Not among his A list, but with Carol Reed from 1940, who cares?
Mar 5, 2012
The Girl in the News is a fine example of that satisfying genre, the well mannered British murder thriller peopled with attractive and accomplished actors and with a clever script. If it doesn't reach the classic status of the films Carol Reed directed in his great Forties and early Fifties years (Night Train to Munich, 1940; Odd Man Out, 1947; The Fallen Idol, 1948; The Third Man, 1949; and Outcast of the Islands, 1952), still it’s a pleasant way to spend 78 minutes.
"Nurse required to attend invalid in quiet Surrey village; 22-26; hospital trained but experience in private nursing essential. Apply sending details and photograph to Mrs. Bentley, Camthorpe House, Camthorpe, Surrey." The advertisement might have added, "Also essential: Nurse must be thought guilty, even though she was acquitted at trial, of murdering a previous invalid in her care."
Anne Graham (Margaret Lockwood) had gone on trial for murdering the self-centered, sick woman she had been caring for. Sleeping pills were the means; a small legacy was the motive. Everyone assumed Anne had done it. A resourceful young barrister, Stephen Farringdon (Barry K. Barnes), was able to plant enough seeds of doubt in the jury's mind to get her off. Even he thinks she might have done it. She now finds she's unemployable. Who wants a suspected murderer for a nurse? Fortuitously, she receives in the mail a newspaper with an advertisement for a nurse. The location is in Surrey, some way from London. She applies, is interviewed, and is hired. She is to take care of a wealthy older man, Mr. Bentley, who is confined to a wheelchair. The man's attractive wife, Mrs. Bentley, is most solicitous. Tracy the butler (Emlyn Williams) watches it all. And then we realize that the butler had been present at Anne's trial.
As you might suppose, it's not long before Mr. Bentley has died from an overdose of sleeping pills. A codicil to his will gives a small legacy to Anne. And now the police are convinced Anne killed both of her patients. Fortunately, Stephen Farringdon has cast aside his original doubt. He finds himself falling in love with Anne, and he is shrewd enough to think this second murder is a clever plot to make Anne look guilty while the real killers, who now will be wealthy, move on. There are no plot surprises. This is a "How's she going to get out of this" mystery. For the first 35 minutes, we have the set up. For the last 45 minutes, the extrication.
Much depends on the appeal of Margaret Lockwood. In the Forties she became one of Britain's greatest stars. It was hard to beat her as a plucky, intelligent heroine or as a manipulating villain. Either way, she was an immensely likeable personality. Others in the cast speak to the great depth of acting Britain could put in its films when it chose to. Roger Livesey plays a detective, Farringdon's friend, and he brings a lot of charm to the film. He has that inimitable voice, husky, friendly, and a little skeptical. In small parts, often unbilled, are such fine actors as Roland Culver, Leo Genn, Mervyn Johns, Felix Aylmer and Basil Radford.
Unfortunately, the movie suffers because neither the male lead nor the villain strikes many sparks. It's particularly unlikely that Tracy, small, smug and supercilious, would be any woman's hetero heartthrob. And Farringdon is one of those lean, polite, cultured types who seem to think a second glass of sherry might be too exciting for their girl friends. The movie would benefit, in my view, by having two strong, attractive actors dealing with Margaret Lockwood.
Carol Reed gives us a clever murder thriller with some nice touches, from a black kitten tugging at the hem of a night dress while a petulant, sick woman slowly creeps her way to the medicine chest, to a humorous bit of misdirection involving a detective and a crook. Reed and screenwriter Sidney Gilliat know how to create characters that have enough detail to be interesting. Gilliat, who with his partner, Frank Launder, either together or separately, either working as writer, director or producer, or in any combination, were responsible for some great Forties movies, too: Green for Danger, The Belles of St. Trinian's, I See a Dark Stranger, The Rake's Progress, The Lady Vanishes, Night Train to Munich, among others.
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About the reviewer
C. O. DeRiemer (Charley2)
Since I retired in 1995 I have tried to hone skills in muttering to myself, writing and napping. At 75, I live in one of those places where one moves from independent living to hospice. I expect to begin … more
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