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Sunday 17 June 2007

Gideon's Day (1958) John Ford

George Gideon was a very English policeman, working for Scotland Yard, as made famous in the novels by John Creasey under the pseudonym of J J Marric. He first appeared in Gideon's Day in 1955 and that's the British title of the film, it being renamed for the American audience to Gideon of Scotland Yard. Quite why that would make a difference I don't know, but there was obviously an attempt to break the American market, not least by choosing John Ford of all people as the director and probably by shearing the film down by 27 minutes to a more respectable 91 minutes.

Everything else is very English, from the admirable casting of Jack Hawkins as Gideon to the far less admirable choice of London Bridge is Falling Down as the soundtrack to the opening credits. The film follows Gideon's day, as you'd expect, more like an episode of a crime series than a standalone story, starting with his lack of ability to keep his family out of his bathroom, through suspending dirty officers to investigating the crimes of the day quick enough for him to get to his daughter's concert that evening.

There are many plot threads so none of them take a huge amount of attention or much actual investigation, but they're all treated with the respect due, just as the actors cast are of the level of quality required for the parts. Hawkins is at the peak of his game here, a year after The Bridge on the River Kwai and one before Ben-Hur, but he does a solid job of not stealing everyone else's thunder and leaving them free to do their thing. Dianne Foster's is the other name on the title screen, but it's others who shine most, all in character roles. Partly it's because she doesn't appear for over an hour but mostly it's because this is a film about little stories and hers is just one of them, if admittedly the biggest.

Cyril Cusack is a small time crook who only squeals on dope peddlers because his daughter died to drug abuse, Laurence Naismith is a compulsive sex murderer freed from hospital who hates who he is, Jack Watling is a priest seen as a sissy but in reality a former commando who doesn't want to use his heroic past to gain popularity. Most of them have small parts but they make the most of them. Andrew Ray is funniest as an committed young policeman who has a knack of giving high up cops parking tickets but who manages to get praise anyway for catching a murderer. Marjorie Rhodes is especially fine as the mother of one of that murderer's victims, because her two short scenes are starkly different: one joyous and welcoming and the other in deep shock.

I recognise some of the actors: John Le Mesurier is a prosecutor who gets a couple of lines in a short scene that serves only to highlight how much of Gideon's time is wasted, even as it's never enough to cover what he needs to do. There's a special credit introducing Anna Massey, John Ford's goddaughter, in her debut film as Gideon's daughter, but she only has a small part. At the end of the day though, it's the story that steals the show, all the many little stories that make up the big one. I have some John Creasey's in a box somewhere. I'll have to investigate them.

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