The Snorkel (1958)
It’s Hitchcock meets Nancy Drew in this solid thriller brought to the screen by Hammer Films and director Guy Green. Adapted from a story written by actor Anthony Dawson and scripted by studio regular, Jimmy Sangster, the film casts Peter Van Eyck in the lead role of a killer out to do away with the one remaining relative who stands between him and untold wealth.
Prior to the opening credits, Van Eyck, with careful surgeon like precision sets up the film’s first murder and shows us just what the film’s title is in reference too. He’s sealed up a room at the Italian villa he shares with his wife who we will learn holds the purse strings. In the room is his drugged wife and as the room fills up with gas, Van Eyck, has found an ingenious way to make it look like she’s committed suicide. He descends beneath the floor boards where he has a snorkel hooked up by air hoses to the outside of the house. While he breathes fresh air, his wife slips away above him.
When the morning comes, the maid and gardener find the lady of the house dead and call in the local inspector, Gregoire Aslan. It’s determined that the woman has taken her own life while her husband is in neighboring France. As the inspector and other officers investigate, Van Eyck, lays below the floor listening to every word and movement.
And so begins this effective chiller.
Into the story comes Van Eyck’s step daughter played by fourteen year old Mandy Miller. She’s convinced that he has somehow done away with her Mother as she claims he did her real father years ago. If she is to be believed then it would seem that he’s played out this plot over a number of years moving from a family friend to marrying a bereaved widow to killing her. Next up is sure to be the teenage Miss Miller.
Cat and mouse games begin between the pair while her nanny, Betta St. John, and others including an English consulate, William Franklin, believe Miller’s overcome with grief at the death of her Mother and emotionally breaking down hence her attacking Van Eyck with plenty of accusations.
In a scene between Miller and the Inspector, he all but challenges her to come up with proof that her Mother was murdered in a room sealed up and locked solidly from the inside. Sounds like this may have been inspired by Poe’s Murders In the Rue Morgue.
It’s a poster advertising a diver wearing a snorkel that gets the young girl thinking and will lead to Van Eyck’s worrying that she’s on to the truth. He may have to quicken his next murder plot and using Betta as an alibi begins to set things in motion.
Like a spider trapping a fly, Van Eyck, will spin his web but that’s as far as I can go before ruining the final reel. A finale that includes one of the best endings in a Hammer film. Strong statement? It’s meant to be. Even if there is a tag on scene you may or may not like as the closing credits are upon us.
Filmed in black and white, the film has some key scenes that are effectively lit by director of photography, Jack Asher. At this point, Asher, was regularly employed at the studio working on the early horror classics the studio is best known for, The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula and The Mummy among others.
Actor Van Eyck possessed a commanding persona on screen and plays his role of the smooth killer with deadly designs on his teenage step daughter to the hilt. He may be warm and caring around Miss St. John but he’s cold and calculating beneath the surface. Nothing conveys how truly villainous a character can be than by poisoning a friendly dog who may have uncovered a key peace of evidence and won’t leave it alone. Yes Van Eyck is indeed that nasty behind the front of a grieving husband.
This proved to be the only film the German born Van Eyck made for the studio. The same can be said of Betta St. Johns and the director Guy Green. Green would go on to direct some well known films in the decade ahead. Notably The Angry Silence (1960) and A Patch of Blue (1965).
While Jimmy Sangster wrote numerous films for the studio, seeing actor Anthony Dawson’s name in the credits as the originator of the story was somewhat surprising the first time I had seen the film about ten years ago. It’s his only writing credit on a feature film . Most film fans likely know him best as a villainous sort in any number of movies thanks to his coarse features. Among them a couple appearances as Blofeld in the early Bond films, From Russia With Love and Thunderball. He even appeared as a haggard wretch in Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf in 1960.
Produced by Hammer regular Anthony Nelson-Keys and of course, Michael Carreras, The Snorkel was not a film I saw as a youngster like the majority of the horror films the studio put out. This eventually surfaced in a DVD collection in North America ten or so years ago and the ending has stuck with me ever since and here upon this second go around only reinforced my memory of that unforgettable closing scene.
The film has now surfaced on blu ray thanks to the fine folks at Indicator who included the film in their second volume of Hammer titles. A shout out to Indicator who I think might be the best of the so called “boutique” labels for us film collectors. I’m eagerly awaiting the sixth volume of Hammer titles the company is releasing in June. Yes I’ve placed my order.
Without a doubt, this one is worth hunting down for that closing sequence and I must say this one could make for a good remake under the right director, writer and cast. Have fun but remember not to unveil anything to the next person in line.