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Monday 7 May 2007

Man in the Attic (1953) Hugo Fregonese

The streets are cobbled, the air is thick with fog and the London bobbies are on the beat. We're in Whitechapel at the time of Jack the Ripper and he's on the front page with two victims already behind him. The bobbies escort victim number three home, or so they think. She's drunk as a skunk and not wanting to go home in the slightest, but rather than finding another pub she finds the wrong end of Jack's knife. As the victims mount, fingers are pointed everywhere but one believable suspect is the new lodger at the Harley's house. He's a pathologist called Slade and circumstantial evidence adds up quickly.

The film is suitably drenched in the noir essentials, with some camera angles and a solid use of shadow, though not as well as the 1927 original, The Lodger, made by no less a talent than Alfred Hitchcock. The cast are believably English, though only a few actually are. Rhys Williams, who started out on a solid footing in the very Welsh How Green Was My Valley, doesn't try to hide his Welsh heritage, but the rest are solid, even when they're solidly American like Frances Bavier who my wife knows well as Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show. Newcomers Constance Smith and Byron Palmer are Irish and American respectively. Even director Hugo Fregonese is Argentinian. And then there's suitably odd American staple Jack Palance in the lead, still early in his career when his face hadn't found it's real shape yet so that he looks more like Henry Silva, but it's the same year that he rocketed to fame in Shane and his power is already apparent, even when he's just standing still looking suspicious.

Slade is an obvious suspect because he's completely out of place. The only thing more completely out of place are the musical numbers which are fine but inadequate as tension relievers. They distract us from it, which is presumably the point, but they do so far too much so that they fail to relieve and merely make us wonder what should have been there in their place. The ending is disappointing too, bringing it down another notch in my book.

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