DO YOU KNOW THIS VOICE?(director: Frank Nesbitt; screenwriter: Neil McCallum; cinematographer: Arthur Lavis; cast: Jean Aubrey (Trudy), Dan Duryea (Mr. Hopta), Peter Madden (Superintendent Hume), Isa Miranda (Mrs. Marotta), Barry Warren (Detective Sergeant Connor), Gwen Watford (Mrs. Hopta); Runtime: 80; 1964-UK)
“What keeps the film chilling is Dan Duryea’s twisted portrayal.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
In an outdoor phone booth in the industrial city of Bristol, England, someone dressed in a trenchcoat is asking for ransom money for a young boy kidnapped from an elite school. On the receiving end of that call are the child’s parents telling the kidnappers that they are not wealthy and that there has been a mistake. The police are in the boy’s house, with Superintendent Hume (Peter Madden) in charge, monitoring the call, hoping to keep the kidnapper on the phone for an extended period of time so that they can run a trace. So begins a film that is more interested in studying the nature of someone who could commit such a dastardly crime and have it escalate to a murder than in keeping the film suspenseful by having the audience guess who did it.
Mr. Hopta (Dan Duryea) is the American who lives next door to a cat fancier, Mrs. Marotta (Isa Miranda), and is cheerfully listening to her complain about one of her neighbors who did not appreciate it that her cats got loose and went onto his property. She is friendly with the gregarious and handy Mr. Hopta who has fixed many of her broken appliances for free, something she really appreciates since she can’t afford to buy new ones or pay to get the broken ones fixed. Hopta chastises her for not calling her niece Trudy (Jean) over a little argument they had and when she tells him that she can’t because she doesn’t have the money, he generously gives her the coins to make the call.
Meanwhile, the police have just discovered the child’s body in the woods and are looking for any lead they can get on this murder case. The boy’s parents are distraught with the news, and the father feels he can’t stay on the line with the caller if he should call again and keep him talking as the police request because he is too weak from the ordeal. The police insist that this is their best shot at getting the killer. So when the kidnapper calls again demanding money the father manages to keep the caller on the line until they trace the call, but he can’t help it any more and blurts out in anger: “Why did you kill my boy?”
At the phone booth, the Italian lady drops the change Hopta gave her and is on the ground picking up the coins when the caller comes rushing out of the phone booth. She notices only that he was wearing brown shoes and pants, but fails to look up and see that it is Mrs. Hopta (Gwen). While inside the booth, in the middle of her conversation with Trudy, the police arrive and frighten her by pulling her away from the phone. They take her down to the police station where she is soon cleared of the crime, but is questioned by Superintendent Hume as a witness.
Mrs. Marotta volunteers to act as bait to catch the murderer, feeling sorry that a little boy was killed and she failed to be of help in identifying the killer. She tells the police that her life isn’t that valuable, that she would like to do something to help. But the police nix that offer, saying it is unfair to put her in such danger.
Determined to get the killer, on her way out of the police station, this very proud woman who even refuses the police offer of a ride home, tells the newsmen waiting there that she saw what the killer looked like. The police have no choice now but to protect her and wait for the killer to strike. As an added precaution they place a man inside her house, Detective Sergeant Connor (Barry Warren).
Hopta and his wife, when they see the headline in the newspaper, begin to talk this over as she turns on him and asks, “Why did you have to kill the kid? Why did I have to meet you, you are ruining my life?” Hopta tells her it was an accident, “I just tied the ropes too tight.”
Convinced that Mrs. M saw something and might later on recall it and link him to the crime, Hopta tells his anguished wife I better kill her and make sure. This is the pivotal scene of this b/w noir film, as Hopta goes completely over the edge and cannot be looked upon any more as just a pathetic loser who keeps making mistakes. He is now a dangerous murderer willing to kill again even if it is his neighbor whom he admittedly likes and not some anonymous person, like the boy he accidentally killed.
Warning: spoiler to follow.
What keeps the film chilling is Dan Duryea’s twisted portrayal as the friendly next-door neighbor, who is so psychologically warped yet doesn’t overtly show it. Hopta brings his wife along on the nightmare he is having, even though he dearly loves her. To watch him ingratiate himself with the kindly older neighbor and all the time he is planning to poison her and when that doesn’t work to strangle her, makes for a frightening character portrayal of someone you think you know but don’t. Duryea is so good at acting out this part with just the right balance of charm, controlled madness and hubris. At the end he completely snaps, singing old military songs as the police arrest him.
REVIEWED: 11/1/99 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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