Directed by Sidney Gilliat; Produced by Frank Launder
Starring: Alastair Sim, Trevor Howard, Sally Gray
Studio: Gaumont/The Criterion Collection 375
Video: 1.33:1 (4:3) B&W
Audio: DD mono
Extras: Audio commentary by film and music historian Bruce Eder, New interview with British film historian Geoff Brown (WS color), New essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien & Director’s statement in 18-page illustrated booklet
Length: 91 minutes
Odd title considering this is a black & white film, but never mind. Also odd is the considerable humor injected into the whodunit murder mystery story by the antics of Alastair Sim’s Inspector Cockrill from Scotland Yard. Gilliat and Launder produced a series of films together and Gilliat had been a screenwriter on Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. There are some Hitchcockian touches in this unusual film about the possibility that the death of a postman on the operating table of a rural English hospital during the war may not have been accidental.
O’Brien’s essay in the booklet is titled “Laughing While the Bombs Fall,” and an example of the wartime drama is the scene of the arrival of the Inspector, when he has to duck into an air raid shelter upon hearing the sputtering engine of a Nazi V-1 rocket passing overhead cut out (that meant it had run out of fuel and was going to crash and explode somewhere). In another scene one of the doctors is quoting Shakespeare to a nurse in a nighttime setting, and Inspector Cockrill suddenly appears behind a bush completing the speech. The Bard becomes a symbol of serious British identity in these dicey times. Some of Cockrill’s eccentricities seemed to presage the antics of The Pink Panther detective in a rather more modest English way.
As the plot develops first one, than another of the doctors and nurses seems to be the possible murderer. There is another murder plus another attempted murder. The situation where everyone concerned might be guilty reminds one of that board game with Colonel Mustard in the arboretum, or even some of the German films of Fritz Lang and others. The operating room masks escalate the effect. The dramatic orchestral soundtrack music is by leading composer William Alwyn. Again, I do jolly well wish Criterion would offer plain unprocessed PCM mono along with, or instead of, the Dolby Digital option. The image restoration is excellent; the film looks like it was made yesterday.
– John Sunier