Sat 25 Mar 2017
A KILLER WALKS. Grand National Pictures, British, 1952. Laurence Harvey, Laurence Naismith, Susan Shaw and no one else familiar to US viewers. Screenplay by Ronald Drake, from the play Gathering Storm by Gordon Glennon, based on the novel Envy My Simplicity by Reyner Barton. Directed by Ronald Drake.
You probably never heard of this quota quickie, but if you come across it, you should give it a try. It offers all the usual flaws of a British-made-to-order cheapie: tinny sound, canned music and jaggy editing because they didn’t shoot enough film to cover things properly, but A Killer Walks has more redeeming qualities than any movie really needs.
For one thing, it’s based on a play and a novel, which means (1) they had to pay someone for the rights, (2) the action is confined to a few simple sets, perfectly suited to economy measures, and (3) the characters and dialogue are handled rather neatly, and in this case by an able cast.
Laurence Harvey stars as a man who has spent his life working on his grandmother’s farm, and resented every minute of it. Now I don’t know about you, but when I see him on the screen I find it hard to believe Laurence Harvey ever did an honest day’s work in his life, much less tilled the soil, but fortunately the makers of this thing keep him dressed in suit and tie, always just about to go out for a night on the town with his expensive girlfriend, so we don’t have to deal with the sight of him getting his hands dirty in gumboots & dungarees, which would have made the whole thing unbelievable.
In fact, it quickly develops that Harvey doesn’t like farm labor any more than you’d think he would, and he’s about had it with having to take wages from his grandmother (Ethel Edwards) at a farm he stands to inherit whenever the old bat kicks off. He’s also losing patience with his younger brother (Trader Faulkner) who has some mental problems that seem to have got him into some vaguely-hinted trouble in the past.
In due course the plot heads where we knew it would, with Larry murdering Gran and pinning it on his little brother, but Killer Walks gets there gracefully, gradually working up to the thing with evocative characterizations from Edwards and Faulkner. As for Harvey, there’s an excellent bit where he tells his brother that old people don’t really want to live anymore, skillfully written, and delivered with baleful relish delightful to behold.
When the murder comes, it arrives with a bit of polish, probably the work of co-photographer Jack Asher, who defined the look of Hammer’s horror films a few years later with his stylish visuals. In this case he does it on the cheap, with a few odd angles and superimpositions that lend a nightmare feel to the homicide we knew was coming all along.
The fun in these things, however, is always in watching things unravel; I mentioned somewhere before that we read detective stories to see things come together and crime films to see things fall apart, and in this case they do so in one brilliant scene between the two Laurences (Naismith & Harvey) perfectly written and performed. Suffice it to say that “a killer walks” is the title, not the coda, and things wrap up very neatly indeed.