Monday, 10 December 2012

A Touch of Larceny

A Touch of Larceny is a 1959 movie which remains hugely enjoyable and entertaining to this day. It is based on Andrew Garve's novel The Megstone Plot, but in the film the emphasis is on comedy  rather than suspense, although there is some of the small boat sailing that features so often in Garve's work. The director was Guy Hamilton, whose later work included Goldfinger, and the cast is superb. James Mason, Vera Miles and George Sanders take the lead roles, but the minor charactes are played by such notables as John Le Mesurier, Harry Andrews and a very young Peter Barkworth.

Mason, an actor I always enjoy watching, plays a rakish ex-submariner who is idling his time away in peacetime, working in the Admiralty and chasing pretty women. He bumps into an old acquaintance, played by Sanders (have there ever been two actors as suave as Mason and Sanders? I doubt it) and instantly falls for Sanders' American lady friend, played by Miles (who came to Hitchcock's attention, and had a role in Psycho).

Mason wants to get rich quick, and to get Miles, and so he conjures up a scheme whereby he will appear to be a traitor, causing the newspapers to libel him. He will then reappear and cash in with compensation claims. But of course, things do not turn out to be straightforward.

Amazingly, this is all still rather topical, given current debates about press freedom, and the ways in which reputations can be damaged (nowadays it's not just newspapers in the firing line, but bloggers and tweeters too.) As a lawyer, I'm fascinated by the law of libel. It does worry me that libel can be unintentional, and some compensation awards seem excessive. Equally, it's wrong to destroy people's reputations, and the law does need to protect individuals, not least those who don't have deep pockets enabling them to hire expensive lawyers. Any reform of the law needs to be focused on achieving quick solutions and the containment of cost.

Anyway, back to the film. The decision to concentrate on the comedy element of the storyline is extremely successful. The story moves along at a fast pace, and there are some very nice plot twists. The actors do a great job of making the most of the material. Heartily recommended.

No comments: