(director: J. Lee Thompson; screenwriters: Shelley Smith/John Hawkesworth/based on the short story “Rodolphe et le Revolver” by Noel Calef; cinematographer: Eric Cross; editor: Sidney Hayers; music: Laurie Johnson; cast: Horst Bucholz (Bronislaw Korchinsky), Hayley Mills (Gillie Evans), John Mills (Supt. Graham), Megs Jenkins (Mrs. Phillips), Yvonne Mitchell (Anya), Anthony Dawson (Barclay), Shari (Christine), George Pastell (‘POLOMA’ Captain), Paul Stassino (‘POLOMA’ 1st. Officer), Merdith Edwards (Patrolman Williams), Marianne Stone (Mrs. Williams), George Selway (Det. Sgt. Harvey), Marne Maitland (Dr. Das), Michael Anderson, Jr. (Youth), Christopher Rhodes (Insp. Bridges), Kenneth Griffith (choirmaster), Rachel Thomas (Mrs. Parry), Brian Hammond (Dal Parry); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Hawkesworth/Julian Wintle/Leslie Parkyn; Janus/Independent Arists; 1959-B/W-UK)
“The twelve-year-old Hayley Mills, the daughter of the great Brit actor John Mills, also starring in the film, makes her acting film debut an outstanding one and is the main reason the film is a gem.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
J. Lee Thompson (“Taras Bulba”/”The Guns of Navarone”) expediently directs this exciting manhunt crime drama with noir undertones. It’s based on the short story “Rodolphe et le Revolver” by Noël Calef, who is a Bulgarian-born French writer. Writers Shelley Smith and John Hawkesworth give the two featured characters, the little girl and the young Polish seaman, great heft, making their personal stories better and richer than the police melodrama they’re involved in. The twelve-year-old Hayley Mills, the daughter of the great Brit actor John Mills, also starring in the film, makes her acting film debut an outstanding one and is the main reason the film is a gem. She brings energy, fervor, pathos and humanity to her role as the 11-year-old smarty-pants street urchin, Gillie, growing up in the multiracial slums of Cardiff, by its docks, in the section known as Tiger Bay, who witnesses a murder and instinctively chooses sides with the killer over the police.
Gillie lives with her aunt, the harried, impoverished seamstress Mrs. Phillips (Megs Jenkins ), who doesn’t quite get the kid she’s in charge of as to why she lies so often, why she wants to play cap gun shoot-out games with the boys in the street and why she stays out at night at all sorts of late hours. Yet Gillie sings like an angel in the church choir and even looks like one.
When the lovesick twenty-something Polish seaman Bronislaw Korchinsky (Horst Bucholz) docks in the Tiger Bay section of Wales, he’s paid by his ship and is happy to be free to see the Polish woman Anya (Yvonne Mitchell) he has fallen madly in love with and has been paying her rent while at sea. He has come to marry her, but she left their apartment without leaving her new address. By paying the landlord her back rent, Korchinsky learns of her new residence. But when he goes to her new place, the cold and shrill woman completely rejects him and humiliates him by letting him know she’s seeing another man, a real man. They get into a verbal spat and she pulls a gun on him. In a jealous fit he takes the gun from her and shoots her four times. Gillie, who lives in the building, looks through the letter-box and witnesses the murder. She also picks up the gun left behind and hides it in the church attic.
When Supt. Graham (John Mills) questions the tenants, he will slowly piece together that Gillie is lying to him and that she probably knows who is the killer.
Meanwhile Korchinsky tracks Gillie down in the church and will tell her he must leave the area, and plans on getting another ship. He talks nicely to her, fearing she will turn him in and that since he’s a decent bloke he doesn’t want to harm her. Leaving the area sounds good also to the psychologically damaged unloved girl, who is won over by the killer’s smile and that he will not chastise her like every other adult, and is foolishly led to believe the seaman will take her away with him on the ship.
The second half of the film has the police narrowing their search of the real killer down to the Polish foreigner or to Anya’s married boyfriend, the oily sportscaster named Barclay (Anthony Dawson), who lent his mistress his legally purchased gun when she said she needed protection from her former boyfriend.
How it ends didn’t particularly interest me, since the point of the film of how starved the two lonely outsiders were for love had already been hashed over in a couple of different scenes, and the ending just seemed to be filling time with a mere conventional story way to close out the thriller now that it was obvious where things were heading.
Bucholz, the handsome emerging German star, in his first English-speaking film and Hayley the engaging future child star, had a great chemistry together and their acting was spontaneous and real. The kid, we’re told, was allowed to improvise her key scenes with her dad and they were great.
Hayley won a BAFTA (Britih Academy of Film and Television Award) as most promising newcomer and a special prize at the Berlin International Film Festival. When Disney’s wife saw the film she convinced hubby Walt to give her the lead role in Pollyanna, his next big production.
REVIEWED ON 6/28/2020 GRADE: A-