Stewart 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 Max, Death 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 …”
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 Lewis 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”
Marion’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).
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 to 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.
3. 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 successful businessman 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 the “other woman” 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.
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 up (or as Ross from Friends might have said, ‘they were on a break‘) but she wants him back to shore up her faltering career – and is prepared to stoop to blackmail.
That evening at a big party Carliss arrives in the shape of a superb George Sanders, who here makes the part 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.
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: