Lady of Vengeance (1957)
In this low budget effort by way of England, we find American born Dennis O’Keefe taking top billing and starring as a tough no nonsense newspaper owner/editor. As the credits roll by for this black and white thriller from director Burt Balaban, The London Express train is speeding towards a local station. The camera follows a young woman looking distant as she approaches the inbound train. Shockingly she jumps in front of it committing suicide.
For a low budget effort, it’s quite an explosive opening.
It turns out that O’Keefe was the young woman’s ward. In a flashback, we see they’ve had a fallen out over her wanting to run off with a young man. It’s a battle of wills that sees her leave the safety of her home. O’Keefe makes it clear returning isn’t an option.
Returning to the present, O’Keefe receives a letter form the deceased girl by mail. In it she expresses her desire for revenge which sets this promising plot in motion. O’Keefe next reaches out to a fellow bidder at an auction for stamp collectors. With the promise of a rare stamp, he lures Anton Diffring into his inner circle. Hinting at blackmail, he wants Anton to plan out the perfect murder for an unnamed mark. It would appear as if Anton is a master criminal of some sort that O’Keefe has come to rely on.
The mark in question appears to be a playboy trumpet player who is the love’em and leave’em type. Anton does some digging of his own and figures out who the intended victim is to be. As instructed he lays out the ground work for the perfect killing. One in which he describes meticulously just how the victim will at first think the whole thing is a joke before having panic set in. O’Keefe wants the intended victim to suffer both physically and emotionally before claimed by the grim reaper.
Though this may be a minor entry of British cinema, it does employ a twist in the plot that one may not easily forget. I just wish that this ingenious twist was put to use in a higher budget flick with better talent involved overall. Having said that, I wouldn’t dare recast the role portrayed by Anton Diffring. He’s perfectly effective here as the arrogant stamp collector who dabbles in criminal activities when pressured. O’Keefe is a suitable lead but looks tired. By this point he was ten years past his fine contributions to the Noir genre. Since this was an English production, it’s too bad that a larger scale budget wasn’t available to bring in a Herbert Lom or a Jack Hawkins.
A rewrite or two and a bit of tightening up on the script could have turned this tale of a murder plot with a devilish twist into a far more memorable viewing experience. As it is, check it out for the slippery Diffring and this twist I keep referring to.
While O’Keefe may have seen his better years on camera, Anton was just beginning to find a home and would be teaming up with Hammer shortly for the memorable, The Man Who Could Cheat Death and also another terror worth looking into, Circus of Horror. It’s these films that stayed with me since my early years of film discovery making Anton an easily identifiable actor ever since.
Keep your eyes open and you might catch this one on TCM as I did.