Double Confession (1950) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

Double-Confession-DVDThis terrific Film Noir, missing for decades but finally released last year on DVD, co-stars Peter Lorre in his first British film since his Hitchcock thrillers of the 30s. It was directed by the eclectic Ken Annakin, who would make several big international hits including Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines and The Longest Day. In the 1950s however he made smaller scale films (including the Grahame Greene adaptations Loser Takes All and Across the Bridge) and Double Confession is a real find among them and shouldn’t be missed. We begin late one night as a stranger comes into town via the mail train, looking for a seaside villa. He is looking for trouble and finds it …

This review is offered for Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme at his fab Sweet Freedom blog.

“Let’s be honest before we part” – Ann (Joan Hopkins)

Derek Farr stars as Jim Medway, a tormented, haunted man on a mission in this poetic example of the British seaside noir subgenre that probably owes most of its place in movie history to the success of Brighton Rock, the Grahame Greene novel that was also a hit on stage and the cinema. The latter had co-starred William Hartnell, who here as Charlie Durham to a degree repeats his role as a neurotic gangster figure, albeit one trying to live down his shady past. He rules the roost in ‘Seagate’ owning restaurants, arcades and assorted property, include a house on the beach.

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Jim arrives in the middle of the night to find his wife, who has been ensconced under an alias at ‘The White Cottage’ on the seafront. He gets there just as Durham leaves the villa. The property is in the name of Durham’s friend Paynter (Peter Lorre), a shady, rehabilitated drunk. Durham pretty much saved his life and Paynter knows he is in his debt though there is also a strong homoerotic subtext to their friendship, which only becomes clear in the final sequences of the film.

“One of them was a fellow by the name of Carston. He fell over a cliff, nothing surprising in that … He was generally tight. He should have stayed on level ground.” – Hilary (Ronald Howard)

The next morning two dead bodies are found near the cliffs – that of Carston, a well-known drunk who apparently fell while ‘in his cups’ after coming in to some money; and Jim’s wife, Lorna, whose body was found inside the property. The local police inspector (Naunton Wayne) quickly determines that both must have died within minutes of each other, just when Jim arrived on the scene. Are the deaths connected?

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Durham’s palatial Primrose Bar is the main locus for the action. It is here that we learn that Durham was being blackmailed about his affair with Lorna but that there will be no more requests for money. And it is here that Jim admits to Durham that he killed Lorna and that it is his intention to frame him for it.

“Look at your name in those beautiful eight-foot letters. Well, what does it mean? You’re more than a king in this town. Everybody loves you. If not, they respect you but everybody knows you. I bet you that there aren’t ten people who don’t know what the name ‘Charlie Durham’ spells. ” – Paynter (Peter Lorre)

Paynter decides that he will arrange an ‘accident’ and get Jim out of the away. He first tries to run him over with a speedboat when Jim and his new friend Ann go for a swim; and then later tries to take potshots at him at a shooting arcade. But are things actually as clear as they seem? Was Lorna blackmailing her lover? Did Jim really kill her in a jealous rage? And is Carston’s death accidental?

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This film was considered lost for something like 50 years after a TV screening in the early 1960s – the British Film Institute included it in their ’75 Most Wanted’ listed in 2010 (for a lot more information on this film, including reproductions of the original pressbook, click the BFI website here). It appears that a 35mm print has not turned up, but thankfully strong video materials have made this DVD possible. Which is a real pleasure as the film is very impressive. Set during a single day, this adaptation of John Garden’s 1949 novel All on a Summer’s Day is as much a character piece as a mystery, with some notable underplaying from all the leads, with the main exception of Peter Lorre, who gives a typically showy performance but is none the less highly compelling – his scenes with Hartnell are major highlights and rightly the dynamic climax of the movie (and the eponymous ‘double confession’) belong to them.

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The film also delights in providing a portrait of life at the seaside in the immediate postwar era, with much location shooting in Hastings and Bexhill-on-Sea (the rest was made at the Warner Bros studios in Teddington). This was one of 8 films Kathleen Harrison made with Annakin, here appearing in a subplot in which she and Leslie Dwyer are out for a day, leading to an unlikely romance, running in parallel with Jim’s meeting with Ann, a woman who like him is deeply troubled and in need of help. Will their new-found friendship blossom? If their unlikely romance doesn’t entirely convince (and Joan Hopkins’ plummy accent is horribly dated), it does fit with the rather strange atmosphere of the film, which is never heavy-handed but which contrasts the naturalism of the dialogue and the performances with a somewhat heightened, even theatrical style.

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The formal aspects of the film are generally very impressive. Along with the large and unusual amount of location shooting, Annakin and the great cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth really show their mettle by choreographing several impressive long takes. This was extremely unusual for a British film of the era, and help mark this out as something much more interesting than an average potboiler. Indeed some of the shots last as long and 2.5 minutes, which for a movie like this is incredibly long – only John Farrow was making commercial movies like this but it works superbly well, especially a couple of major sequences in side the Primrose when Jim admits his plans for revenge to Charlie. We do find out how the two deaths occurred, who was responsible and why, but its the depiction of the seaside and the fraught relationships between the six main characters that will stay in your memory. Now that this is available again, there is just no excuse not to snap this one up – available from all the usual online outlets as well as the Renown Pictures website.

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DVD Availability: In the UK this is available on DVD from Renown Pictures, an outfit that specialises in releasing low-budget British movies. It sports a truly terrific transfer that does full justice to Geoffrey Unsworth’s moody cinematography.

Double Confession (1950)
Director: Ken Annakin
Producer: Harry Reynolds
Screenplay:  William Templeton and Ralph Keene (from John Garden’s novel All on a Summer’s Day)
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Art Direction: Bernard Robinson
Music: Benjamin Frankel
Cast: Derek Farr, Peter Lorre, William Hartnell, Joan Hopkins, Naunton Wayne, Ronald Howard, Kathleen Harrison, Leslie Dwyer, Mona Washbourne, Leslie Dwyer, Esma Cannon

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

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46 Responses to Double Confession (1950) – Tuesday’s Overlooked Film

  1. All in all, it sounds like a fine film, Sergio. And it’s always good (at least in my opinion) when those long-lost films get a new lease on life. And those more psychological, relationship-based films can be compelling.Thanks as ever for the thoughtful and interesting review.

  2. realthog says:

    I must sus out the DVD — my own copy is an old VHS from t’telly. (The movie can’t have been as lost as the BFI thought!) But the quality’s poor and the movie’s certainly worth the investment for a better copy. Thanks for the news, and the fine review!

    • Thanks John – well, admittedly they have not been able to source a print so this only exists as a digital copy – but the quality, in every sense, is first rate. I wish the book were easier / cheaper to source though!

  3. Santosh Iyer says:

    I have neither seen the film nor read the novel on which it is based. I thought of reading the novel first but find that it is virtually non-available. At Amazon, only 2 used copies are available, one selling at 103 dollars and the other at 600 dollars ! (Of course, the latter is a first edition with a dust jacket.)

    • Absurdly expensive Santosh – I am interested but not that much! It looks like it never got reprinted. No idea if it’s any good but it got filmed so soon after publication that it certainly got some attention at the time!

  4. Jose Ignacio says:

    Thanks for having discovered me this film, Sergio.

  5. Colin says:

    I bought this last summer when I was home on holiday, and left it there without watching it – damn! Still, I have it, kind of, on hand for future viewing.
    Ken Annakin made lots of interesting movies apart from the well-known, big budget affairs. Across the Bridge is a nice piece of work, and I’m also fond of The Planter’s Wife and The Informers.

    • I agree completely about Annakin, though I have not seen The Planter’s Wife (not too sure how long its been since I clapped eyes on The Informers actuallly …). This one was a genuinely nice surprise – lots of long, complex single takes, unusual, poetic characterisation, a definitely home-erotic subtext and a plot that is surprisingly dense. And for once a pretty relaistic detective – all very understated in that classic British manner!

      • Colin says:

        Sounds like a very rich film, and a worthwhile one.
        The Informers is easy to pick up in the UK, and I believe there’s a Spanish release of The Planter’s Wife – I had a copy of the film which was given away as a freebie with a Greek newspaper years ago (they used to have lots of British rarities at one time) but I’m not sure where it is now.

        • This is a case where I think I have an off-air, probably in the loft somewhere … I used to take this so much more seriously and have all my tapes carefully labelled and laid out – ah well …

          • Colin says:

            The perils of collecting – I know it only too well!

          • It seemed so important to me in my late teens and 20s – now it just doesn;lt feel the same – I’m glad I have what I have, I love being abkle to draw on it when I want to and make occasional discoveries about items I have forgoteen I had (as opposed to the more frequent situation in which I cannot find what I was certain used to be there) and yet, and yet … New horisons beckon, perhaps? Let’s hppe! In the meantime I keep lost of stuff in the hope my nieces will eventually find them fascinating 🙂

          • Colin says:

            Only natural, I think. we can’t keep the same levels of enthusiasm, or even the same type, forever. Times change and we change, and so it goes.

          • Colin says:

            After a fashion.

          • Well, if we can’t actually live in the past, we should be able to negotiate it going forwards.

          • Colin says:

            Heh! The way things are shaping up this week, I’m not entirely sure whether I’m going forwards or backwards!

          • Definitely forward chum – though I know exactly what you mean – and it’s only Tuesday!!!

  6. Patti Abbott says:

    So frustrating the number of British films that never turn up on US TV. Since I don’t buy movies I never get to see them.

  7. tracybham says:

    This sounds wonderful. Not available here though. As far as I can tell. But someday.

  8. Yvette says:

    I would love to see this, Sergio. You’ve made it sound so wonderfully intriguing. I would also love to see the British seaside in the fifties. I do remember these sorts of Brit b/w movies from early television – I was probably the only kid in the projects (on the lower east side of Manhattan) who was watching these and wishing to visit England someday. (Thank goodness I did, finally, get the chance.)

    And the addition of Naughton Wayne (whom I adore from THE LADY VANISHES and NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH) is an extra added attraction for me.

    One of these days when I have the dough, I’ll track this dvd down. Thanks for the intro, Sergio.

    Apropos of fifties films, Sergio, do you remember a Dirk Bogarde movie titled SO LONG AT THE FAIR? It also starred a very young Jean Simmons who was almost too tremblingly beautiful to bear. It all took place at a Paris World’s Fair or exhibition at the turn of the last century. I’ve longed to see this again over the years and have never been able to. Despite the ‘world’s fair’ trimmings, most of the film takes place in a hotel where the heroine’s brother has mysteriously disappeared overnight. A nifty romantic suspense film. Unforgettable.

  9. Colin says:

    That’s the one – a good ep.

  10. Hi Sergio, if this is not available on US TV, as Patti says, there’s no way I’m going to see it on Indian television. It’s interesting that the man who made THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES and THE LONGEST DAY, both of which I have seen, also made this suspense film, unknown to me till now.

  11. Never heard of this one, but thanks to your review, I mean to seek it out right now!

  12. neer says:

    Oh I love such movies with a condensed time-span. Thanks for a very fine review, Sergio. I’ll definitely search both for the book and the movie.

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