ESCAPE. 20th Century Fox, UK, 1947. Rex Harrison, Peggy Cummins, William Hartnell, Norman Wooland, Jill Esmond, Betty Ann Davies. Based on a play by John Galsworthy. Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

ESCAPE Rex Harrison

   I don’t know about you – and there’s absolutely no reason I should – but when I think of Rex Harrison, I think of My Fair Lady. I’ve seen him in other films, I know, and so have you, I’m sure, but to me, Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins was such a defining role, it dwarfs anything else he ever did in comparison.

   There are scenes in Escape, however, in which Mr. Harrison is nearly 180 degrees the polar opposite of the impeccably dressed Henry Higgins, and which (perhaps) I will remember for an equally long time.

ESCAPE Rex Harrison

   Playing an escaped prisoner named Matt Denant, his headlong flight across the rough rural English countryside means watching him splash his way through numerous small rivers and streams, snatching food up from wherever and whenever he can, and ending up thoroughly covered with as much dirt and mud as you can possibly imagine.

   Convicted of manslaughter – having accidentally caused the death of an overly officious bobby accusing a young woman in a public park of being a prostitute (this aspect of the film portrayed discreetly – it is up to audience to come to their own conclusion that that is what she is), Matt Denant is (was) a well-to-do former fighter pilot in World War II. That he was unjustly imprisoned he is utterly convinced — and so, for that matter, is the audience, foursquare and solidly.

   And audiences ought to be trusted. They recognize and know the rigid, inflexible hand of justice when they see it. But one man fleeing a pack of bloodhounds on his trail needs assistance. Denant cannot do it alone, and coming to his aid (somewhat mystifyingly, even to herself) is a young socialite girl named Dora Winton (Peggy Cummins), who is engaged to be married, but who also sees in Denant a fox at the fox’s end of a fox hunt.

ESCAPE Rex Harrison

   William Hartnell, later of Dr. Who fame, plays the plodding Inspector Harris, intelligently and fairly but also unwaveringly, in the solid English tradition.

   Escape is most definitely belongs to the film noir category, one that’s nicely done, British style, but also one that’s slightly undone by the uplifting scene that takes place in the church that becomes a temporary place of refuge for Denant toward the end of the film.

   I happen not to think that the finale is as upliftingly optimistic as the audience is led to believe – and perhaps the audience at the time was wise to this as well – but also perhaps I am wrong. I like happy endings as much as next fellow. Even relatively happy ones.