Monday, 1 December 2014

Portrait of Alison - film review

Portrait of Alison is a 1956 film based on Francis Durbridge's tv serial of the previous year. In the US, the film was known as Postmark for Danger. The story was written at a time when Durbridge was at the peak of his powers, and of his fame, and the plot includes a host of the devices that one associates with Durbridge - above all, the seemingly commonplace, yet at the same time inexplicable and bizarre item that seems to connect mysterious and murderous events. In this case, the item is a postcard of a bottle of Chianti, in the hand of a woman.

A car crashes in Italy with fatal consequences. An artist working in London, Tim Forrester (Robert Beatty) is told that his brother was at the wheel, and a young woman passenger was killed with him. The bodies are so badly burned as to be unrecognisable, and you don't need to be Paul Temple (who doesn't actually feature in this story) to suspect that all may not be as it seems.

The plot thickens rapidly as Tim is asked by the father of the dead girl, Alison Ford, to paint a portrait of her from a photograph. The photo vanishes, as does Alison's dress, which the father had given to Tim, while the portrait is defaced. Tim discovers all this when he comes home one day - to find the body of his regular model, who happens to be wearing Alison's dress. What can it all mean?

The route to the solution is as twisty as usual with Durbridge. Portrait of Alison is typical of his best work, with a gripping (if unlikely) plot and limited emphasis on characterisation and setting. The performances of the lead actors are rather wooden, I'm afraid, but there is ample compensation in the supporting cast, which is full of notable British character actors of the Fifties and Sixties - the likes of Geoffrey Keen, Raymond Francis, Sam Kydd, Terence Alexander (later renowned as Charlie Hungerford in Bergerac), William Lucas and Allan Cuthbertson (once ubiquitous on the TV screen, and now perhaps best remembered for an episode of Fawlty Towers). Good light entertainment.


5 comments:

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Well, I have to get this one now - thanks Martin - sounds perfect for a winter afternoon!

Martin Edwards said...

Exactly, Sergio, and Mike Linane has drawn my attention to the fact that The Doll is now available as a DVD, under its German title Die Puppe. Very tempting.

Clarissa Draper said...

I've never heard of the writer or the film but it sounds intriguing.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Just went and bought the DVD Martin - very much looking foreward to this now. Presumably there was a prose version published too? Durbridge seemed to do that with most of his serials at the time.

Philip Amos said...

You wrote a post many moons ago, Martin, on Durbridge's Melissa, of which there emerged a remake in 1997. Neither of us was too pleased with that. For those who may not know, I'll just mention that the fine 1974 production is available on DVD. That production is rather in the manner of the filming of a stage play, something that sometimes works well, and does in this case because of the fine cast, notably Peter Barkworth, Moira Redmond, and Ronald Fraser (father of Hugh, Captain Hastings to David Suchet's Poirot). Interesting that a German production of Melissa came first, in 1964.

The BBC hasn't been doing much right recently, but one thing I thank them for, as an ex-pat in Canada, is their radio site. You can stream all the radio stations, and once you stream a station, the site will install itself with a very convenient icon at the bottom of the screen. I mention this for those who might find it useful to know, but more specifically because I've been listening to the original Paul Temple series. How very well done those were! That was on Radio 4 Extra, which broadcasts old programmes, some as far back as the 30s, but most from the 50s to the early 2000s.

Listening to the more recent repeats does not show recent programmes in a good light, comedy especially. That is rather shown up when mixed with The Goon Show, The Navy Lark, and The Huggets, that last notable indeed for its gentle humour and the consummate acting skills of Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrison.

I'm waxing nostalgic here, for these were the programmes of my childhood. Moving ahead in time somewhat, I'm praying that Radio 4 Extra will broadcast Round the Horne and Beyond our Ken, ne plus ultra when it comes to radio comedy. And more Durbridge, of course.