The October Man (1947)
From writer/producer Eric Ambler and noted director Roy Ward Baker ( A Night to Remember) comes this compact thriller in the Noir genre with another first rate performance by John Mills.
Our tale opens on a rainy dark night with Mills and a small girl (Juliet Mills) on a bus that loses control resulting in a horrific crash that leaves the small child dead and Mills in a long recovery to mend a fractured skull. We’ll learn that on separate occasions he has tried to take his own life due to the tremendous guilt he experiences at not being able to save the child.
A year later he’s released from his doctor’s care and re-enters the work force in his field of expertise, chemistry.
Taking a room at a lodging house he quickly runs afoul of the rather tight bunch that lives there including Edward Chapman and Kay Walsh. He’s seen as an outsider and unsociable. Walsh sees through the shy exterior and befriends Mills much to the chagrin of Chapman whom the script intimates may have been paying her for sexual favors in the past.
Mills is soon to meet Joan Greenwood and his eyes betray him. He’s fallen for her at first sight. Who can blame him as she has been lovingly framed and photographed. The two of them are soon to be sociable companions on a nightly basis. Mills seems to be finally settling back in to society and erasing all doubts of guilt and thoughts of suicide.
The world of Noir takes a nasty turn on poor Mills when Miss Walsh is found murdered in the foggy streets. Near the body the police find a check written in Mills hand for thirty pounds that he had given her as a loan. Questions begin to surface about Mills as the police interrogate the lodgers who generally have a dislike towards Mills in the first place.
The rumors are that he was a frequent visitor to Walsh’s room late at night. This coupled with the fact that he has a history of mental health issues and admits to be walking alone that same evening leads the police to focus their attentions on poor Mr. Mills.
There is an obvious red herring in here with the Chapman character but the script does deviate from the usual path one might have expected leading Mills to flee the police and unveil the killer on his own. All this despite questioning his own sanity at times. It’s really a wonderful role for Mills and he delivers with a solid characterization. Kudos as well to Greenwood’s role of the faithful girlfriend who never lets any thoughts of Mills being guilty enter her mind. She’s committed in her love for Mills and nothing will sway her belief in him.
At one time I used to think that Noir was strictly a Hollywood creation but with more films from England turning up on DVD I have realized how wrong I was and the genre is more then just the films of Dana Andrews and company.
Many of the Noir genre familiars are here in abundance from the dark shadows and great camera angles to murder and suspicious characters. Then there is always the one man caught in the middle trying to see his way through the darkly lit rooms and criminally tinged plot.
A fine job by all involved.
Roy Ward Baker and John Mills would work together a number of times including the first rate Morning Departure. They would even team up as far along as 1984 on the TV feature Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death.
This title was new to me as are the other five flicks included in a recently released set of British Noir thrillers from Kino Classics.