AFED #88: Behind the Headlines (UK 1956); Dir. Charles Saunders

I'm going to have to be quick because this one was so forgettable I'm afraid it might slip from the memory entirely.

Behind the Headlines is a short (just 65 minutes) second feature that was presumably produced as a 'quota quickie'; low-budget British films made under the edict of the 1927 Cinematograph Films Act with the intention of stimulating the indigenous industry. Between 1930 and 1960 (when the Act was repealed) thousands of quickies were made, mostly deemed to be of lamentable quality.

Personally I think there are some real gems amongst them and hopefully I'll be able to look at some more in the coming weeks and months. In fact Behind the Headlines is by no means a bad example and certainly benefits from higher production values than were typical, but there's nothing remarkable either.

It starts promisingly; a platinum blonde bombshell takes a phone call at her flat from somebody she's apparently blackmailing and shortly after is murdered by persons unknown. The story moves forward to a few hours later and in a pub opposite the murder scene a gaggle of Fleet Street hacks have assembled awaiting a police briefing.

Foremost amongst these is Paul Banner (Paul Carpenter), an ex reporter turned press agent who sets about getting the inside info on the murder and scooping not only the other hacks but the police too. He's abetted by Pam - a young Adrienne Cori, sounding very prim and looking not unattractive - who seems more interested in Paul than the investigating the murder.

Events progress from pedestrian to plain ridiculous. In an absurd development it turns out the killer left a slip of paper at the crime scene containing a numerical code which when cracked helpfully reveals his name! Halfway through Banner's former fiancee Maxine (Hazel Court) appears and rather steals the attention away from Corri's character. At the denouement there's a standoff with the murderer that manages to be wholely bereft of tension.

With a light and flirtatious tone it felt strangely like a pilot for a television series, so perhaps there were plans for more of Paul Banner's adventures that mercifully never reached fruition. Canadian actor Paul Carpenter, who's career mainly comprised of supporting roles, is a perfectly competent leading man but was never likely to be a box office draw. Corri and Court, the rivals for his affections, would become better known for other roles in later years and there's also a nice turn from Alfie Bass as Paul's salt-of-the-earth assistant.

But an authentic portrayal of fifties journalism this film definitely isn't; in fact you wonder if the writers had any knowledge whatsoever of the trade and kind of people who work in it. One can be thankful that the ubiquity of clipped RADA accents found here would disappear as British cinema became a little earthier over the next decade. This was just dull though.


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