Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Three Steps in the Dark - 1953 film review

I stumbled across the Talking Pictures TV channel recently, and it's proved to be a real find, featuring plenty of obscure and rather interesting movies. A prime example is a classic whodunit, absolutely in the Golden Age style, and based on a story by a Golden Age writer who deserves to be better known. The film is Three Steps in the Dark, and the writer was Roger East - the pen-name of Roger Burford, who focused on screenwriting after starting off as a novelist.

The film was made in 1953, but it looks very much like something written and made twenty years earlier. It's a black and white film with actors mostly unknown to me, and I wonder if it seemed very dated even when it was made. Apparently it had a limited release and was feared "lost" until quite recently. But I'm really glad that it's been retrieved.

What I don't know is whether East's story was ever published independently, or whether he just came up with the plot and characters, and passed it over to the prolific screenwriter Brock Williams to turn it into a movie. The set-up is highly traditional. A rich and grumpy old uncle summons his family, and his solicitor, to his stately pile, to announce that he's thinking of changing his will. This remarkably stupid plan has the usual, utterly predictable consequences...

I've read enough whodunits of this type to be able to spot the villain, and I did so on this occasion, but it didn't spoil my enjoyment. Yes, this film really is a period piece, but it doesn't outstay its welcome, and the woman detective novelist who solves the puzzle is a rather pleasing character. She reminded me slightly of Louie, wife of East's amateur detective Colin Knowles. East is certainly a writer I'd like to know more about.

1 comment:

Yvette said...

Martin, I looked to see if Talking Pictures was available here, but even though youtube has something under that name, it doesn't seem to have any films, just bits and pieces. Still, it's a great name for a movie channel. (Actually, the film seems to be available for download on one of those spurious youtube channels which I'm always leery of.)

So many movies from the early fifties have a kind of sourness to them, in looks and tone. But I still enjoy them when I can find a good one.