#64 in my ranking of John Ford’s filmography.
It seems as though Ford went to Ireland to make The Rising of the Moon and just decided to pop over to London to make another movie. This film, based on a novel by John Creasey, purports to show the day in the life of a police inspector at Scotland Yard, and it is one of those movie days that are just so chock full of events that they beggar belief. Being a sort of slice of life picture, it ends up feeling rather limp in telling the audience how one many can oversee so many swirling bits of criminality, along with a personal life. I think this would have been better as an outright comedy.
DCI George Gideon (Jack Hawkins) wakes up for a typical day, including breakfast at home made by his wife Kate (Anna Lee) and losing out on access to the bathroom to his eldest daughter Sally (Anna Massey) before heading off to work. He drops his youngest children off at school, runs a red light to deliver Sally to her school, and gets pulled over by an eager young patrolman Simon (Andrew Ray). It’s a light opening for a film that has the above poster that promises pretty much non-stop tension (I think the studio didn’t really know how to market this film as it was).
And then the movie turns a bit more serious than I would have expected. About a dozen balls get thrown into the air in the space of about ten minutes, and it’s kind of hard to keep it all straight since it all comes so quickly. On the personal side of things, Gideon must show up at his daughter’s concert that night, pick up fish for dinner, and get home in time to have supper with his wife and her aunt and uncle, two people Gideon has little affection for. On the professional side of things, he has the final word that one of his detectives, Kirby (Derek Bond), has been taking bribes, which Gideon suspends him for, a mental patient who killed a woman in Manchester possibly sneaking to London, a payroll getting stolen in the middle of the day, and Kirby getting run down by a car. Some of this is connected, and some of it is not. It’s a lot to manage, though, and it’s hard to figure out what to care about, especially with the first subplot that gets resolved.
Gideon is our main character, and we expect him to have something to do with the solving of these crimes. However, the first crime that’s solved is when Simon, after having received the city-wide bulletin of who the man is from Manchester, finds a Manchester paper on the ground outside in a crowd, knows who dropped it, and follows him into a theater where he picks him up. This is after the man had killed the daughter of a woman he knew in London after his arrival. The way this is resolved, without Gideon’s involvement, feels almost like a joke, like the film is a comedy about police work where the unexpected happens in ways to subvert one’s expectations for a laugh, but then Gideon shows up at the woman’s apartment and apologizes to her for her daughter’s death as the body gets wheeled past. For a moment, I was expecting a One, Two, Three type situation where the whole host of subplots were going to converge with great energy by the end, everything swirling around everything else in a comedic cavalcade of borderline insanity. What this episode showed me was this was going to be a halting, tonally inconsistent, and occasionally diverting exercise that never quite used the concept to its fullest.
The movie is at its best when it does try to be a comedy, and most of those bits are around the character of Simon. His giving of a ticket to Gideon, paired with his arrest of the Manchester subject, gets rewarded with a pat on the back from the chief of police (Howard Marion-Crawford), but Simon had given the chief a ticket as well. In addition, he’d given one to the judge that he’d written the other two summons to. It’s an amusing moment, and he ends up popping up later in the film as Sally’s date.
In between, though, there’s a lot of laconic swirling around of plotlines, most focused on the investigation of Kirby’s death that ends at a posh little apartment of an artist and his wife who were chief in getting Kirby into their bribery scheme (though how or why is never quite ironed out). Most of the plotlines do end up finishing up here (it’s the same people pulling the payroll jobs), but then the film introduces one final crime that needs resolving, completely untied to everything else, with about fifteen minutes left in the film. A rich man, in debt to some unsavory people, gets into a bank, uses a gun he’d stashed in his safety deposit box to kill the guard, and then brings in a couple of others to rob…something. The late introduction of a new crime that doesn’t connect with anything else may be the kind of reality based behavior of a real cop doing real things, but the resolution of so many other crimes in a day kind of betrays the idea that this whole thing is realistic. The movie doesn’t know if it wants to lightly entertain or inform about the day in the life.
Thank goodness that Simon comes in for the final scene and gives us a few chuckles along the way to the final titles.
I’m not sure what attracted Ford to this film. It doesn’t feel like a Ford film in about any way other than his basic visual filmmaking language. Maybe he was just trying something different, a film that had a lot of plotting in a new location. At one point late in his career, Ford was asked what kind of movies he made, and he simply replied, “Westerns.” That’s obviously not true, but it seems to get to the heart of what made him famous. He tried repeatedly over his career to branch out from the genre that made him a legend, but different things, mostly lack of financial success, had him continually going back to the well. He could, and often did, make good films in other genres, but this is not one of them. If not for the light comedic elements that come up from time to time, this would be a much harder film to sit through.