This 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?
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.
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 …
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.
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.
DVD 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