Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Mr Denning Drives North - 1951 film review

It's a long time since I read Alec Coppel's novel Mr Denning Drives North, but I remembered it as a decent suspense story, and this prompted me to watch the film version, made in 1951, a couple of years after the book appeared. Coppel was a capable writer, with a particular gift for dialogue and building tension. He was one of the writers of Vertigo, one of the finest of all crime films - some would say the finest.

The protagonist is played by John Mills, who as ever is a thoroughly decent Englishman. He's well off, happily married, and has an attractive daughter. But at the start of the film, he's plagued by nightmares, and it appears that he has a guilty conscience. It's soon clear that he's implicated in a murder case, and before long he confesses the truth to his wife, played by Phyllis Calvert.

His daughter had fallen for a loathsome chap, played by Herbert Lom, and Denning wanted to buy off the blackguard. He persuades him to write a letter breaking off the relationship, on payment of £500, but when he feels that his daughter's honour is insulted, he hits the chap, who falls on the hearth and dies. Manslaughter rather than murder, I'd have thought, but our hero makes the first of several extremely foolish decisions when he decides to cover up the crime.

He doesn't actually drive all that far north to dispose of the corpse; the southern reaches of the Home Counties, by the look of things. But the plot thickens when the body disappears. Denning continues to behave so foolishly that I found it rather difficult to root for him, but I did admire the way in which Coppel piled on the complications. It's a crafty story, and the film benefits from a good cast, with Wilfred Hyde White especially entertaining as a mortuary attendant. Bernard Lee plays a good natured cop, and Sam Wanamaker is a young American patents lawyer who falls for Denning's daughter and unwittingly does his utmost to bring Denning's crime to the attention of the authorities. It's pretty good entertainment.

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