This 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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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