Email me (David Moore) . . . . . DINOSAUR FILMS - The Page that Reviews Old British B Films
Studios: Islington Gate . Merton Park New Elstree

My Star * Rating is based on my own taste: 10 is brilliant, 4 is average, 0 is truly dreadful.

Lights, Camera, Merton! (for details see Merton Park page)
this book, just published, fills a much needed gap in research of the lesser lights of the film industry. I used to walk by the studios when I was a lad, sadly without ever realising what was going on inside, or that the tv series Casebook then showing on our tv, was in fact Merton Park's Scotland Yard series of films made for the cinema.
Clive Whichelow's book offers us first and foremost a guide to the feature films produced here, a fleshing out of imdb you might say. Particularly useful was identification of location shooting in the vicinity of Merton Park. Clive also offers a plot summary and his own comments, which I found I nearly always agreed with. Less helpful for me were his additional notes on the cast, which offered sketches of careers, sometimes repetitive (eg with Zena Marshall). Data on Anthony Newley (page 14) seemed unnecessary since he never went to the studio. Posters enhance the book, including some unusual foreign language versions. The studio made numerous documentaries, specially in its earleir days, and a few of these are included in the book. It's only a shame that some lost studio ledger could not have been discovered!
Clive gives us a history of the studio before its heyday in the 1950s. Thanks to Anglo Amalgamated, for which Clive offers a helpful history, the studio lasted longer than for example the likes of Ealing, and tantalisingly he reveals some of the final films made here. What would have been of interest to know, is why the place very slowly declined- presumably when the Edgar Wallace series ended? After this, several films were made over the next five years, so few, you wonder what was going on the rest of the time?
I loved the fact that Clive has uncovered a few films with previously unsuspected Merton connections, like Dial 999 and The Narrowing Circle. Clive's book is a recommended read for all lovers of British B films of the post war era.
As a footnote, there are a few errors, eg Ben Travers was not in Counterspy (p34), and certainly David Attenborough did not star in Schweik's New Adventures (p11). I didn't understand the ref to 'Castle' on page 32 in The Limping Man, directed by the great Cy Endfield, who strangely is not given any note. But that is to nitpick! For me Merton Park must be synonymous with that well known criminologist and tv personality Edgar Lustgarten, and on page 98 Clive gives a generally sympathetic portrait of his deadpan style.
My new reviews of some British films:
THE SILVER FLEET (1943 directors: Vernon Sewell and Gordon Wellesley, 7*) Goodbye my dear wife, is the opening of a farewell letter to his wife from Jaap van Leyden. Ralph Richardson plays him with a quiet dignity, understated, as he is accused of being a Quisling, the chief engineer in a dockyard in occupied Holland. They built subs for the government, now for the Nazis. Noone knows his secret, not even his wife, but van Leyden is in fact Piet Hein, the stuff of modern day war heroes. Esmond Knight as the Gestapo officer von Schiffer is the ultimate deliberately laughable stereotype of the Nazis, as our hero pays the ultimate moving price

SOHO CONSPIRACY (1950, directed by Cecil H Williamson, 1*) The two Titos, Gobbi and Schipa, plus Ben Gigli somehow consented to appear in this EJ Fancey film. It begins with a long piano duet and is followed by slapstick at the cafe du Jardin. In a nutshell, that's this film, an uncomfortable mix of styles. The plot revolves around a fund raising concert to help the cafe and the local church, though the money is raised under false pretences, even if with the best of intentions, which couldn't be said for this meandering movie. David Hurst adds a touch of comedy, Zena Marshall and an ageing Peter Gawthorne a touch of acting

THE CASE OF THE MISSING SCENE (1950, directed by Don Chaffey, 2*)- RH Crossley (Campbell Singer) of Regent Instructional Films sends a unit led by Crawford to the Norfolk Broads to film the wildlife. Their 35mm camera films a bittern, but also poachers after the eggs, but at Denham Laboratories one vital scene has been cut. Though the plot is not entirely lucid in its detail, nature lovers will be happy enough. Peter Butterworth as George helps the poachers who are arrested thanks to a series of fag ends collected by young lad Johnny

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Islington Studios
The home of Gainsborough Pictures, opened after the first war, finally closing in 1949.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS (1935 Islington Studios, directed by Tom Walls, 5*)- To me, Tom Walls became a little too indulgent when he was directing as well as starring. Compensation in this Ben Travers comedy is the omnipresent Ralph Lynn as Jefferson, one of two relations competing for an aunt's inheritance. As the other is "henpecked" Robertson Hare, there's plenty of enjoyment. When Jefferson loses his last franc to the Captain (Walls) and they try to make ends meet, they somehow end up in court charged with faking jewellery. The delicious Martita Hunt has one uncredited scene as wife of the immortal Basil Radford

WHERE THERE'S A WILL (1936, directed by William Beaudine, Islington Studios, 4*) - Incompetent solicitor Benjamin Stubbins disgraces himself by getting plastered, but redeems himself when three American crooks trick "the mug" into using his office- to gain a quick way into the adjacent bank, "boy, does thay guy slay me!" Will Hay carries the film through its many weak moments, and the dry ones when he is off screen, but the script deficiencies are hard to hide, and the supporting cast disappointing, especially in the tiny part allocated to Graham Moffat. Even the music is stock material, I noticed one scene that utilised the song Where There's You from Jack Hulbert's Jack of All Trades. Suspected of the robbery, Stubbins bumbles out of trouble at a Christmas Party dressed as Santa Claus

GOOD MORNING BOYS (1937, directed by Marcel Varnel, Islington Studios, 6*)- Will Hay plays Dr Benjamin Twist, his stock bumbling schoolmaster, "I know what I'm doing." A new governor rightfully has grave doubts, though Lady Bogshott (Martita Hunt) has every faith in him. To priove his competence he must enter pupils for an exam, which after a lot of dubious practices results in 100% marks, earning a trip to Paris. In the party is one Arty Jones, looking even older than the other schoolboys, he's an art thief who steals the Mona Lisa. The pace slows in the night club scene which resorts to slapstick. but though Twist is found with the stolen picture, somehow his boys see him through, "gosh you are in a mess"

OH MR PORTER (1937, directed by Marcel Varnel, Islington Studios, 8*) - Remote Buggleskelly is where incompetent stationmaster Porter is sent, the sixth to hold this office in the past year. Though the gun running plot is central, all the fun is at the crumbling station with ancient deputy stationmaster Moore Marriott and Albert the boy portrayed by Graham Moffatt, who "plays with the pixies." Not forgetting Gladstone the 1854 locomotive. They make a fine team, never finer than here, where no self respecting train dare stop. The climax is the train for Buggleskelly Wednesday, a wild finish with the gunrunners to a juddering crash at the terminus

CONVICT 99 (1938, directed by Marcel Varnel, Islington Studios, 4*)-despite Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt's support, this is not one of Will Hay's better films. He is Dr Benjamin Twist, sacked headmaster, who is appointed in error as a prison governor. He is mistaken for an inmate, but eventually escapes with Jerry the Mole, "crazy as a coot." After "the ghastly blunder" has been rectified, he institutes a thoroughly liberal regime, funded by a football pools winning, and shrewd investments in the stock market. By the time we reach a party with lots of girls, the charade has worn too thin. However a forged cheque leads to near disaster, solved by breaking into his bank to restore the prisoners' funds IN to that institution. A final farce sees the prisoners dressed as policemen pursued by real policemen

I THANK YOU (1941, directed by Marcel Varnel, Islington Studio, 4*)- Askey and Murdoch go into service as husband and wife, but only to find a backer of their show. Moore Marriott and Graham Chapman offer some support with a healthy dollop of slapstick with things like wet paint. Of course in the end, the show must go on, somehow. Lily Morris sings Waiting at the Church, while the opening song Up With The Lark offers a breezy start which is sadly not maintained

BACK ROOM BOY (1942, directed by Herbert Mason, Islington Studios, 5*)- An uncredited Philip Friend introduces a man performnig a vital function at the BBC, making sure the pips are pressed on time. After he gets the pip, he is transferred to a lonely Scottish lighthouse where "they all go mad." Here are all the traditional ghostly happenings, but it's endearingly done with Arthur finding a cheeky foil in young Jane (Vera Frances). Perhaps it's Arthur's dialogue with his lonely self that makes the charm, until that is the place is overrun with women, and enlivened by Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt. The mystery of the disappearing guests is all to do with the war in a protracted flag waving ending. The running Scottish gag, Och Aye, I liked, plus this snippet of dialogue:
Moore Marriott: "I remember this lighthouse when I was a boy."
Arthur: "Did they have lighthouses then?"

TAWNY PIPIT (1944, directed by Bernard Miles, Gainsborough Studios, 5*)- "proper goings on" in an idyllic village, where a rare bird has been spotted. The locals, headed by the colonel (Bernard Miles) set out in typical British fashion, to see that the nest of their visitors jolly well receives "fair play." Unscrupulous twitchers are not the only enemies, the army want the area for manoeuvres, and a farmer wants to plough up his land, don't you know. Keep off this slice of British life, and even though the plot be thin, a charm of characterisation allows you to forgive much

HELTER SKELTER (1949, directed by Ralph Thomas, Gainsborough Studios, 7*) - A film that grows on you, about Miss Susan Graham who has a plethora of admirers, and an antipathy for radio hero Nick Martin (David Tomlinson), who in real life is but a mother's boy. This zany film attempts plenty of cinematic novelties, not always successfully, following Susan's attempts to get cured of hiccups. These include haunting by a ghost (Richard Hearne) and consulting a mad psychiatrist (Jimmy Edwards). Such a storyline makes for a mighty thin plot, so pastiches are added, one with King Charles II and a maid, another a silent film chase, plus Terry "Toothbury" Thomas on the radio, singing along to records. There are also surprise stills from contemporary films. Here's some pre-Goon humour which would go down well today, with a host of familiar British faces bringing on the laughs. But for unknown Carol Marsh with the malady, this was her finest hour. Perhaps hiccups don't make for stardom

DON'T EVER LEAVE ME (1949, directed by Arthur Crabtree, Gainsborough Studios, 6*)- Old lag Harry (Edward Rigby) attempts one big job, the kidnap of 15 year old Sheila (Petula Clark), daughter of stage star Michael Farlaine. Too late, Harry realises the job is not for him, but she shocks him by saying she actually wants to be kidnapped. Craving some excitement, she makes him take her to his home, the flat of his grandson Jack (Jimmy Hanley). A promising premise that conjures some happy moments as Sheila phones her dad to demand 2,000 ransom, and as she forces Jack to take her out on the town for some excitement. The police can't find her because she's altered her appearance, because her father sees the kidnap as a chance to get much needed publicity, and because neighbour Jimmy (Anthony Newley) has wildly misled police in his description of the desperate gang. "She must be giving them absolute torture," though she's having a "super duper" time herself. But how does Jimmy explain her away to his girl Joan? Pleasant characters they are, though without much bite to the comedy, at least until Jimmy decides to be kidnapped also, "did your father ever slap your head, I hope?" Sheila's stage managed reappearance ensures a "super" ending

A BOY A GIRL AND A BIKE (1949, dir Ralph Smart, Gainsborough Studios, 5*) - T' grand an' healthy outdoor cycling life, men in short trousers, vying over Diana Dors and Honor Blackman. Aye, in't North, wi' Yorksheer accents, aye home life is claustrophobic, a stifle to romance. Honor's pursued by Patrick Holt, but there's a rival in posh John McCallum. As for Diana, playing the improbably named Ada, is she part of the eternal triangle? Another storyline involves Anthony Newley who steals a bike to pay off his gambling debts. There's a lot of trouble at mill sorting out problems, the climax the Whit Monday cycle race, Wakeford Warriors need t' reserve to win t' race through t' cobbled streets, up hill and down dale, "hey, what's t' hurry?" That was actual dialogue, but at least t' romance doesn't quite end as ye meet expect

IT'S NOT CRICKET (1949, directed by Roy Rich/ Alfred Roome, Gainsborough Studios, 5*)- Major Bright and Captain Early (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne) somehow have been enlisted in the Intelligence Corps. Their failure to capture Otto Fisch (Maurice Denham- too over the top) results in their bowler hatting, so they set up a detective agency. Their first long awaited client is actress Virginia Briscoe, who's lost her dog in the theatre, where they inevitably ruin her performance in the chase. The Rothstein Diamond has been hidden in a cricket ball which is to be used at a country house weekend. After the usual nighttime frolics, "probably burglars," Bright and Early distinguish themselves on the field of play, and also recover the diamond

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Gate Studios
Originally the Whitehill Studios, latterly owned by the Rank Organisation, situated in filmland at Elstree (phone 2080). Two sound stages were available. It opened in 1928 and closed in 1954 after the last film, John Wesley,see below, was completed.

LILLI MARLENE (1950 directed byArthur Crabtree, Gate Studios Elstree, 2*)- American journalist Steve (Hugh McDermott) and his British mates volunteer to capture a Nazi who has come to North Africa to gain a propaganda victory by using the pinup girl who inspired the song Lilli Marlene. Unfortunately this Nazi reminded me too much of Frank Randle, and Lisa Daniely in the title role, though appealing, is no pinup and terribly exaggerates her face in singing the famous song. She becomes a tug of war twixt the Allies and the Nazis, who almost succeed in snatching her during an overlong ENSA concert. So Steve moves her to the relative safety of Cairo, romance follows, before she is captured by the enemy, tortured, brainwashed` and made to broadcast Nazi propaganda, to the dismay of Steve and his buddies, "the end of a dream." In a final scene, after the war, Lilli is vindicated though it stretches ones credulity more than a little

WOMEN OF TWILIGHT (1952, directed by Gordon Parry, Gate Studios Boreham Wood, 5*)- After no-good Jerry is convicted of murder, his pregnant girlfriend Vivianne (Rene Ray) finds herself homeless until she takes refuge in a home for unmarried mothers. "Most of us had something better once." Presiding over it is Mrs Allistair, a typical role for Freda Jackson. At first she appears motivated by kindness, but her veneer soon fades. All the characters are well drawn, particularly Vida Hope as Jess, Allistair's loyal helper, and Christine (Lois Maxwell) who befriends Viv. Dora Bryan is there too, naturally. This is soap opera, dreary but well observed. The main drama is Chris' baby dying, strangely understated. But the death hides a grizzlier tale as the matriarch's empire thankfully crumbles

STREET CORNER (1953, directed by Muriel Box, Gate Studios Elstree, 5*)- What starts as a semi documentary portrait of London's policewomen ends with a less satisfactory focus on the flighty Bridget (Peggy Cummins) who falls in with a jewel thief and general all round bad egg (Terence Morgan). The mistake the film makes is that although the sub plots are well done, the original focus on women's police work is almost lost and we get no deep character studies of them. The policemen seem mere also rans, though I liked the final chase in which no human catches the thief, but a dog. The best of several good scenes is early on, when an innocent but neglected baby is rescued from a narrow ledge atop an old block of flats. And there are plenty of small character roles to please, mostly female and typecast, such as Thora Hird as a nagging mother, Marjorie Rhodes as the brusque landlady, Joyce Carey as a nervous lady being stalked, and Dora Bryan (who else?), "if I have to be pinched, I want to be pinched by a man"

INNOCENTS IN PARIS (1953, directed by Gordon Parry, Gate Studios, 3*)- A disparate collection of passengers on a weekend flight to Paris include: Ronald Shiner as a Cockney bandsman, Alastair Sim as a cold politician, Jimmy Edwards as a know-all English gent, a kilted Scotsman- cue numerous jokes, Claire Bloom as an English Rose picked up by an older Frenchman, all very naive and only faintly believable, plus one old dear of an artist, played by Margaret Rutherford. A host of smaller parts include uncredited Christoper Lee, Kenneth Williams and Sam Kydd. Frankly, most of the montage is wearingly dull, but with a certain, yes innocent charm, with pleasant moments such as Sim plied with vodka. But it's all too obvious, a waste of many talents

JOHN WESLEY (1953, directed by Norman Walker, Gate Studios Elstree, 4*)- The young boy's early experience is dominated by a fire at his home, Epworth vicarage, as he's rescued from the flames like "a brand plucked from the burning." This rather episodic but well written picture of the "idealist" (Leonard Sachs) is never very profound, but shows how Wesley finds a real personal faith when talking earnestly with a condemned criminal (John Slater), confirmed as he listens in Aldersgate to a Luther sermon. "The enthusiast" gathers to him the "riff raff," to the horror of the established church, and in Bristol begins open air preaching and, with his brother Charles' hymns, opens the first Meeting House. Despite opposition, for example in Bath from Beau Nash (Philip Leaver), soon the first building is opened in London, one follower (Patrick Holt) being the first unlicensed preacher. Soon all over the country there is "a new hope, the joy of knowing God," bringing the Good News "into the hearts and homes of ordinary folk." Very dated now, but sadly that is the spirit of our age. John Wesley concludes happily, "how the tide has turned!" An ironic comment today!

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