Tag Archives: John Abbott

The Saint in London (1939, John Paddy Carstairs)

One of the unfortunate developments of television is the proliferation of hour-long mystery dramas. While these programs might be good, it means movies like The Saint in London don’t get made anymore. The film’s not episodic, with an abbreviated first act–George Sanders (playing the Saint for the first time) gets no introduction. But the first act isn’t missing anything; it isn’t hurried. Immediately, most of the principals are introduced to the viewer, as well as the film’s plot. The film only runs seventy-some minutes, so there isn’t a lot of room for verbosity.

The romantic interest needs to be quickly presented–and in walks Sally Gray, in an incredibly convenient (but not contrived) manner. The present action of the film, sans the first scene, runs about twenty-four hours (something Gray and Sanders discuss later on). It makes the script concise–there’s only one conversation in the entire film not directly involved with the plot. The film’s fullness, then, comes from the cast.

Sanders is excellent as usual, but The Saint in London gives him the opportunity to charm, something he rarely got to do later in his career. He’s erudite and affable, a perfect lead for a fast-paced mystery. He and Gray play wonderfully off each other, her headstrong, bored blue blood a fine match for his enigmatic troubleshooter. Their dialogue’s quick and a lot of fun–Carstairs’s direction is fine throughout, but during these scenes, he really knows how to work the actors together for best effect. The Saint in London is not a whodunit. Instead, it’s Sanders forcing his way throughout a situation–I suppose that distinction has to do with the differences between troubleshooters and detectives in narrative–so Carstair’s can’t rely on the mystery to keep the viewer interested.

The supporting cast–starting with David Burns’s pickpocket turned Sanders’s assistant and Gordon McLeod’s henpecked Scotland Yard inspector–usually plays for humor. Burns gets a limitless amount of scene-closing one liners and he deliveries each to great effect. McLeod’s got some funny phone exchanges with his unseen wife and a fantastic comic scene with Athene Seyler.

While Carstairs’s direction is strongest during the humor and the banter, he does understand how to make mix the ingredients. The film’s constantly funny, but it’s never harmless. There’s always a good amount of danger, even if the heroes’ success is assured. The villains–particularly Henry Oscar–are both funny and evil. Carstairs and Sanders make the bantering between good guy and bad work. Sanders walks through the film with such an amused air, it’s hard to think it was a challenge for him, but the character’s an ideal vehicle for him.

The film’s technically sound–the music, from Marr Mackie, seems a tad ornate at times, especially after it’s been a while since the last thriller sequence. Mackie strives to remind the viewer of the tonal shift, something the script, direction and lighting have already accomplished.

The Saint in London, thanks to the script and acting, is an excellent diversion. It’s a shame the genre’s disappeared.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Paddy Carstairs; screenplay by Lynn Root and Frank Fenton, based on a story by Leslie Charteris; director of photography, Claude Friese-Greene; edited by Douglas Robertson; music by Marr Mackie; produced by William Sistrom; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring George Sanders (Simon Templar), Sally Gray (Penny Parker), David Burns (Dugan), Gordon McLeod (Inspector Claud Teal), Athene Seyler (Mother Buckley), Henry Oscar (Bruno Lang), John Abbott (Count Stephen Duni), Ralph Truman (Kussella), Charles Carson (John Morgan), Carl Jaffe (Stengler), Norah Howard (Mrs. Edith Morgan), Ballard Berkeley (Blake) and Charles Paton (Tobacco Shop Proprietor).


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The Woman in White (1948, Peter Godfrey)

I’m not sure what’s more impressive in The Woman in White: Max Steiner’s exceptional score or Sidney Greenstreet’s performance. Both are phenomenal–it’s probably Steiner’s finest score. Greenstreet’s performance of the film’s cogent, ruthless villain is not just one of his finest performances, but one of the finest villains in film history. I’ve seem the film before, but somehow Greenstreet’s endless supply of sinisterness made me frequently question the ending I remembered.

Almost everything else about The Woman in White is excellent–not on the level of those two particulars–but, overall, excellent. Peter Godfrey knows how to construct a shot–and especially how to move a camera–and there’s some great comic moments in the film, which is not, overall, comical at all. John Abbott is great as a wacky recluse, John Emery is great as Greenstreet’s sidekick. Great’s a word I’d use a lot to describe aspects of The Woman in White… like Agnes Moorehead, she’s great in a difficult role. (No surprise). However–I was just going to say the editing isn’t great, but it isn’t just the editing–The Woman in White has some drastic changes in its narrative and they hamstring the film.

The first half of The Woman in White, with Gig Young starting a new job as a drawing instructor for wealthy Eleanor Parker who comes across a strange girl, recently escaped from an asylum (also Parker), is fantastic. Absolutely wonderful. Here’s the best direction in the film, the best part of Young’s performance and two good roles for Parker. Alexis Smith is good as the friend who’s got the crush on Young, even though Young and Parker (as the wealthy heiress, not the escaped mental patient) are getting romantic. Young and Parker have great chemistry, regardless of the role Parker’s playing. Young’s new to the estate, just like the viewer, and the film draws them both in at the same time. It’s masterful.

Then it skips ahead some months and now it’s Smith the film’s following, except not really, because Greenstreet eventually locks her in a room and then it follows Greenstreet for a long time. Parker’s wealthy heiress is poisoned so that role is made inessential and the mental patient role doesn’t have quite enough for her to do (though there are some nice special effects of the two of them in the same frame). Young and Smith have no chemistry as their romance takes off and the film drags on and on. Greenstreet’s great in this part, best in this part, and his scenes with Smith do a lot for the picture. Young’s almost useless, a long fall from the beginning, when he’s absolutely fantastic.

Overall, The Woman in White‘s best parts–with the exception of Greenstreet and Steiner–don’t make it to the end. Parker’s performance as the cursed mental patient is wonderful, but the romantic stuff with her and Young in the first half–which goes away–is just as good. By the end, it’s hard to believe Young started out so strong and even Steiner’s score, for the last bit, isn’t as good as it had been. So, disappointing as a whole, but its pieces are stellar.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Godfrey; screenplay by Stephen Morehouse Avery, based on the novel by Wilkie Collins; director of photography, Carl E. Guthrie; edited by Clarence Kolster; music by Max Steiner; produced by Henry Blanke; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Alexis Smith (Marian Halcombe), Eleanor Parker (Laura Fairlie/Ann Catherick), Sydney Greenstreet (Count Alessandro Fosco), Gig Young (Walter Hartright), Agnes Moorehead (Countess Fosco), John Abbott (Frederick Fairlie), John Emery (Sir Percival Glyde) and Curt Bois (Louis).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 1: Dream Factory.