Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Terror Street (1953)

In the early 50's, US producer Robert L. Lippert struck a deal with UK-based Hammer Films to produce movies in the UK, using US lead actors and a UK cast & crew. These movies would be released in the UK and the US under different titles, in this case, the movie was released as 'Terror Street' Stateside (also the title under which I watched it) and as the more appropriate title '36 Hours' in the UK. I prefer the UK title in this case, as 'Terror Street' makes little sense in regards to the story, and the movie takes place over a period of 36 hours.

'Terror Street'/'36 Hours' was directed by Montgomery Tully ('The Counterfeit Plan') after a story and screenplay by Steve Fisher ('Dead Reckoning', 'I Wake Up Screaming', 'Lady In The Lake'). Cinematography was done by Walter Harvey and the musical score was done by Ivor Slaney, who both worked for Hammer Studios at the time.

Dan Duryea plays US air force pilot Bill Rogers, who was stationed in the UK during World War II. After the war, Rogers settled down with his Norwegian wife Katherine (Swedish actress Elsy Albiin) in London, but he's been stationed in the US on a training assignment for the past year. At the start of the movie he's hitched a flight back to the UK without permission to see his wife, and needs to catch a flight back to the US within 36 hours so he doesn't get reported as AWOL and face a court martial. In his absence however, his wife has been lured into a diamond-smuggling racket by customs intelligence officer Orville Hart (John Chandos), but she wants out. Hart kills Katherine the evening of Rogers' return and frames him for it. Rogers flees the murder scene and ends up in the apartment of mission sister Jenny Miller (Gudrun Ure) who believes his story about being innocent and together they try to unravel the murder, before he has to return to the States. Over the course of (less than) 36 hours, he learns a lot more about what his wife had been up to while he was away, and everything it entailed including the smugglers, blackmail, a secret admirer of his wife, and especially Orville Hart's involvement in it all.

The movie is very light on the noir elements overall. There are a few nighttime scenes that are filmed with some noir lighting, wet cobblestone streets, stark shadows, piercing lights. Also the final scene in the basement of an antique dealer has a noir feel to it, especially during a fight with a swinging light providing some nice visuals. The main noir element here is Bill Rogers, who is basically a desperate and innocent man, being framed for his wife's murder, while in a foreign country. He does find a companion in Jenny but ultimately is on his own, trying to clear his name as well as find the murderer of his wife. Dan Duryea had appeared in a number of noirs before, including 'Scarlet Street' and 'Too Late For Tears', portraying mostly shady, sleazy characters so this was quite a change for him, but his performance is too flat for the character. He is decent as the lone man on the run, but at times he seems too calm, too emotionless, as if he's got all the time in the world and everything's peachy. It didn't work for me.

The best parts of the movie, to me, were John Chandos as the slimey Orville Hart and especially Gudrun Ure as Jenny. She was using the stage name Ann Gudrun at that time to help her new film career, this was her first motion picture after she'd been a theater actress. Ure does a great job and despite her small frame, makes Jenny come across as a very strong woman who can stand her ground but is also compassionate and empathic. I really liked her performance here. She would gain fame much later in life in the UK and some parts of Europe as she starred as Super Gran, a popular British kids TV show of the same name in the mid 80s. There is also a small but good part for Eric Pohlmann as a smuggler/antiques dealer, who played in a few more Hammer noirs such as 'The Glass Cage' but also did the voice of Ernst Blofeld in 2 James Bond movies (but he was never the face of Blofeld).

This is more of a straight-forward innocent-man-on-the-run thriller than anything else. And it is half-decent at that, the movie doesn't hold interest enough throughout and at no point does it really give a sense of urgency to Rogers' predicament. Hammer noir's tend to be relatively light on the noir side, and this is not one of the better movies that Hammer Studios produced I'm afraid to say. It's okay enough to waste under an hour and a half with on a rainy evening, but don't expect greatness.

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