Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         

THE RUNAWAY BUS. Eros Films, UK, 1954. Frankie Howerd, Margaret Rutherford, Petula Clark, George Couloris, Terence Alexander, Toke Townley, Belinda Lee, Stringer Davis. Screenwriter and director: Val Guest.

        BBC Announcer: Today’s Forecast: Fog.

   London in the immediate post-war years and well into the middle 1950’s suffered some of the worst fogs since the late Victorian era, some not only hazards to transportation, but killers that took many lives. This one isn’t quite that bad, but it’s bad enough. At Heathrow the airport is shut down and passengers aren’t happy about it, among them the redoubtable Margaret Rutherford who just won’t take no for an answer when told her flight to Dublin is canceled.

   What none of them know is nearby a master criminal known only to Scotland Yard as the Banker is planning to heist a shipment of gold bullion and use the fog to cover the escape.

   When news reaches the airport that the weather is clearing at a nearby airport they put on a bus for the passengers headed for Ireland, with relief driver Frankie Howerd driving, flight attendant Petula Clark assigned to help the passengers, and four in tow, Rutherford’s cantankerous old lady, gruff businessman George Couloris, meek little Toke Townley, and Belinda Lee as a young lady obsessed with the lurid paperback mysteries she is reading. As they set out in the dense fog, Flight Officer Terence Alexander catches a last minute ride with them.

   But what none of them know is that there is a fortune in gold bullion hidden in the luggage compartment of the BOAC relief bus. Or at least only a few of them know.

   They are soon lost in the fog, and then when they drive off the road they end up stranded in an abandoned village in a rat trap of an old pub. By then Scotland Yard has learned that the bullion is on the bus, but can’t find them. Howerd knows about the gold and has told Clark, but there is no one else they can trust, including Alexander who doesn’t seem to be who he claims.

   In fact almost no one seems to be exactly who they claim to be, and it gets even worse when some one fires a Sten gun at the them and seems to be throwing grenades.

   Though it isn’t credited on screen The Runaway Bus is basically a remake of The Ghost Train (1941), an old barn burner of a play that was filmed before the war.

   Both were comedy mysteries, but Runaway Bus has a broader sense of humor and a satirical edge aided by the excellent cast and Howerd’s familiar delivery. Both films are available from Sinister Cinema, and Runaway Bus at least has been shown on TCM.

   Rutherford as usual is in fine form as a veritable dreadnought of a woman, here with obvious romantic eyes on meek little fellow passenger Toke Townley, and veteran villain George Couloris always handled comedy as well as drama. Belinda Lee mostly looks pretty and none to bright with a seemingly endless supply of blood soaked paperback mysteries. Clark has little to do as the flight attendant, but adds a pretty face to the mix.

   Frankie Howerd was a popular comic best remembered for his role in The Ladykillers, in the “Carry On” films, and the long running BBC comedy series Up Pompeii! where he played the scheming but none too bright slave Lurcio in the doomed city at the time of Nero’s reign. His asides to he audience breaking the fourth wall were the highlight of most episodes.

   The twists come fast and furious and generally very funny.

   Terence Alexander was a familiar face in drama and comedy, probably best remembered for his regular role on the BBC series Bergerac. He was also the voice of John Creasey’s the Toff on BBC Radio.

   After the usual comic complications the Banker is revealed, and the bullion recovered.

   This isn’t in a class with the Ealing comedies or many of their imitators, but it is a bright funny comedy mystery with a cast of familiar faces (Stringer Davis who appeared with Rutherford in the Miss Marple films is also in this one) led by the always delightful Rutherford and a very young Howerd It’s one bus you will be glad you caught.