Wednesday 21 March 2018

Inquest - 1939 film review

Inquests have provided scenes and storylines for many good crime narratives. The American author Percival Wilde, for instance, wrote a novel with this title that is well worth remembering. But today I'm looking at a short British black and white film made in 1939 by the Boulting Brothers before they became famous. It's based on a play by Michael Barringer, a writer who came to Britain from his native Canada and was especially prolific during the 30s.

It's a film which lacks stars - or perhaps it's simply that I'd never heard of any of the cast members. My hopes weren't especially high when I sat down to watch the film, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's actually quite gripping, with a storyline that kept me interested from start to finish, even though the basic format was familiar.

The peace of a village in the English countryside is disturbed when a chap finds a gun hidden in his cottage. What's more, someone has fired a bullet from it. Inquiries reveal that it belonged to a woman called Margaret Hamilton, who used to live there, and whose husband died, apparently from natural causes. When confronted, Mrs Hamilton (Elizabeth Allan) pleads ignorance but it seems she knows more than she is letting on. She has a boyfriend whose father is a leading barrister, and an exhumation reveals that her husband was actually shot, rather than dying of heart failure, as had been supposed (quite a shocking mistake to make, you might think...). When an inquest is convened, the barrister warns her that she is in for a rough ride, as the evidence is mounting that she killed her husband in order to start a new life.

The way in which coroners' inquests were conducted in the 30s became something of a scandal, and this film shows a coroner abusing his powers to conduct a witch hunt against Mrs Hamilton. It's all rather neatly done, and the plot develops in a pleasing way as the truth about Hamilton's death gradually emerges. Well worth watching..  

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