Cast & Crew
Betty Ann Davies
While American Casey Morrow is quietly getting drunk in a London nightclub, he is approached by a young woman who offers to buy him a drink. After Casey tells her that he is broke, they leave the club together and she states that she will give him five hundred pounds if he will marry her. The next morning, Casey wakes up in artist Maggie Doone's studio and is unable to remember what happened after he and the woman left the club. Maggie tells him that she had never seen him before he rang her door bell early in the morning. Although Casey sees a portrait of the mystery woman in the studio, he leaves without asking Maggie about it. On the street, he sees a newspaper headline stating that Darius Brunner has been murdered and that his heiress daughter, Phyllis, is missing. A photograph of the daughter reveals that she was the woman Casey may have married the night before. After Casey finds a large sum of cash in his coat pocket, he returns to Maggie's studio and tells her that he thinks Phyllis murdered her father and is trying to frame him for it. Maggie tells him that Phyllis had modeled for her but had lied extensively about her family background, then shows him a magazine announcement of Phyllis' engagement to prominent young lawyer Lance Gorden. Posing as a newspaper reporter, Casey goes to Gorden's office, but discovers very little and ends up slugging Gorden. When Casey returns to Maggie's, he finds Phyllis there and accuses her of framing him. Phyllis explains that when they returned to her apartment the previous night, they discovered her father beaten to death with a poker. Casey had stumbled over the poker and picked it up, thereby putting his fingerprints on it and getting blood on his coat. Phyllis then dumped Casey at Maggie's. Phyllis swears that she did not kill her father, but thinks Gorden did. As the police are beginning to connect Casey to their investigation and he hopes to prove his innocence, Casey agrees to let it appear that he and Phyllis are married and they rent a small flat. Casey then poses as an insurance investigator and talks with Brunner's secretary, who tells him that Gorden handled many charity donations for Mrs. Brunner. After Casey takes Phyllis to meet his mother, who is remarried to an English pub owner, he goes to see Phyllis's mother. She tells him that she is aware that Gorden may have acted improperly in regard to her charity donations. Casey then discovers that Travis, Gorden's henchman, has killed a private detective hired by Phyllis's father to investigate the charity fraud. When Casey goes to see Gorden, he finds him with Phyllis and her mother and Phyllis offers Casey ten thousand pounds to disappear. Later, after Gorden tries to kill Casey but is shot by an unseen assailant, Casey confronts Phyllis and accuses her of killing Gorden. However, the killer is revealed as Mrs. Brunner, who also killed her husband and the detective because they had discovered that she had been setting up fake charities and draining her husband's fortune. Mrs. Brunner holds Casey at gunpoint and intends to frame him. She has already called for the police, but Casey, although wounded, overpowers her. After Casey is cleared by the police, he and Phyllis intend to marry for real.
Betty Ann Davies
W. C. Handy
J. Elder Wills
Next thing he knows he awakens in a Chelsea artist's studio with a hangover, 500 pounds in his pocket, proximity to an oil portrait of his possible new wife, and headlines proclaiming that the mysterious blonde has gone missing and that her wealthy father was found with his head bashed in by a fireplace poker, left at the scene, covered in blood. Casey's camel hair overcoat is also bloodstained. Not that this causes the hackles to rise on the neck of the artist who lives and works there, Eleanor Summerfield's Maggie Doone. She buys his protestations of innocence even before he voices them. She can't quite wash all the blood off the coat. But she gives him breakfast and offers to buy him a new one with part of his largesse. Then, with nothing to guide him but vagueness, he hits the streets to clear his name, starting with the vanished heiress' lawyer and fiancé (Andrew Osborn), who throws him out.
So far, so bad. Casey's luck doesn't improve when he visits the young woman's mother (Betty Ann Davies). It's about at this point that the film gets too convoluted for the essentially simple story it is. Nor is it particularly noirish. It hasn't the psychic darkness of noir, nor noir's patterns of fatefulness. It can go only so far with the lawyer, who starts to get the shakes, and has his chauffeur unsuccessfully try to run Casey down. It at least tells Casey he's on to something, and it probably involves money, but he's still not sure how. Nor is he much enlightened by the return to his life of Lee's mercurial load of trouble in a pretty package. Not even after she tells him that she wanted to marry Casey to thwart the plan of the lawyer and her mother to hitch her to him, are things much clearer.
When the film veers off into a tangent involving Casey's Slavic ancestry and his long-delayed return to his mother and her husband, who runs an ethnic-flavored pub, it seems like padding, especially when the cop investigating the case (Michael Golden) pops by for a pint. There just isn't enough to justify all the zigs and zags, although, to be fair, the killer's identity is not readily apparent. Brooklyn-born Clark (1912-1998) looks appropriately haggard, which perhaps explains why he didn't drop the bad-news heiress and take up with Summerfield's big-hearted painter, whose generosity extends to renting him a snazzy MG roadster to facilitate Casey's detecting. But there isn't that much detecting, or, for that matter, too much mystery in this little exercise, efficiently as Terence Fisher directed it.
Fisher was to prove a valuable asset for Hammer. Before the decade was over, Hammer signed off on noirs (as most studios did), and came into its own with horror movies, often looking surprisingly lush considering their modest budgets, making stars of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Fisher directed many of the films that insured Hammer's pre-eminence among horror releases, often including emotional dimensions few others matched, deepening their impact. Fisher's The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959) left Hammer's competitors in the dust, and Fisher was pressed into service to direct as well numerous sequels and spinoffs featuring those scary guys and their spawn. Hammer has been making less noise since the horror market shrank in the 1980s. But they released the contemporary vampire gem, Let Me In (2010), proving that where there are chills, there's hope.
By Jay Carr
This film's British release title was Murder by Proxy. It was a co-production of American firm Lippert Productions, Inc. and British company Exclusive Films, Ltd.