Burgess Meredith and Christine Norden in Mine Own Executioner (1947)


(director: Anthony Kimmins; screenwriter: from the novel by Nigel Balchin; cinematographer: Wilkie Cooper; editor: Richard Best; music: Benjamin Frankel; cast: Burgess Meredith (Felix Milne), Dulcie Gray (Patricia Milne), Michael Shepley (Peter Edge), Christine Norden (Barbara Edge), Kieron Moore (Adam Lucian), Barbara White (Molly Lucian), Walter Fitzgerald (Dr. Norris Pile), Edgar Norfolk (Sir George Freethorne), John Laurie (Dr. James Garsten), Lawrence Hanray (Dr. Lefage); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Anthony Kimmins/Jack Kitchin; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1947-UK)
“This overlooked British psychological drama is a gem.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Anthony Kimmins (“Come on George”/”The Captain’s Paradise”/”Smiley Gets a Gun”) directs in a visually flat workmanlike way, except for one marvelously stylish flashback sequence on the capture and torture of the featured PoW. Nigel Balchin’s screenplay is adapted from his own 1945 novel. This overlooked British psychological drama is a gem, one of the few films at that time that didn’t bow down to the feet of psychology and still gave us a very thrilling sophisticated psychological suspense story.

Felix Milne (Meredith) is a skilled and dedicated lay psychoanalyst, donating his services at a London clinic for the impoverished and maintaining his own practice. The lay practitioner, feeling inadequate because he doesn’t have a medical degree, is persuaded by Molly Lucian (Barbara White) to treat her handsome husband, Adam (Kieron Moore), who has mental problems since the ex-PoW, an RAF pilot, was captured in Rangoon by the Japanese and tortured. He escaped after a year of captivity. Adam has a lame leg, and has shown signs of severe schizophrenia and has recently tried to strangle his wife. Molly can’t get him to see a doctor, as he hates doctors. Thereby she convinces the reluctant lay practitioner Felix to treat him. Felix treats his dangerous and untrusting patient with therapy.

In the meantime, Felix is having problems at home and feels he’s giving all his energy to his patients and neglecting his long-suffering wife Patricia (Dulcie Gray) and has been tempted by an attractive woman (Christine Norden) locked into a loveless marriage, from the couple’s circle of friends, who is coming on to him. When Felix finally induces Adam to open up by drugging him and getting him to reveal how cowardly he behaved as a PoW, Felix begins to realize he might be in over his head on this case. The patient returns for the next treatment feeling relieved he told someone about his dark secret and feeling he’s cured. But Felix has doubts he was cured, thinking he only seems better, yet mistakenly lets him go home untreated. That night Adam goes berserk and has visions his wife, who he dearly loves, is the Japanese guard in the prison camp and kills her with his Luger and then commits suicide on the ledge of a tall building. The coroner, at the inquest, questions Felix about his role in letting this dangerous insane man free and not turned over to someone medically qualified so he could be institutionalized. To Felix’s rescue comes his Harley Street clinic colleague, Dr. Garsten (John Laurie), whose opinion that Felix acted properly exonerates him and allows him to return to his practice.

Showing the therapist to be neither a miracle man nor a quack but a talented professional who is fallible, the film more honestly captures its subject than the usual Hollywood film that wishes to sensationalize things. Kimmins directs a complicated character study and a compelling melodrama, one that is both intelligently acted and scripted, and Kimmins manages not to screw it up.