The Unholy Four


1h 20m 1954
The Unholy Four

Brief Synopsis

An amnesiac returns home from a fishing trip he began several years before.

Photos & Videos

Film Details

Also Known As
The Stranger Came Home
Genre
Crime
Mystery
Adaptation
Release Date
Sep 24, 1954
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 24 Sep 1954
Production Company
Exclusive Films, Ltd.; Lippert Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Lippert Pictures, Inc.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Bray, England, Great Britain; Windsor, England, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
From the novel Stranger at Home by George Sanders (New York, 1946).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,197ft (8 reels)

Synopsis

When businessman Philip "Vic" Vickers returns unexpectedly to his English mansion after a four year absence, he startles Joan Merrill, his wife's social secretary, as he had been presumed dead. Joan tells him that his wife Angie is attending a party in the large cottage by the river on the mansion grounds. When Vic asks a party guest where his wife might be, he is told that she is probably with one of his business partners, Job Crandall, Bill Saul or Harry Bryce. In the kitchen, Vic surprises Job, who drops a glass in astonishment at seeing Vic alive. Bill is equally alarmed by Vic's return. Vic spots Angie in the distance, leaving on a motor launch. In the morning, over breakfast, Job and Bill ask Vic where he has been for four years, but he does not respond. Soon after, the motor launch returns to its mooring and Angie walks into the kitchen and faints when she sees Vic. Vic carries her to a bedroom and, when she recovers, she embraces him saying that she knew he would come back. Angie tells Vic that four years earlier, she received a telegram from Job in Portugal, where he, Bill, Harry and Vic were on a fishing trip, stating that Vic had disappeared. Vic tells Angie that he has had amnesia and can only remember being in a small Portuguese harbor when he was drugged, knocked out and left for dead by one of his business colleagues. Vic woke up on a Mexican ship with no identification or memory. Vic tells Angie that he suspects one of his three friends attempted to kill him and wonders if she, too, might have been involved in the plot. Bill interrupts them with the news that Harry has been found dead at the mooring. Police inspector Treherne establishes that Harry was killed from a blow to the head by a steel pipe and states that he regards all at the cottage as suspects. Later, Vic sends Joan and the servants away as he wants to spend time alone with Angie and hopes to force the killer to show his hand. Joan tells Treherne that she is concerned about Angie because she suspects Vic of killing Harry, who was in love with Angie. Treherne then reminds Joan that she has a motive for incriminating Vic as Vic's company bankrupted her father, causing his suicide. After a bloody handkerchief, with the initial "V" on it, is found near the murder scene, Treherne is about to arrest Vic when Angie saves him by saying that she had given the handkerchief to Harry. After Treherne leaves, Angie tells Vic that her statement was true. Meanwhile, Sessions, the company accountant, is trying to blackmail Job, who has been embezzling from the company. During an argument, Job accidentally kills Sessions. Job, who suspects that Angie was responsible for Harry's death, offers to save her from arrest by confessing to that crime as well. When Bill visits the mansion, he tries to persuade Vic that the attempt on his life was not perpetrated by any of his companions, although they all resented him, and that he has created this fantasy in his mind. Later, Treherne feels that he may have enough evidence to arrest Angie for Harry's death. In order to save Angie, Joan concocts an account of how she was involved in the death, but is not believed. Although Vic now believes that Bill may have been the one who tried to kill him, he and Angie invite him to dinner. After the meal, Bill mixes them all nightcaps. Some time later, a drugged Vic wakes up with a poker in his hand and Joan's dead body nearby. Vic then drives to Bill's house where Bill shoots him in the hand. Vic knows that Bill, like the others, has been pursuing Angie romantically and tells him that he has killed her. When Bill attempts to phone to confirm this, Vic disarms and overpowers him. Bill eventually confesses that he attempted to kill Vic and killed Harry because he was paying too much attention to Angie. Bill also admits killing Joan in order to cast suspicion on Vic. Treherne and his officers, alerted by Angie, arrive and arrest Bill. Vic and Angie return to their home to resume their lives.

Photo Collections

The Unholy Four - Movie Poster
The Unholy Four - Movie Poster

Film Details

Also Known As
The Stranger Came Home
Genre
Crime
Mystery
Adaptation
Release Date
Sep 24, 1954
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 24 Sep 1954
Production Company
Exclusive Films, Ltd.; Lippert Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Lippert Pictures, Inc.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Bray, England, Great Britain; Windsor, England, Great Britain
Screenplay Information
From the novel Stranger at Home by George Sanders (New York, 1946).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,197ft (8 reels)

Articles

The Unholy Four


One of the most well-known British film production companies ever, Hammer Films became famous and wealthy in between the '50s and '70s making Gothic horror films, from The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958) onward. But the studio made many other types of cinema as well, including noirish mysteries like Terence Fisher's The Unholy Four (1954), a seethingly suspicious and very stiff-upper-lip genre entry made on the cheap and starring a 44-year-old Paulette Goddard, one more movie and a handful of TV appearances away from retiring altogether. Her presence is more than a little odd - cast because Hammer's US releasing partner Lippert Pictures demanded American stars, the visibly aged, suddenly Crawford-esque Goddard is the emotional-sexual hot spot of the movie, lusted and struggled after by every other character, and yet she's actually in very little of it. An American ex-beauty-queen trapped in these fake-mansion studio rooms (modern, yet with a suit of armor in the corner) with a small army of doughy-faced Englishmen - for whom a suspenseful plot point, with "muhduh" on the line, means sitting down for breakfast, having another Scotch, or, in one rich moment, spend an evening playing cards.

But of course the drinks are dosed. The film is so relaxed even the fistfights seem polite and are abandoned as soon as someone takes a good hit. Adapted from a novel credited to actor George Sanders but actually written by genre doyenne and Howard Hawks script-mistress Leigh Brackett, The Unholy Four is actually a literate, witty and brooding tale, beginning when a man (William Sylvester, remembered best as Dr. Heywood Floyd, the scientist visiting the Moon, in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968) drives up to a manor house in the middle of the night, and approaches it as though it were a zoo cage full of sleeping lions. Bound by bitterness and suspicion, Phil Vickers is returning home from an unexplained four-year absence - unexplained least to Vickers himself. Fisher's film takes its sweet time in peeling the artichoke, as he reenters a posh landscape populated by a wife he considers faithless (Goddard), a pair of business partners (Patrick Holt and Paul Carpenter) with whom he was vacationing in Portugal when he was assaulted and suffered amnesia, his wife's vengeance-seeking and potentially gay social secretary (Alvys Maben), and a frivolous demimonde of hangers-about and devious postwar partiers, who gather virtually every night at various mansions, and at which drunken get-togethers, it is implied, marriages collapse and people sometimes die.

Vickers' primary suspect, one Harry, a fourth corner of the men's uneasy quad, becomes one of these corpses before we even meet him, and the police up the tension all around, tracking Vickers as he himself rather testily investigates everyone else as to what had happened in Portugal. No one seems broken up about Harry, but then nobody gets too worked up over much in The Unholy Four (an alternate title, The Stranger Came Home, makes a good deal more sense), and its clamped-pot-lid personality is one of its most beguiling features, beginning with Sylvester's snake-eyed, contemptuous coolness. "I don't like people very much," says another, far more sociable type early on, in a classically Brackettian bit of dialogue, "not even the people I like." Nobody's to be trusted, clearly, but even in this snake pit, it's not hard to believe everybody when they inform the police more than once that Vickers was and is almost universally loathed. Walking around like an imperious ghost, putting every other character on the defensive, Vickers seems volatile and dangerous thanks only to his stillness. What happened to you in Portugal?, his ostensible friends ask. "You were there," he replies. "You tell me."

Fisher was already one of the most reliable and prolific journeymen in British B pictures, and though he became Hammer's top-line ace after the horror films hit big, his style was always predicated on efficiency and simplicity. (You can't make five films a year, as Fisher commonly did in the '50s, and be an innovative craftsman, too.) Here, his job consisted mostly of letting Sylvester's seething boil chill every scene, and letting the cast have quiet fun with Brackett's dialogue (courtesy of the screenplay by Hammer producer Michael Carreras, who was not noted for his writing). Lines are just tossed away, in a prototypically British manner - when evidence mounts in Vickers' favor, Russell Napier's hawk-nosed inspector just mutters, "I had such a beautiful case against you." The story itself becomes tangled in false confessions, fatal accidents, and mysterious motivations - we never do learn what "firm" the four men were in control of, or how its finances figured into the plot - and before long the list of corpses gets long enough to make everyone, even Vickers, sweat. Sometimes, a brittle, calm, terribly British approach to melodrama can be a tonic - just what one needs after a steady diet of American hyperbole and make-'em-feel-it moviemaking. Compared to a contemporaneous American noir, The Unholy Four capitalizes on that British sense of crime unfurling amongst the privileged, and at home - and it also resonates with a concern for personal and marital relationships, and how they can be poisoned by duplicity and secrecy. In the States, noir usually means greed and fate have caught up with you. In England, you could only be betrayed by those whom you loved and thought loved you.

By Michael Atkinson
The Unholy Four

The Unholy Four

One of the most well-known British film production companies ever, Hammer Films became famous and wealthy in between the '50s and '70s making Gothic horror films, from The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958) onward. But the studio made many other types of cinema as well, including noirish mysteries like Terence Fisher's The Unholy Four (1954), a seethingly suspicious and very stiff-upper-lip genre entry made on the cheap and starring a 44-year-old Paulette Goddard, one more movie and a handful of TV appearances away from retiring altogether. Her presence is more than a little odd - cast because Hammer's US releasing partner Lippert Pictures demanded American stars, the visibly aged, suddenly Crawford-esque Goddard is the emotional-sexual hot spot of the movie, lusted and struggled after by every other character, and yet she's actually in very little of it. An American ex-beauty-queen trapped in these fake-mansion studio rooms (modern, yet with a suit of armor in the corner) with a small army of doughy-faced Englishmen - for whom a suspenseful plot point, with "muhduh" on the line, means sitting down for breakfast, having another Scotch, or, in one rich moment, spend an evening playing cards. But of course the drinks are dosed. The film is so relaxed even the fistfights seem polite and are abandoned as soon as someone takes a good hit. Adapted from a novel credited to actor George Sanders but actually written by genre doyenne and Howard Hawks script-mistress Leigh Brackett, The Unholy Four is actually a literate, witty and brooding tale, beginning when a man (William Sylvester, remembered best as Dr. Heywood Floyd, the scientist visiting the Moon, in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968) drives up to a manor house in the middle of the night, and approaches it as though it were a zoo cage full of sleeping lions. Bound by bitterness and suspicion, Phil Vickers is returning home from an unexplained four-year absence - unexplained least to Vickers himself. Fisher's film takes its sweet time in peeling the artichoke, as he reenters a posh landscape populated by a wife he considers faithless (Goddard), a pair of business partners (Patrick Holt and Paul Carpenter) with whom he was vacationing in Portugal when he was assaulted and suffered amnesia, his wife's vengeance-seeking and potentially gay social secretary (Alvys Maben), and a frivolous demimonde of hangers-about and devious postwar partiers, who gather virtually every night at various mansions, and at which drunken get-togethers, it is implied, marriages collapse and people sometimes die. Vickers' primary suspect, one Harry, a fourth corner of the men's uneasy quad, becomes one of these corpses before we even meet him, and the police up the tension all around, tracking Vickers as he himself rather testily investigates everyone else as to what had happened in Portugal. No one seems broken up about Harry, but then nobody gets too worked up over much in The Unholy Four (an alternate title, The Stranger Came Home, makes a good deal more sense), and its clamped-pot-lid personality is one of its most beguiling features, beginning with Sylvester's snake-eyed, contemptuous coolness. "I don't like people very much," says another, far more sociable type early on, in a classically Brackettian bit of dialogue, "not even the people I like." Nobody's to be trusted, clearly, but even in this snake pit, it's not hard to believe everybody when they inform the police more than once that Vickers was and is almost universally loathed. Walking around like an imperious ghost, putting every other character on the defensive, Vickers seems volatile and dangerous thanks only to his stillness. What happened to you in Portugal?, his ostensible friends ask. "You were there," he replies. "You tell me." Fisher was already one of the most reliable and prolific journeymen in British B pictures, and though he became Hammer's top-line ace after the horror films hit big, his style was always predicated on efficiency and simplicity. (You can't make five films a year, as Fisher commonly did in the '50s, and be an innovative craftsman, too.) Here, his job consisted mostly of letting Sylvester's seething boil chill every scene, and letting the cast have quiet fun with Brackett's dialogue (courtesy of the screenplay by Hammer producer Michael Carreras, who was not noted for his writing). Lines are just tossed away, in a prototypically British manner - when evidence mounts in Vickers' favor, Russell Napier's hawk-nosed inspector just mutters, "I had such a beautiful case against you." The story itself becomes tangled in false confessions, fatal accidents, and mysterious motivations - we never do learn what "firm" the four men were in control of, or how its finances figured into the plot - and before long the list of corpses gets long enough to make everyone, even Vickers, sweat. Sometimes, a brittle, calm, terribly British approach to melodrama can be a tonic - just what one needs after a steady diet of American hyperbole and make-'em-feel-it moviemaking. Compared to a contemporaneous American noir, The Unholy Four capitalizes on that British sense of crime unfurling amongst the privileged, and at home - and it also resonates with a concern for personal and marital relationships, and how they can be poisoned by duplicity and secrecy. In the States, noir usually means greed and fate have caught up with you. In England, you could only be betrayed by those whom you loved and thought loved you. By Michael Atkinson

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

This film was released in Britain as The Stranger Came Home. George Sanders, the author of the novel on which this film was based, was the well-known actor.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall October 1954

Released in United States Fall October 1954