The Accursed! (1957)
England’s Donald Wolfit takes charge here in this military murder mystery in a role I would have thought Jack Hawkins or John Mills would have been cast knocking Wolfit into one of the supporting parts or red herrings he was usually best suited for. As it is, Wolfit, scores top billing in this post war thriller involving a group of retired military men with a one time traitor amongst them responsible for the death of their war time commander.
The Accursed was written and directed by Michael McCarthy from his own original story. Let’s not kid ourselves. It plays like an Agatha Christie mystery and turns out to be a fair substitute with the absence of Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. Wolfit and a group of underground resistance fighters are gathering for their annual dinner but this year’s festivities will turn sour when Wolfit announces to the group he has discovered that among them is a traitor and he has information being delivered to him that will unveil the man responsible for the killing/murder of their commander by the German forces.
Now let’s meet some of our esteemed suspects starting with my main reason for catching up to this mystery I caught on TCM. It’s a man on the verge of stardom with Hammer Films, Christopher Lee. How about Anton Diffring, another name associated with Hammer as is Rupert Davies as the loyal valet to Colonel Wolfit. Also on the list are Oscar Quitak, Frederick Schriller, Karel Stepanek, Carl Jaffe and Jane Griffiths who scored above the title billing.
Most everyone looks guilty when Wolfit makes his announcement and in order to keep their secret intact, the messenger arriving with the information is going to be murdered by our traitor before passing along the guilty person’s identity to Colonel Wolfit. It’s at this point in the plot that a not so by-chance arrival of two U.S. Military officers played by Robert Bray and John Van Eyssen turn up to fill in for Holmes and Watson. Keeping their cards close to the vest, the pair were trailing the murder victim that Wolfit has hid away as he fully intends to deliver vigilante justice along with his fellow resistance fighters upon unveiling the traitor within their group.
Tempers flare, shifty eyes rotate left and right and red herrings are sure to follow. Could it be the arrogant Chris Lee? How about the German born Anton? Perhaps the drunkard Quitak hiding his shame in the bottom of a bottle? Could the lovely Miss Griffiths be protecting her father, the professor Jaffe? I’m not about to divulge the guilty party but how can you blame me for thinking it’s either Lee or Diffring? Not saying it is, just that it’s easy to jump to that conclusion when you know their track record as well as I do.
This black and white affair that is also known under the more obvious title, The Traitor, is an easy way to spend 78 minutes with a likable cast and all the better if you’re a fan of Hammer films. Did you recognize the Watson character, Van Eyssen? Again if one is a Hammer fan then you’ll recall him as Jonathan Harker in the classic ’58 thriller, Horror of Dracula opposite Lee. After appearing in films like Carry on Nurse, I’m Alright Jack and some early 1960’s television shows, it appears as if Van Eyssen moved from being on camera to managing director for Columbia’s UK division off camera. He’ll always be Jonathan Harker to me.
The biggest star in the film from our view looking back is surely Christopher Lee. 1957 proved a busy year for the real life WW2 veteran. He appeared in 6 feature films and television episodes besides but would ultimately score his breakthrough role as the Monster in the Curse of Frankenstein. A film that would lead him down the path to his identification with fantasy films. I use the word fantasy as that is what he would have preferred. He has gone on record frequently as not liking the term “horror films.” Lee would join Diffring in the effective Hammer thriller, The Man Who Could Cheat Death and also spar with Rupert Davies’ Monsignor in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave for the studio.
Accursed is a good film that still had me wishing for the presence of a Jack Hawkins in the lead with all due respect to Mr. Wolfit. It’s just that I too often identify him with creepy characters and not military ones. Much of that has to do with his blood crazed madman in Blood of the Vampire.
Keep your eyes peeled to the TCMN guide for the next showing or order it via the Warner Archive label.