Wednesday 28 November 2018

The Last Man to Hang - 1956 film

The Last Man to Hang is a movie based on Gerald Bullett's most famous novel, The Jury, which was published in 1935. The film's title reflects the fact that the story has been updated and set in the mid-Fifties, at a time when a debate about whether to end capital punishment in the UK was occupying Parliament. Will Sir Roderick Strood be found guilty of murdering his wife, and pay the ultimate price?

Strood (played by Tom Conway) has been having an affair with an American singer, Elizabeth (Eunice Gayson), much to the distress of his wife Daphne (Elizabeth Sellars) and the disgust of Daphne's devoted servant Mrs Tucker (Freda Jackson). When Daphne dies of an overdose, Strood is arrested at London Airport - he'd been about to fly off with his lover. Unfortunately, what he tells the police seems damning, especially when it emerges that he'd given Daphne some powerful sleeping tablets.

This is a courtroom drama where (as in books like Verdict of Twelve and films like Twelve Angry Men) much of the focus is on the jurors, and what factors will determine their verdict. The story is competently presented, and there's a surprise (and, I thought, highly unlikely) twist ending. Overall, it makes for good entertainment.

I wasn't especially impressed by Conway, who seemed to me to lack the charisma the part required; I was rather surprised to learn that his real name was Tom Sanders, and he was elder brother of George Sanders, who might have made rather more of the role.  Freda Jackson is excellent as the malevolent housekeeper, but it was the supporting cast that really caught my eye. So there's a small comic part for Joan Hickson, while Anthony Newley plays a Jack-the-lad juror. His latest girlfriend is played by Gillian Lynne, who became a legendary choreographer and died not long ago. There's even an appearance by John Schlesinger, better known as a film director. Spotting these familiar faces is enjoyable in itself, and the film is well worth watching. 

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