OCTOBER MAN, THE
(director: Roy Ward Baker; screenwriter: Eric Ambler/based on the novel by Mr. Ambler; cinematographer: Erwin Hillier; editor: Alan Jaggs; music: William Alwyn; cast: John Mills (Jim Ackland), Joan Greenwood (Jenny Carden), Edward Chapman (Mr. Peachey), Kay Walsh (Molly Newman), Joyce Carey (Mrs. Vinton), Catherine Lacey (Miss Selby), Frederick Piper (Inspector Godby), Patrick Holt (Harry Carden), Adrianne Allen (Joyce Carden), George Benson (Mr. Pope), Felix Aylmer (Dr. Martin), Jack Melford (Wilcox), Juliet Mills (Crash victim girl); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Eric Ambler; MGM; 1947-UK)
“The screenplay is too cardboard.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The directorial debut by Roy Ward Baker (“Inferno”/”A Night to Remember”/”The Masks of Death”), who was the assistant director to Hitchcock on The Lady Vanishes (1938). The amnesia murder thriller owes whatever good fortune it has to its ominous dark setting of a threatening world in postwar London (shadowy streets and a musty hotel), otherwise the murderer is too obvious, the harried suspect never requires our full sympathy because the police really don’t have a thing on him, the screenplay is too cardboard and the acting, for the most part, is a wee bit starchy.
Industrial chemist Jim Ackland (John Mills) suffers a fractured skull during a stormy night when the bus he’s on crashes. It also results in the death of his neighbor’s girl (Juliet Mills) he was traveling with as a guardian. After a year of recovery and a stay in a mental facility, the suicidal Jim, guilt-ridden by the girl’s death, gets a chemist’s job in London and his firm arranges for him to board in a decaying mid-level hotel near the workplace. One of the boarders, Molly Newman (Kay Walsh), a struggling model and a crass amateur astrologer who is seeing a married man (Jack Melford), borrows thirty-pounds for the rent from a generous Jim after becoming excited to learn he’s a Libra (which according to her horoscope charts mean the October Man is affable, suave and dapper). That evening while posting a letter to her boyfriend in Birmingham, Molly gets strangled to death with her scarf while walking in the common. Because of Jim’s head injury, the piggish police inspector (Frederick Piper) tries to pin the murder on him. The night of the murder the innocent man walked home from his date with his girlfriend Jenny (Joan Greenwood), who lives with her brother Harry (Patrick Holt) and his wife, and can’t remember what he was doing there and is not sure if he didn’t black out and commit the murder. Harry works as a fellow chemist with Jim and introduced him to his sister.
The incompetent police fully believe that Jim is their man because of his recent head injury, even though they have no concrete evidence–just that Jim when nervous knots his hankie as if he’s strangling someone and some misleading gossip about Jim and Molly having a relationship from a wretched boarder named Mrs. Vinton (Joyce Carey) and a creepy, snooping businessman boarder named Peachey (Edward Chapman), who was obsessed over the model. Poor Jim is consoled by Jenny, the only one who believes in him and tries to help.
The grim story is adapted by Eric Ambler from his own novel; it never remains tense nor does it offer any surprises about how the mentally injured have a tough go of adjusting to reality. Mills is a first-rate actor who is stuck in this B-film, and it’s to his credit that he makes the most of the incredulous and stiff role he was saddled with.
REVIEWED ON 3/31/2008 GRADE: B-