Friday, December 9, 2016

Forgotten Noir Fridays: Scotland Yard Inspector (1952)

Danny McMara is the victim of an automobile accident—he was struck by a car and killed in a London fog as thick as sea poop.  His sister Heather (Bernadette O’Farrell), who hasn’t seen Danny Boy in several months, was supposed to meet him in a pub…but upon receiving word of Danny’s death, gets a little sympathetic assist from magazine reporter Philip O’Dell (Cesar Romero), who’s also in that pub when Heather gets the bad news.  You see, Heather suspects that Danny was murdered and O’Dell—an American who spent time during the war in Old Blighty—convinces her to take her concerns to Scotland Yard, bragging that his pal Inspector McLendon will investigate the matter.

Arriving at the Yard, O’Dell is surprised to learn that McLendon has retired (he must not have been much of a friend if he didn’t keep in touch) and Inspector Rigby (Campbell Singer) is now in charge.  Rigby isn’t too enthused at the prospect of Phil playing amateur detective, but that’s just what O’Dell sets out to do…and his investigation uncovers a blackmail scheme involving both a movie producer (Geoffrey Keen) and the proprietress of a nightclub (Lois Maxwell).

Our old friend Sam Newfield has returned once again to Forgotten Noir Fridays—this time to direct a Hammer Films production (brother Siggy is nowhere in sight) released on the other side of the pond as Lady in the Fog (1952).  This title makes a lot more sense than Scotland Yard Inspector—the name assigned to the movie when it played for U.S. audiences—because the titular law enforcement official is a minor character in this vehicle.  You get the impression that star Cesar Romero is the inspector, and he’s not—he’s just a simple journalist.  This recalls the previously discussed Shadow Man [1953], the clunky U.S. title of the more aptly British-named Street of Shadows.)

Romero and director Newfield
Cesar Romero is a very likable actor, so even when he’s been saddled with a movie that’s a bit beneath his thespic talents you don’t really mind too much; Scotland Yard Inspector isn’t a terrible film, but it’s a terribly contrived one.  The plot of Inspector has more holes than the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.  For starters, O’Dell and Heather journey to the nightclub for a lead on Danny’s former whereabouts, and in a conversation with a waiter (Jacques Cey) it’s revealed that the nightspot only caters to “members” or someone who’s “been signed in by a member.”  All well and good…but just how did O’Dell and Heather get into the place?   It would appear to be after hours—the joint is pretty much deserted save for a chorus line doing their routine—so I guess you could surmise they’re not choosy about whether you’ve presented a membership card the door…but O’Dell and Heather make subsequent trips to the joint when it appears pretty packed.  (The expressions on the faces of the chorus girls are good for a laugh—they reminded me of the “Eh…it’s a living” attitude of the animal appliances on The Flintstones.)

Later in Inspector, Romero’s muckraker pays a visit to a sanitarium to track down a guy (Lloyd Lamble) involved in the blackmail scheme…and this place has the laxest security I’ve ever witnessed; there aren’t even any bars on the windows, which is how O’Dell can get inside (after being told the person he wants to have a chinwag with is dead) and find the man he’s looking for.  I guess that sanitarium works on the honor system.  What’s more, the director of the sanitarium (Betty Cooper) gets a phone call from the movie producer that O’Dell is on his way there—you’d think she would have alerted the rest of the staff…or better still, informed the guy at the gate not to let anyone in until they’ve gotten the seal of approval.

Fans of the James Bond franchise might be amused at the participation of Lois Maxwell in this movie; the Canadian-born actress appeared in a few U.S. films (The Dark Past, The Crime Doctor’s Diary) before relocating to Italy to try her luck in the flickers there.  Maxwell is best remembered as “Miss Moneypenny” in fourteen films in the 007 series…and since she wisely chose to play that secretarial role instead of Sylvia Trench, Bond’s girlfriend, they should have renamed her character “Miss Smartmoneypenny” (they dumped the Trench character after the second film, From Russia With Love).  Lois plays a gal who’s b-b-b-b-b-b-bad to the bone in Scotland Yard Inspector, and she shares opening credits billing with Romero.

Scotland Yard Inspector features a lot of light comedy relief—I’m surprised Sid Melton didn’t turn up in this, he must not have gotten his messages from his service—including an amusing running gag involving an airline clerk (Frank Birch) driven to distraction by O’Dell’s repeated changing of his plans.  I smiled when I spotted Katie Johnson—the indestructible old dame from The Ladykillers—in a nice turn as a dotty sanitarium patient (she identifies herself as “Mary Stuart”), and Bill Fraser—“Snudge” of the classic Britcoms The Army Game and Bootsie and Snudge—plays a sales manager.

Scotland Yard Inspector’s claim to being a noir seems to subsist on the presence of fog (the B-picture director’s best friend), a femme fatale (Maxwell), and Romero’s sartorial choice of a trench coat (well, he also gets sapped by an assailant at one point).  It’s worth checking out if you’ve seen everything else, but personally I’d rather sit through a good noir again.

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