Michaela at Love Letters to Old Hollywood is hosting The Fourth Van Johnson Blogathon. The fun begins on August 23 through to 25. Click HERE to enjoy the contributions looking at the career of fan favourite Van Johnson.
Director Henry Hathaway (The Dark Corner) and actor Van Johnson (Battleground) teamed for two interesting projects for Twentieth Century Fox in 1956. The Bottom of the Bottle was based on a novel by Belgian Georges "Maigret" Simenon and filmed on location in Arizona. 23 Paces to Baker Street was based on Warrant for X, a 1938 novel by the prolific and popular London mystery writer Philip MacDonald. Nigel Balchin (The Small Back Room) wrote the screenplay for the film whose exteriors were shot in London.
Cecil Parker (The Court Jester) plays Bob Matthews, Philip's obliging valet. He is presented as a loyal employee, yet pragmatic and humorous. Humour and loyalty will play a major role in the events of 23 Paces to Baker Street.
Philip is familiar with the layout of his neighbourhood and looks for relief in a local pub. The landlady at The Eagle is the chatty and accommodating Estelle Winwood (Quality Street). Philip sips a whisky and tries to relax when his reverie is interrupted by the voices in an adjacent booth. The raspy voice of a "Mr. Evans" and the querulous voice of a young woman. The voices are discussing something that is about to happen "on the tenth." Money is involved. "Her ladyship" is involved. It is all quite sinister.
Philip races back to his flat and the tape recorder he uses for work to preserve the dialogue he heard through the noisy interruption of a pinball machine, plus his impression of the characters and the information gleaned from the pub's landlady. The police are contacted and presented with the evidence of the conspiracy. Maurice Denham (Curse of the Demon) is very polite and very noncommital. After all, the words could have many interpretations and it is not much to go on.
Philip: "Look, Inspector, it seems to me you not only think I am blind but crazy. I told you it's my business to know how people talk, what they're thinking when they say things. And I tell you that girl was scared. No one's that scared just because someone suggests changing a job."
A week out from whatever is about to happen and Philip knows the police will not do anything. However, the playwright, the valet, and the ex-fiancee are doing more than their part to discover the parties involved. They find "her ladyship" played by Isobel Elsom (Monsieur Verdoux) which leads them to a name for the young woman which leads them to an employment agency for nursemaids/nannies.
Vera Miles, Van Johnson, Cecil Parker
The employment agency leads our amateur detectives to a phony job applicant which, or her to them. This link to the villains is followed all over the city by Bob in an amusing and interesting set-piece. Eventually this grunt work will pay off in most unexpected ways.
A desperate newspaper ad placed by Philip to locate the woman they believe at the heart of the matter, Janet Murch played by Natalie Norwick (Hidden Fear), brings a man claiming to be her father Joe, played by Liam Redmond (The Ghost and Mr. Chicken). In a tense and atmospheric scene, Joe attempts to murder Philip. Our playwright never considered their quest to be a game, but until this point he hadn't reckoned on the consequences being deadly. Frustration, fear, and anxiety are heightened as solving the mystery reaches a tight deadline.
Jean and Philip's romantic relationship see-saws back and forth while the investigation reveals more clues, the police come on board, and the scheme is revealed. In a well-made and edge-of-your-seat finale that surely must have inspired Frederick Knott's Wait Until Dark, Philip Hannon faces off against the mysterious "Mr. Evans."
Henry Hathaway knew his way around crime pictures as evidenced by Call Northside 777, Kiss of Death, and The House on 92nd Street. 23 Paces to Baker Street is more along the lines of a "cozy thriller" than his usual work in the line. Filmed in Deluxe Color and Cinemascope, it has a very definite look and feel. 23 Paces to Baker Street is a solidly made and entertaining diversion; a perfect rainy day companion.
Van Johnson was giving us some very interesting characterizations at this time with the alcoholic convict in The Bottom of the Bottle, the romantic soldier in Miracle in the Rain, and the return to his musical roots in Brigadoon. Philip Hannon is another performance that impresses.