body he is devastated, barely able to look at the woman. Morgan, who is probably testier than usual as he is nursing a cold, is still unimpressed and bullies and cajoles the young man, who he sees as the prime suspect into telling his story.

“I don’t lie on any floor for anybody”

In flashback we see Jan and Jacqueline meet at an art gallery – she is the wife of a rich man and doesn’t seem to really care about art, which to the passionate Jan is tantamount to a sin. After bumping into each other at a museum she gets him to give her painting lessons and learns that he comes from coal mining community and is obsessed with images of his old life (these were actually painted, uncredited, by Richard MacDonald). Soon the two begin an affair and there is beguiling and surprising candour to the scenes depicting their relationship, which really does make the film stand out as does the great sympathy elicited for Jan and the clear impact this has on Morgan.

Blind-Date-06

Micheline Presle as Jacqueline is a little stiff compared with the naturalistic charm of Kruger and the pent-up resentment of Baker, though in some ways she has the toughest role to play – is she really in love with Jan or just looking for a bit of ‘rough’? While one is grateful for the fairly realistic depiction of a woman as being sexually provocative and independent, in what was one of those peculiarities of British cinema of the day, for some reason these sorts fo women were often portrayed as coming from across the Channel. Thus we have Simone Signoret in Room at the Top and Leslie Caron in The L-Shaped Room and Presle here, though in fairness here this works well as this is very much a story of outsiders providing us with a look at British establishment. Which very soon starts to raise its head when it becomes clear that it would be very convenient even for the police if Jan would just confess to the crime …

Blind-Date-05

This part of the story is mainly represented by Robert Flemyng as Baker’s upper class police superior and John Van Eyssen as the equally posh Inspector attached to the case, to Baker’s clear irritation, when it emerges that the dead woman was in fact the mistress of a prominent diplomat. Baker is clearly very able but unwilling to play the politics of the game that would really see him rise in the ranks – there is no suggestion that he frame Jan for the crime but equally they want to protect the diplomat and consider Jan as virtually expendable. One of the smart things about the script is that we start to realise that Jan is sweet and innocent but also very naive and that he really doesn’t know much about who Jacqueline really is. We know right from the start that Jan is innocent of the crime – but who would want to kill her? This leads to a nice little ironic twist in the tale, which however is revealed 20 minutes before the end. This changes the last part of the story without unbalancing it, revealing a complex plan without undermining the characterisation – this is a hard thing to pull off and on the whole it succeeds very well, reminding me very much of Simenon’s novels.

Blind-Date-07

The big twist could have been handled in a much more sensational way right at the end but by placing it earlier in the narrative instead it alters and to an extent deepens our understanding of the characters – and more importantly, really does play fair too. The film was adapted quite freely from a long and fairly serious 1955 novel by Leigh Howard (review coming to Fedora very shortly) where the mystery element was present but slightly soft-peddaled. The social and class dimension was added fairly late in the day when Losey discarded an early script written by Eric Ambler so as to take the story in a new direction. This is a small film made on a modest budget but has clear ambitions for something more substantial – and in my view succeeds very well in this respect without in fact neglecting to tell a good story with a proper beginning middle and end too. But don’t just take my word for it – get a copy and see for yourself.

Blind-Date-Italian-posterDVD Availability: The film is available in various editions though US and Europe. In the UK its has been released in a no frills DVD by Renown, which sad to say is slightly cropped (the titles are in widescreen however), though this is otherwise a perfectly respectable transfer of a film mostly set in interiors so it doesn’t suffer too badly from having the edges removed from the frame that probably should be shown theatrically at a minimum of 1.66:1 aspect ratio.

This is the third in my ongoing series of reviews devoted to the crime, mystery and suspense movies directed by Joseph Losey, whose work I profiled in general here. Here are the list of films I plan to look at in toto eventually, with links to my reviews so far:

  • The Lawless (1950)
  • The Prowler (1951)
  • M (1951)
  • The Big Night (1951) – reviewed here
  • The Sleeping Tiger (1954)
  • The Intimate Stranger (1956)  – reviewed here
  • Time Without Pity (1957)
  • Blind Date (1959)
  • The Criminal (1960)
  • Eva (1962)
  • Modesty Blaise (1966)
  • Secret Ceremony (1968)
  • Figures in a Landscape (1970)

Blind Date aka Chance Encounter (1959)
Director: Joseph Losey
Producer: David Deutsch
Screenplay: Ben Barzman and Millard Lampell (from the novel by Leigh Howard)
Cinematography: Christopher Challis
Art Direction: Harry Pottle (and Richard MacDonald, uncredited)
Music: Richard Rodney Bennett (conducted by Malcolm Arnold)
Cast: Hardy Kruger, Stanley Baker, Micheline Presle, Gordon Jackson, Robert Flemyng, John Van Eyssen, Jack MacGowran

***** (3.5 fedora tips out of 5)

About these ads
This entry was posted in England, Film Noir, Georges Simenon, Joseph Losey, Leigh Howard, London, Scene of the crime, Tuesday's Overlooked Film and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Blind Date (1959) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

  1. Sergio – As always a thoughtful and well-written review of fascinating film. Interesting how Losey conveys the class and ‘outsider’ issues in the context of the film. I like that approach better than a straight-out preaching about such matters. What I find equally fascinating is the way women were ‘supposed to be’ portrayed. Values and assumptions often do find their way into film…

    • Thnaks Margot for all the comments. Twenty-twenty hindsight is very convenient of course but it is always fascinating to me to see works that,m in hge their own way, were pushing at the boundaries of current tatse and fashion, epsecially in an era when censorship in the UK was still so dominant but was being slowly but surely chipped away. This is a midest little movie but I think a really effective way of smiggling in some social messages along with a neat little mystery.

  2. TracyK says:

    This does sound interesting, and I will give a try if I get the chance.

  3. Colin says:

    Well summed up Sergio. I enjoyed the film a lot more on my second viewing, prompted by your mentioning it as an upcoming feature back in the summer. Actually, I think that’s more down to my being in the wrong mood first time I saw it rather than any real deficiency in the movie.

    Baker and Kruger are excellent as the two working class guys with a good deal more in common than they think. Ms Presle was also fine, but I agree she appeared a little distant – understandable enough though given the framework and development of the story. And a word of praise too for Jack MacGowran, terrific as the knowing and vaguely seedy postman.

    Overall, I reckon the twist was well enough handled and I can’t fault its timing or placement – that aspect works very well, and I like the way you deftly allude to it without adding any spoilers. However, the actual mechanics of it and the way that’s explained away doesn’t quite ring true for me. I don’t believe that’s a huge fault or anything and it doesn’t weaken the movie for me, but it bugs me a little.

    • Thanks for mentioning Jack MacGowran as I ended up side-stepping that just to shorten the review a bit – it is a a great little cameo, very strange in its suggestiveness, but he handles it perfectly, though it does feel like he strayed in froma different movie almost! Obviously it is not easy to talk about the plot here and critics at the time attacked its implausibility – which is fair but surely to miss the point. I hope to review the original novel quite soon, which also went out of its way to promote itself as a social story rather than a mystery.

      • Colin says:

        I think it works well on both levels, as a social commentary and as a mystery. The two aspects complement each other and the mystery is as much a result of the social situation as anything.

        • It is nice when a film gets that right, isn’t it? Interesting to compare this with say some of the Basil Dearden films of the era which tended to be a bit more heavy-handed in their treatment of ‘isues’ (literally in quotatuon marks), though Victim is a truly splendid movie.

          • Colin says:

            I like the Dearden movies but I know what you mean. Losey did subtlety so much better, and improved as he went on. Victim is indeed a great piece of work.

          • Dearden and Relph were working very much within the traditional / conventional filmmaking community and Losey of course was coming in as a dedicated outsider but stylistically they had very different approaches too of course. A fascinating era in British filmmamking.

  4. Patti Abbott says:

    It really bugs me that these are so hard to come by. I think the only films in this list I have seen is SECRET CEREMONY and MODESTY BLAISE. IN the swinging sixties we seemed to get more UK films.

  5. neer says:

    for some reason these sorts of women were often portrayed as coming from across the Channel. :)
    I have noticed this tendency in books by British writers also.

    This sounds very interesting Sergio. I’ll see if I can get a copy of it.

    • Thansk Neeru – it is quite funny but in quite a few films of the day women who are shown to be daring and independent and a bit sexually provocative somehow nearly always ended up being from across the Channell … dram tou own conclusions! Seems like the Brits really only got their mojo in the sixties!

  6. I agree with Patti. I’d be surprised if I found this in any of the retail outlets here though Amazon’s recent entry, via an Indian tie-up, might ease things in so far as the availability of early and vintage films are concerned. This film appears to lead with the time-tested formula of a decent guy who finds himself at the wrong place and at the wrong time. I read a similar plot in a Jack Higgins novel recently: it had hostile cops, too, for added measure. The director and cast of this film are new to me. Thanks for the review, Sergio.

    • Thanks Prashant – what Higgins book is that? I of course think the film is great of course but it’s not that well known – it has a decent reputation in Europe, which is not surprising given the theme and the actors involved though Joseph Losey’s reoutation as a major American director (in exile) is pretty well assured I think.

  7. Yvette says:

    I’ve liked Hardy Kruger ever since I first saw him in HATARI, a John Wayne African extravaganza of which I have fond memories. But sad to say, I’ve never seen this movie. I will add it to my TBW list. Thanks for another great review, Sergio. Why is it, I wonder, that I so often enjoy your reviews despite the fact that I’ve so often NOT seen the movie or read the book. That’s the mark of a good critic, I think.

    • I think it’s a mark of your generosity of spirit Yvette! Also, maybe because I usually let my enthusiasm get the better of me … Thanks, as always, for the wonderful support and the great posts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s