Friday, January 20, 2017

Forgotten Noir Fridays: Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard (1950)

Old-time radio’s favorite representative from the fictitious “United States Counterspies” agency, David Harding (Howard St. John), returns for his second and final attempt to establish a silver screen franchise in Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard (1950).  This time out, Harding and his agents are examining the “suicide” of one Don Martin (Harry Lauter), an operative who left a message on his boss’ machine announcing a break in the investigation of the leaking of valuable information regarding the government’s guided missile program.  It’s all so simple, really: why would a man take his own life the night he’s about to achieve a breakthrough that will reveal the person responsible for jeopardizing national security?

Harding will get an assist in the Martin matter from Simon Langton (Ron Randell), described by the counterspies as “the British David Harding.”  (Hence the “Scotland Yard” in the film’s title.)  Both men don’t know it yet—though the audience is clued in early, otherwise we’d be bored shitless—but the individual at the center of the leaks is Martin’s secretary (and secret ex-fiancée) Karen Michelle (Amanda Blake).  Karen, however, is unaware that her loose lips have been sinking ships; she’s being pumped for the information (thanks to a dose of sodium pentothal) by Dr. Victor Gilbert (Lewis Martin), who records their sessions and then sends the tape on to higher-ups in the spy ring (represented by the president of a bottled water company, played by Charles Meredith).  Say it with me now: this looks like a job for…David Harding, Counterspy!

The 'rents have heard me sing out "John Doucette!" every time I see him in one of their Lone Ranger reruns they're now able to spot him before I do.  (John plays one of the bad guys.)

Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard is a slight improvement over the original David Harding, Counterspy (1950); it’s shorter, as my Facebook chum Hal Erickson notes in From Radio to the Big Screen, though Hal also opines it’s “perhaps because Seymour Friedman was a better director than Ray Nazarro.”  (Leonard Maltin generously gives it ** ½ in his Classic Movie Guide, calling it a “slick, efficient B yarn.”)  It’s not too hard to suss out, however, why the attempt to continue the Counterspy film franchise fell by the wayside.  Howard St. John was a first-rate character actor (Born Yesterday, Li’l Abner) but he suffers from a serious deficiency in the charisma department when it comes to playing leads.  Ditto his “British counterpart,” Ron Randell, whose previous attempts to keep both the Bulldog Drummond and Lone Wolf movie series chugging along apparently met with much theatergoer malaise.

Legendary TV homewrecker June Vincent channels her inner Nurse Ratched as the henchwoman to the villainous doctor played by Lewis Martin.

So is there anything to recommend about Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard?  Well, the story and screenplay by Harold Greene has some clever moments, particularly the method the spies use to transport Michelle’s recorded babblings back to their lair.  (Erickson: “So cunningly complex is Mr. Miller’s scheme that one is almost pulling for him to get away with it!”)  Speaking of Michelle, the actress playing her will be familiar to legions of Gunsmoke fans as the gal who slaked the thirst of Dodge City’s citizens for nearly the entirety of the television run: Amanda Blake (and she’s quite good, too).  Mister John Dehner returns from the first movie as Agent Bob Reynolds, and future director Fred F. Sears is also back as Agent Harry Peters (special thanks to member of the TDOY faithful rnigma for the first name), Harding’s chief sidekick on the radio version.

I do not own the VCI edition of Forgotten Noir Collection 4 that features Counterspy Meets Scotland Yard…so I had to depend, as I have many times in the past, on the kindness of strangers—in this particular instance, I rented it from ClassicFlix.  Next Friday, I will sample another flick from that same set.

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