ASSASSIN FOR HIRE. Anglo-Amalgamated Films, UK, 1951. Sydney Tafler, Ronald Howard, Katharine Blake, John Hewer, June Rodney. Director: Michael McCarthy.


   Since this is an obscure British film of some 60 years in age, other than, of course, Ronald Howard, none of the names above meant anything before I watched this movie. Even afterward — even while noting that all of the participants were professionals through and through — I may be hard pressed to remember them the next time I come across them. (Ronald Howard was the star of the 1950s Sherlock Holmes series that made its way the US back then, so anyone of a certain age, as I am, should pick him out right away.)

   He plays a Scotland Yard inspector in Assassin for Hire, an officious type who declares at the beginning that if the criminals don’t play by the rules, why should he? His eye in particular is on Antonio Riccardi (Sydney Tafler) whom he suspects is a hitman for anyone who cares to hire him. He is very good at what he does, including making sure that he has an ironclad alibi for every one of the extracurricular job he does.

   Every criminal has a weakness, believes Inspector Carson, and Riccadi, by day a dealer in rare stamps, may have his in his brother, a classical violinist whose career he keeps under an iron thumb. Well, there’s no “may have” about it. The question is, how might the inspector take advantage of it?

   This is a short film, just over an hour long, and it would have been ideal for an episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour on TV, say, with several twists along a way, mostly toward the ending. I will not tell you how many twists, for if I were to do so, you’d be counting along as you’re watching. (Of course I could tell you that there were three, say, with the third one being that there is no third one.)

   There’s nothing here for any of the players to have built a career on, but it’s competently done, and if you were to find a copy on DVD, I don’t think you’ll begrudge the short time it would take you to watch it.