BRITISH FILM NOIR DOUBLE FEATURE
DVD Provided by VCI Entertainment
The first thing that leaps out at me is the misnomer “Noir” when describing this British double feature from the early 50’s. Neither picture is hardly film noir, but rather they are crime melodramas based on stage plays. Both films are somewhat exploitive, though certainly not over the top about it, and they both contain solid acting from their leading players.
TWILIGHT WOMEN is about an unmarried and pregnant nightclub singer named Vivianne whose world is turned upside down when her lover, Jerry, is arrested and then convicted for murder. Now on her own and immersed in media scandal, Vivianne finds the only place that will accept her is a boarding house for unmarried mothers. Unfortunately, the house owner is an unscrupulously nasty woman, Helen, who is involved in corruption, including baby farming and abusing her tenants. Vivanne ends up sharing a room with Chris, a nice but troubled young lady. They become good friends and work together in trying to safe guard Chris’ baby, while attempting to expose Helen for the being the criminal that she is.
The story is interesting enough and even has a degree of suspense, particularly in the third act. While this isn’t film noir, there are plenty of richly layered black and white scenes that utilize shadows and natural-looking light sources quite nicely. This definitely isn’t an action flick, but the direction is fairly aggressive and the crisp dialogue and constant tension between the women keeps things moving along at a reasonable pace. Most of all, there is the rapport between René Ray as Vivianne and Lois Maxwell (yes, the same lady that played “Miss Moneypenny” with Sean Connery in a series of James Bond movies) as Chris. Their characters are at the center of everything that happens in the story and both ladies are up to the task as actresses. Ray portrays Vivianne as a lady who has known a better standard of living but now must accept whatever indignities life throws at her. The public hates her lover, who they view as a cold-blooded killer. And now she is pregnant, without her lover, and a social outcast, thanks to the yellow journalistic coverage of her lover’s case. Maxwell does a great job making Chris a likable character, a lady who is smart though a little naïve, and compassionate but not afraid to take a stand when needed. Chris ignores the public image that has been dumped on Vivianne and sees her as the vulnerable but decent human being that she is. Although both Vivianne and Chris are strong-willed ladies, individually they are no match for Freda Jackson’s conniving Helen. It’s good to see a movie where two women bond together as friends in an effort to take down the villain. By the way, don’t blink your eyes in the beginning of this film. That’s a young Lawrence Harvey playing Vivianne’s lover.
The second entry is THE SLASHER, a much maligned film that has been pummeled by many critics. Trust me, it deserves some of the ridicule, particularly regarding the questionable and unrealistic ending, not to mention some of the cartoonish plotting and acting. However, there are two things that shouldn’t be overlooked. First off, the film does capture an honest to God problem that Great Britain had in the early 50’s, which is that there were street gangs made up of violent young men who had no fatherly influence. Much of this had to do with the depressive aftermath of World War II. Crime figures rose during this time, especially in the working class areas, which meant muggings and beatings were commonplace inside the city. Second off, while much of the acting is downright bad, James Kenney is effective in the lead role and a young, outrageously beautiful Joan Collins is believable as his love interest Rene.
Despite some interesting inner-city backdrops, this movie tries hard to be nothing more than sensationalistic drivel. Fortunately, along the way we get some fascinating glimpses of lead character Roy Walsh, a young thug who leads a small gang of purse snatchers into bigger and more violent crimes. Actor Kenney brings charisma, good looks, and energy to the role, making a completely unlikable character still intriguing to watch. The scenes between Roy and Rene are awkward and sometimes contrived, but still immensely interesting due to the chemistry between Kenney and Collins. The main problem with the relationship, as with the rest of the story, is that it lacks any real development, which makes this project an incomplete work. I’m guessing that the story’s shallowness is what probably irks most reviewers. Well, that and the insufferable performance by Robert Ayres as Roy’s step-father. It’s not all Ayres’ fault. The role is badly scripted and he’s involved in an unintentionally ridiculous final scene. Besides, aside from Kenney and Collins, the acting leaves a lot to be desired across the board in this production.
VCI Entertainment provides great transfers, with both films boasting superb picture and sound quality. There are no extras, save for some cool previews of other 50’s releases. So, does this hold up as a double feature? I would say, yes, though I’m not sure either title is a film that genre viewers will want to see more than once. That said, fans of 50’s melodramas should check out this British double feature. If nothing else, the leading acting performances in both films are worth seeing