Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Narrowing Circle - 1955 film review

I first read Julian Symons' novel The Narrowing Circle when I was a teenager, but until recently I was unaware that in 1955 it was filmed. The screenplay was written by Doreen Montgomery, a very experienced writer for film and television, who is said to have created the character of Emma Peel for The Avengers.

The novel is a good example of post-war psychological suspense fiction. Symons was one of the British pioneers in this field, although his fiction is much less well-known than that of Patricia Highsmith,the legendary American writer, whose work he much admired. The story charts the battle of wits and wills between writer Paul Nelson and the relentless Inspector Crambo.

The film is more conventional, and in terms of both plot and style, it owes almost as much to that Cornwell Woolrich classic Phantom Lady as it does to Symons' novel. A colleague of Nelson's wins promotion at Nelson's expense, and for good measure nicks Nelson's girlfriend. When he is found dead in Nelson's apartment, Nelson relies on an alibi. He'd gone off to drown his sorrrows, picked up a prostitute, and spent the night in a seedy hotel. But when Crambo checks the alibi, the chap at the hotel denies all knowledge of Nelson, and the girl cannot be found.

The story is told with some pace, which compensates for the flimsiness of one or two of the plot twists. I don't know what Symons made of it, though I suspect he wouldn't have been thrilled by its lack of subtlety. But it's a perfectly watchable British B movie, with Paul Carpenter as Nelson and Hazel Court as a woman who falls for him and then helps solve the mystery, with such stalwarts as Basil Dignam, Russell Napier and Ronnie Stevens in the cast.

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