The Whole Truth (1958) – Tuesday’s Forgotten Film

The-Whole-Truth_poster_germanStewart Granger is the Hollywood producer accused of a murder he didn’t commit in this neat little thriller set on the Riviera. Shot with typical energy and flair by tyro director John Guillermin (The Blue MaxDeath on the Nile, The Towering Inferno), it was adapted by the great Jonathan Latimer from a play by Philip Mackie. We begin with a man on the run …

I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo; Katie’s 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at the Doing Dewey blog (for review links, click here); and Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme hosted by Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.

“It might have been me. I could easily have done it. I came within an inch of killing her this afternoon. I almost wish it had been me who killed her. I’d have enjoyed doing it”

Or rather, it’s the film version that begins with a man on the run. It has nothing whatsoever in common with the opening of Mackie’s original stage play however, and which in turn he adapted from his 90-minutes TV play of the same title. Here is a quick rundown of the basic plot of the three iterations of the story:

A film producer has an affair with a troublesome actress but breaks it off and informs his wife. When the actress turns up dead, evidence only points towards the producer – will he be able to save himself, find the guilty party and save his marriage?

Philip Mackie, who would go on to become one of British television’s most experienced writers (he adapted Quentin Crisp’s The Naked Civil Servant into one of the landmark productions of the 1970s), originally wrote the story as a 90-minute script for television. It was first broadcast live on 17 July 1955 on the BBC TV anthology, ‘Sunday Night Theatre’ and set in North West London. It was popular enough to be repeated on 6 March 1956, and this means that it was telerecorded and that may mean, just possibly, that it hasn’t actually been lost like most TV of the era. The Radio Times listings magazine said of the play at the time

“a four-cornered battle of wits between the murderer, the law, the author, and the audience … Mr Mackie has more than one turn-and-turn about surprise up his sleeve …”

Whole-Truth-17.7.55 Lewis Paulton is a movie producer and after a long day returns to his home in Hampstead, North London, to be greeted by his wife Brenda and their Dutch maid, Deenie. They are awaiting a couple of friends for a dinner party, one of which is the movie star Marion Gray. While they wait for the guests, Hugo Carliss arrives asking for Lewis. Once Brenda has left, he tells Lewis that he knows he went to see Marion earlier than afternoon and that she had some compromising letters. He knows this because she was killed not long after Lawrence left and he is investigating the crime. While Lewis isn’t looking, Hugo picks up a broken cufflink and a paper knife and then shortly afterwards leaves. Lewis admits to Brenda that he had been having an affair with Marion, who had started to blackmail him so that he would leave his wife. At that moment there is a knock at the door and Marion walks in, large as life and twice as bitchy …

“… in the meantime I seem to be the number-one witness – the last person who saw Marion alive – and also the number-one suspect – the person who may very well have killed her”

Mackie_The-Whole-Truth_evans-webMarion’s sudden appearance is a great twist and before long there is one murder and then another, with Lawrence neatly fitted into the frame. In the printed edition of the play Mackie referred to it not as a whodunit so much as a ‘he-dun-it’ since we know from early on that Carliss (who is not a policeman but in fact one of Marion’s other lovers) is the villain of the piece. Lawrence is forced to confess to Brenda that he had a brief affair with Marion, and she very graciously forgives him – but this is little help when he is arrested for murder. Carliss seems to have constructed a tight trap but just maybe Deenie will be able to help her employer, even if she doesn’t approve of his lifestyle. And will Brenda help, or bail – and is she safe from Carliss?

1. The Whole Truth BBC TV play (17 July 1955; repeated 6 March 1956 )
Written by Philip Mackie; directed by Stephen Harrison.
With Griffith Jones (Lewis Paulton), Sarah Lawson (Brenda Paulton), Ellen Blueth (Deenie), Michael Brill (Hugh Carliss), Margo Lorenz (Marion Gray), Oswald Laurence (Police Constable), Arnold Bell (Detective Inspector Brett), John Howlett (Detective Sergeant Petty).

The-Whole-Truth-02

It would seem that the TV play really was quite successful as the stage version premiered barely four months after the broadcast, on 11 October 1955 at the Aldwych Theatre in London with Ellen Blueth and John Howlett reprising their roles. On stage a young Leslie Phillips played Carliss, and I dearly wish a record of this remained as he has so rarely played villains and I would love to see how he performed in it. The play is set mostly in the Poulton’s living room with a short act set at the police station and is well thought through if not especially original; and indeed, the second murder of a completely innocent character may very well put some people off, though this is not a play that attempts any kind of depth or really elicit much in the way sympathy – it’s a thriller that wants to keep you on your toes and it more or less does that, albeit in a very conventional way.

2. The Whole Truth – stage version (premiered 11 October 1955 at the Aldwych Theatre, London )
Written by Philip Mackie; directed by Leslie Linder.
With Ernest Clark (Lewis Paulton), Sarah Lawson (Brenda Paulton), Ellen Blueth (Deenie), Leslie Phillips (Hugh Carliss), Faith Brook (Marion Gray), John Russell (Police Constable Briggs), Arnold Bell (Detective Inspector Brett), Robert Bruce (Detective Sergeant Petty).

The movie version was again made not long after the stage version though what emerged what quite substantially different.

The-Whole-Truth_poster3. The Whole Truth - cinema adaptation (1958)
Director: John Guillermin
Producer: Jack Clayton
Screenplay: Jonathan Latimer
Cinematography: Wilkie Cooper
Art Direction: Anthony Masters
Music: Mischa Spoliansky (played by Johnny Dankworth)
Cast: Stewart Granger, George Sanders, Donna Reed, John Van Eyssen, Gianna Maria Canale, Peter Dyneley

In developing his script from Mackie’s play, Jonathan Latimer junked pretty much all of Mackie’s dialogue but retained the main premise and the three central characters, though Lewis and Brenda become Max and Carol. Having discarded much of Mackie’s original (which admittedly is very limited with its only two sets), Latimer seems in fact to have largely drawn on his previous screenplay for the 1948 film, The Big Clock (which I previously reviewed here). The basic structure is in fact exactly the same – we begin at night with the protagonist on the run, ducking and diving to avoid detection. He then stares at a large clock and as the hands start to run backwards we flashback to the beginning of the story, in which we find out that he (here Stewart Granger, then Ray Milland) is a movie producer married to a fine wife (Donna Reed, but Maureen O’Sullivan earlier) but who gets involved with another woman (Gianna Maria Canale here, the equivalent of Rita Johnson in Big Clock) When she is killed he is put in the frame by the woman’s lover (George Sanders here,  Charles Laughton before) and goes on the run to uncover the true culprit at which point the flashback catches up with the narrative in time for the climax.

The-Whole-Truth-01

Latimer’s script makes several significant changes to the play, not least by relocating the story to the Riviera. Though there was some second unit shooting on location in France, the cast never actually steps out of the studios at Walton on Thames, which also doubles as one of the sets in an early sequence in which we see film star Gina (Gianna Maria Canale) behave outrageously as the spoiled Italian actress making hell for the crew on her latest film, with only Max the producer able to placate her. He then taken her home, somewhat unwillingly, and we learn that they had a fling and he in fact still has some clothes up at her villa – it transpires that he and Reed had split (or as Ross from Friends might have said, ‘they were on a break‘) and she want him back to shore up her faltering career and is prepared to stoop to blackmail.

The-Whole-Truth-04

That evening at a big party Carliss arrives in the shape of a superb George Sanders, who here makes the part a much more fascinating than in the play, his bitterness, insecurity and barely suppressed enjoyment of the producer’s discomfort a joy to behold. The film, despite being completely studio-bound, wisely expands on the play by having Max head to Gina’s apartment and recover his clothes (while being seen by a nosy neighbour out walking her dog) and then returns, for Gina to arrive alive and well if a little drunk and spoiling for a fight. Ultimately she is found stabbed and Max is left holding her dead body – at which point he is forced to explain to Carol his infidelity. Donna Reed doesn’t get to do a lot here until being whisked away for the car chase finale and the most interesting scenes are in fact those between Max and Carliss, who get a lot more interaction than in the play.

The-Whole-Truth-03

Latimer goes to the trouble of coming up with a better bit of evidence that potentially might extricate Max and so puts Carol in danger, leading to a nicely shot climax with cars racing all over the Riviera (well, inside the studio mainly). All in all a thoroughly entertaining little thriller, very ably made and with a very attractive cast too – well worth 80 minutes of your time I’d say.

DVD Availability: The cinema version has recently been released by Sony in the US as a MOD (Manufactured on Demand) DVD in what appears to be a solid widescreen transfer. However, I’ve relied on an old recording from TV for this review.

I submit this review for Bev’s 2014 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘Entertainment world’ category:

Vintage Golden Card-Marked-xii

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

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46 Responses to The Whole Truth (1958) – Tuesday’s Forgotten Film

  1. Sergio – Oh, as soon as you mentioned George Sanders I thought that would be a solid part of the film adaptation. He was so very talented. I’ve always thought it so interesting how stories are adapted as they move from stage to film, from novel to stage, etc.. This basic story – of the flawed character who nonetheless is not guilty of murder – can be compelling. Glad you enjoyed this.

  2. Colin says:

    You know, I think I’m getting stupid! Something did stir at the back of my mind when watching this but I missed the link to The Big Clock. Sure I was aware of the setup being broadly similar but I never even thought about the writing credits.

    Anyway, I found it a very enjoyable film – I’m glad to hear it was opened up from the play as that sounds very limited and cramped – and I didn’t mind the set-bound nature of it at all. I truth, I quite like films shot in that way – they have their own atmosphere and it’s one that appeals to me.

    • Thanks Colin, glad you liked it too. And I agree, there must be dozens of British movies, whether adaptated by plays or simply constained by budgets, that are still great entertainment evebn if a bit ‘confined’ – little as relaxing as a modest black and white british movie that does a bit better than you expected, is there?

      • Colin says:

        True. I’ve seen the lack of real locations used as a stick to beat certain movies before but I feel it’s a poor approach. I’ve said before, I’m not sure whether or not it was here, that there’s actually a lot of artistry involved in the creation and use of good sets. When it’s done well it can be a very attractive aspect of a movie.

        • I think you may have said it there chum :), but I agree – yes, it can be done lazily and unconvincingly but epsecially in black and white it is all part of the magic and charm fo the style – my favourite example being from the Casablanca Paris montage in which Rick and Islsa are driving and the background plate dissolves while they sit in front of it – definitely transgressive in terms of ‘realism’ but wonderful in the context of a flashback I thought.

          • Colin says:

            Good example. As for the realism aspect – and I notice you put it in quotes there – I think it can be overrated. If you think of film as art, then there isn’t really any obligation on the part of the filmmaker to present reality. In some ways, it could be argued that doing so weakens the art.

          • I agree – the difficulty is usually the opposite, where you are taken out of the reality of the film, and that can happen due to shoffy process work and unimpressively panoramas painted on flats – amazingly, the BBC started repeating the PALLISERS serial on BBC2 this weekend and I was amazed at how obvious the paintings depicting the city hanging outside assorted windws and the unconvincing use of chromakey – but in 1972 most TVs just would not have been able to pick this up! On the other hand, when I was a kid watchign TV in the late 1970s I hated most use fo blu-backing in TV shows as I always thought it was a bit rubbish and unconvincing (its general avoidance in the liekes of SAPPHIRE & STEEL was one fo the reasons I loved that show).

          • Colin says:

            Yes, I can kind of forgive TV shows of a certain vintage for less than perfect effects too – mostly they were working with what was available, and at short notice.

            As it happens, I bought Sapphire and Steel in a Network sale last year and look forward to watching it in due course.

          • Just the best TV of its type ever – … just saying :)

          • Colin says:

            I know you’re a big fan and I had your recommendation in mind when I bought it.

          • Good lad! I am well past being objective about that show (though I really do try) – the first story is the most obviously like a kids’ TV show from the era. By the time you get to the second one, set on a train station, it’s a whole different ball game!

          • Colin says:

            Well it’s at my parents’ place at the moment, so I won’t get a chance to see it till the summer – but I will see it.

          • Well, if you just can’t bear the suspense until then, just send me a message – in fact, I just sent you one …

          • Colin says:

            I’m on it!

          • Good lad :) (and thanks again, as ever) – speaking of trains, just been watching a bit of John Mills in THE OCTOBER MAN – grett little movie that is

          • Colin says:

            It is indeed. Great characters and location, and a film I really should revisit soon. It was one of my very first blog entries as it happens, when I was still finding my feet.

          • That’s what made me go and buy the John Mills DVD set in fact – damn if FLAME IN THE STREETS isn’t horribly panned and scanned though – oh well …

          • Colin says:

            Yes, that’s a shameful transfer. The rest of the set’s very good though, in fact both volumes are worthwhile. I’d love to see Mr Denning Drives North some time.

          • Never seen that one actually – appears to be available online illegally

          • Colin says:

            Ta! I’ll be having a look at that.

          • Always a pleasure :)

  3. I’m always impressed how you dig out the whole complex story of these productions, and look at the different versions. This one sounds fun: a lot of elements familiar from different stories of the era, all of them winners in my view.

    • Thanks Moira – I wish I could get a look at the original TV version too of course but reading the play was, I suspect, a pretty fair indiciation of what it was like. Mackie went on to much greater and better things.

  4. John says:

    I didn’t think I knew Philip Mackie at all until you mentioned his best known work about Crisp. I saw that BBC production with John Hurt when it aired back in the 1970s. Loved it! That was back when our PBS was really a *public* broadcasting system and was not pandering to corporate sponosors and their image and could put on programs with “daring” content.

    The similarities you caught in this movie adaptation and Latimer’s script for The Big Clock are uncanny. I can’t think of any other instance when a screenwriter did something like that (borrowed the plot structure of one movie and used it in another) , but I’m sure that must be numeorus examples.

    • Thanks very much for all the feedback John (and I’ll let you off for not knowing that Naked Civil Servant was actually made by the commercial ITV network, bot the BBC). El Dorado, the John Wayne / Robert Mitchum western, is a good example of an adaptation (Harry Brown’s novel “The Stars in Their Courses”) where the source got completely bent out of shape to resemble the writer’s previous film, Rio Bravo, though this was apparently more down to director Howard Hawks than screenwriter Leigh Brackett.

      • John says:

        Oh, you know us ignorant Yanks. If it’s a TV show from the UK we all think it was on the BBC. ;^D I’m reminded of a running gag from PHILOMENA which we just watched last night. Judi Dench as Philomena keeps introducing Steve Coogan’s character this way: “This is Martin Sixsmith. News at Ten” and he corrects her by mumbling “Erm… BBC news actually, but not any more.”

        • :) Well, quite, Sixsmith apparently is much nices in the film than in real life … Haven’t seen that film yet but I really want to. I actually think most Brits would never assume that the show was made by the more low-brow ITV – and, in fairness, it was certainly easy to see why at the time!

    • Todd Mason says:

      Sadly, John, the timidity of PBS of late has a lot more to do with the berserk FCC under Bush Jr., which has yet to be reined in much under Obama, and their attempts to make sure that nothing a reasonable adult might be expected to encounter “sully” our airwaves. Sergio–excellent German poster for the film.

  5. desktidy says:

    According to lostshows.com only a couple of dozen episodes of Sunday Night Theatre still exist and unfortunately The Whole Truth isn’t among them.

    The relationship between film and television (and earlier, radio) in Britain is quite an interesting one, though it rarely gets referenced beyond the Quatermass films and the sitcom adaptations of the seventies.
    I think because so much TV of this vintage is lost and therefore unseen that a lot of viewers are unaware just how much British cinema was being shaped by what was happening on television.

    • I quite agree and thanks very much for all that info – in this case access to the playscript is very useful though not quite the same as what would have been broadcast of course. Hammer of course really did build their business on the back of radio and then TV adaptations and it would be great if a truly detailed look at these were available – well, we can dream …

  6. THE WHOLE TRUTH sounds like my kind of movie. And I’m a big fan of Jonathan Latimer’s work. I’ll have to track this DVD down. Nice review!

  7. Patti Abbott says:

    As always you make every movie sound enticing. I love the cast here. Will put it on LOCATE TV and hope it comes up eventually. Not buying movies is blessing but also a curse for seeing anything out of the mainstream.

  8. Sergio, as Moira says, it’s fascinating how you come up with so much background detail on nearly every film and book you review. The different versions you write about are as interesting to read about as the main film or book under review. I doubt I’d have bothered knowing or writing about the television and stage versions of this film or any other.

  9. Jeff Flugel says:

    Hey there, Sergio! This is a very nice writeup of the different versions of this story. What an interesting cast! I’m more used to Granger in period adventure films, so it would be worth watching just to see him in a contemporary thriller setting. That the baddie is played by George Sanders makes me even more eager to see it.

  10. TracyK says:

    Sounds like it would be a good movie, especially if it is a lot like The Big Clock. Thanks for all the background. That kind of information is always interesting.

  11. Yvette says:

    I’m a big fan of George Sanders in my own small way – I loved him as The Saint or was he The Falcon? Or both? At any rate, whenever his name pops up I tend to pay attention. As for Stewart Granger, well, the best I can say is that he just didn’t age well. I loved him in his earlier swashbuckling roles though. Especially, SCARAMOUCHE! I also loved Donna Reed in anything. You’ve made this film sound very intriguing, Sergio. But then, you always do.

    P.S. I’m with Colin on the idea of studio sets. Don’t mind them at all if done imaginatively.

  12. This paragraph is a little confusing: Lewis turns into Lawrence without reason or explanation!

    Lewis Paulton is a movie producer and after a long day returns to his home in Hampstead, North London, to be greeted by his wife Brenda and their Dutch maid, Deenie. They are awaiting a couple of friends for a dinner party, one of which is the movie star Marion Gray. While they wait for the guests, Hugo Carliss arrives asking for Lawrence. Once Brenda has left, he tells Lawrence that he knows he went to see Marion earlier than afternoon and that she had some compromising letters. He knows this because she was killed not long after Lawrence left and he is investigating the crime. While Lawrence isn’t looking, Hugo picks up a broken cufflink and a paper knife and then shortly afterwards leaves. Lawrence admits to Brenda that he had been having an affair with Marion, who had started to blackmail him so that he would leave his wife. At that moment there is a knock at the door and Marion walks in, large as life and twice as bitchy …

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