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Thursday, November 10, 2011

MAN BAIT / (aka) THE LAST PAGE (1952)

Hammer Studios made this tidy sexual-blackmail thriller a few years before they started rebooting horror pics in ultra-saturated color with Peter Cushing & Christopher Lee. And while it only reaches about 60% of its potential, it’s (just) odd enough to warrant a look. George Brent is appropriately gray as an unassuming bookshop manager with an invalid wife and an assistant who’s long pined for this nice unavailable man. But he’s also got a live wire in the shop, the young, sexy (and slightly slutty) accounts girl, Diana Dors. She's being chatted up by a lout who gets her to initiate a blackmail scheme against Brent after a reckless kiss. But when things go too far, people start to die, and Brent becomes the likely suspect. Terence Fisher, Hammer’s house helmer, gets some moody atmosphere out of actual London locations, and the bookshop is a claustrophobic marvel. (Is it a real place?) If only the blackmail scheme and the intimations of psychotic behavior had been fully exploited. With that in mind, note the credit for adaptation. Why it’s Frederick Knott of DIAL M FOR MURDER fame. Too bad they didn’t really let him run with this, the last act shows glimmers of something much stronger. But hold on for a great ‘thrill shot’ during some amateur sleuthing near the end. It’s worth the whole movie.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: The classic read on quaint old London bookshops is 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD by Helene Hanff. You can read it in less time than it takes to watch the so-so movie they made of it in 1987.

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