Monday, 27 March 2017

Death Goes to School - 1953 film review

I was intrigued to find Death Goes to School , a 1953 black and white movie, on the Talking Pictures schedule recently. Public schools were a rather popular setting for traditional mysteries. Nicholas Blake, R.C. Woodthorpe, Christopher Bush, Gladys Mitchell and others wrote good examples, using the "closed society" of the English public school to provide a conveniently limited pool of suspects. But I'd never heard before of this film, or the novel on which it was based, Death in Seven Hours by Stratford Davis.

I discovered that Stratford Davis was a pen-name for Maisie Sharman, who also co-wrote the screenplay with the film's director, Stephen Clarkson. I know little about Sharman, but it seems she enjoyed a remarkably lengthy, if not exactly prolific, career as a screenwriter. According to that useful source IMDB, her first credit was a 1938 film called Night Journey, and her last was a 1973 TV mystery, written as Miriam Sharman. If anyone reading this blog is familiar with her work, I'd like to know more.

Death Goes to School is an unpretentious mystery, but competent and still watchable. It benefits from the fact that three key roles went to actors of genuine quality. Barbara Murray plays the likeable young schoolteacher whose scarf is used to strangle a nasty colleague. Gordon Jackson plays the rather macho police inspector and the ever-reliable Sam Kydd is his sidekick. They get the best out of their parts. There's quite a nice joke when Barbara Murray gives as her alibi the fact that she was reading a thriller called...Death in Seven Hours.

The plot is competent rather than dazzling. Various people at the school have a motive, as the thinly characterised victim really was very unpleasant. Someone outside the school then comes into the frame. I felt that the motive for the murder wasn't terribly convincing, but despite this weakness, the film held my attention. As with so many of those Fifties B-movies, it's decent light entertainment.


Mike Morris said...

I've got two books by Miriam Sharman: Seeds of violence, which was a Panther paperback from 1969, and The law of probability, published in 1971 by Macdonald. I seem to remember reading the first of these a long time ago and thinking it wasn't bad.

Anonymous said...

Just seen this on Talking Pictures TV!