A plastic surgeon believes that by giving a scarred female criminal a pretty new face, he can reform her. The twist in this 1952 Hammer entry by Terence Fisher is that the surgeon gives the criminal the face of the woman he loves, and marries her. 5/10
Stolen Face. 1952, UK. Directed by Terence Fisher. Written by Richard Landau, Alexander Paal, et.al. Starring: Paul Henried, Lizabeth Scott, Mary Mackenzie. Produced by Anthony Hinds. IMDb: 6.1/10. Rotten Tomatoes: N/A. Metacritic: N/A.
Leafing through the marvellous collection Variety’s Complete Science Fiction Reviews, I recently stumbled upon another one of the many very fringe SF films included in the tome. The SF element is in this British 1952 entry is so minor that I probably would have given it a pass, had it not been for an eerie likeness it has to another British film that I reviewed a while ago, Four Sided Triangle (1953, review). Both pictures were produced by Hammer Films, and both were directed by directed by horror legend Terence Fisher. And both have the exact same premise: A scientist sees the (blonde) woman he loves elope with another man, so he creates a clone of her, hoping things will work out better the second time around. Hint: they don’t. In Four Sided Triangle, inventor Stephen Murray uses a cloning machine to make a copy of scandal-prone American starlet Barbara Payton. In Stolen Face, plastic surgeon Paul Henried rearranges the face of a scarred convict to look like smoky American femme fatale Lizabeth Scott.
Stolen Face opens very much like a Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde movie, presenting the unselfish plastic surgeon Philip Ritter (Henried), who seems to spend most of his working life helping the poor and unfortunate for free and turning down huge payments from rich old ladies when he doubts the proposed rejuvenation surgery they’re looking for will be a success. While working in a prison, he gets called up by the warden (Arnold Ridley), who proposes to put one of Ritter’s theories to the test. Dr. Ritter is of the idea that the uglier you are, the more prone you are to a criminal lifestyle because you are shunned in society and have a hard time finding employment, friends and marriage in “civilised society”. Enter Lily Conover (Mary Mackenzie, see top image), a young woman badly injured during the London Blitz, leaving her with a nasty facial scar, now doing her seventh round in prison. After breaking through her hardened exterior, Ritter convinces Lily to be his test subject, after reassuring her he can make her “as beautiful as she always wanted to be).
Unrelated, Ritter one night out driving, seeks refuge from a rain storm at a remote inn, where he meets and falls in love with famous pianist Alice Brent (Lizabeth Scott). After spending a wonderful romantic montage week together, Scott returns to her fiancé David (André Morell). When Ritter realises he has lost the love of his life, he decides to create a copy for himself, using his skills to make Lily look just like Alice. The operation is a success, and during her recuperation Lily agrees to marry the rich doctor and move into his gigantic mansion. But the relationship soon turns sour, as Ritter realises it takes more than a facelift to change someone’s personality. To make matters worse, he refuses to let Lily develop her own personality, but dresses her like Mary and expects her to behave like Mary. He gets mad when she gets bored at the opera and drags him to a jazz club where she hooks up with her old friends. And when Ritter refuses to buy her a brooch she likes because he thinks it “ugly”, she returns to her old ways and starts stealing. Soon the facade crumbles, and Lily, now matriarch of the house, spends her days and nights partying with her old friends, particularly a certain “Pete”, who seems to have been something of a boyfriend in her former life. Of course, it would not do for a gentleman to divorce, so Ritter, now on the brink of insanity, can do nothing but endure.
Meanwhile, the real Alice Brent tours the world with her piano recital, while getting ever more estranged from her fiancé David. Eventually David realises there is “someone else”, and in order to grant her happiness, he calls of the engagement. After finishing her world tour, Alice returns to London in hope of rekindling her romance with the good doctor. If things were bad before, they turn downright ugly at this point. Ritter realises he could now have Alice, but is stuck with the copy. Lily is livid when she realises that she is in fact wearing the face of someone else as a second grade copy of the doctor’s true love — who is now back, threatening to take away from her the “good” life she has become accustomed to. The only one who seems to take the situation with surprising calm is Alice herself, who seems a bit surprised, but reacts extremely gracefully to the fact the Ritter has stolen her face and put it on another woman. Soon the doctor is on the brink of suicide and Lily on drinking herself to death, while she seems to have made it her life’s mission to make Ritter as miserable as possible as some sort of revenge. The final showdown takes place aboard a train, where one of the women meets with ultimate tragedy. This being a fifties programmer, it should hardly be difficult to guess if it’s the drunken criminal or the chaste ingenue.
Before Hammer Films found their great money cow in the colourful, lewd revamps of classic Universal horror films, the small British movie company took a few stabs at science fiction, which was becoming increasingly popular in the UK. The studio had already dabbled in sci-fi in the proto-James Bond films Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949, review) and Dick Barton at Bay (1951, review), but Four Sided Triangle, released in May 1953, was the studio’s first all-out sci-fi movie, although still rooted in the old horror tropes of Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stolen Face is closer to Four Sided Triangle in theme and tone, but still fringe as far as SF goes, the only real fantastic element being the idea that you could copy another person’s face through simple plastic surgery — in this case Lizabeth Scott’s overbite and all.
Although Hammer Productions existed as a company in the thirties, it was resurrected in the late forties as the ”quota quickie” studio Hammer Film Productions, focused on making cheap films to satisfy the government-mandated quota for British films in cinemas. These films were often short (an hour or a little longer) so-called support films that were shown at double features before a bigger movie, in effect the kind of films that were called B movies in the States. One of the up-and-coming directors of these support films within Hammer was a former editor called Terence Fisher, who would later become the mastermind behind the studio’s horror franchise. Stolen Face was his third Hammer film, and he already impresses with solid direction and a few flourishes, like the long zooms on characters he employed so well in his later monster reveals, and a few well-crafted montage scenes. There’s also a number of fight scenes and a short car chase, where he shows that he handles action well, and especially the climactic fight between Lily and Ritter is very nicely staged. The acting in the film is quite adequate, Paul Henried had done bigger and better things, but has no problem carrying what is ultimately a rather nondescript leading role (it would have been interesting to see what a more charismatic actor would have done with the part). Lizabeth Scott gives little indication of why she is a woman who so captures men’s heart as the frankly rather boring Alice Brent, but shows good acting chops in the other half of the role as the bad girl. However, the real star of the film isn’t Scott, but Mary Mackenzie, who plays Lily and goes on to dub Scott in the scenes where she plays Lily. Scott gets a lot of credit for her double role, but in truth it is Mackenzie who brings life and spunk to the part with her cocky Cockney accent. The support is all around adequate, with little chance to shine for any of the supporting actors.
The original story for the film was cooked up by two Hungarian expats, Alexander Paal and Steven Vas. The latter contributed to a handful of films, but little is to be gleaned about his biography from online sources. Alexander Paal, on the other hand, worked as a noted stills photographer and worked on around a dozen films in the UK in different capacities, frequently with Hammer. In fact Paal produced Four Sided Triangle, which would go to explain the similarities between the two films. The theme, of course, is yet another variation on the Ovid’s myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, in which the sculptor Pygmalion falls in love with his own statue, which comes to life. Like most Greek myths, it has been reinterpreted through the ages, and as Stephanie Eck points out in her work Galatea’s Emancipation: The Transformation of the Pygmalion Myth in Anglo-Saxon Literature since the 20th Century, it was William Caxton who first interpreted it as a tale of social classes. Writes Eck: ” In his commentary on Pygmalion, he compares Ovid’s sculptor to a nobleman who ‘might have a maid or servant in his house’ whom he ‘clothed, nourished and taught’. After the transformation of the servant girl into a lady, ‘he loved her so much that it pleased him to espouse her and take her to his wife’. It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau who gave the statue her name, Galatea, in his lyrical stage scene Pygmalion in the 18th century. The story of Pygmalion and Galatea was especially popular during the Victorian era. The Victorian Galatea was a male dream of an idealised woman — the woman as the creation of her husband. Here, Galatea was often represented as an innocent girl, taught and filled with virtue by her “creator”, be she a work of art come to life or a young girl “educated” by her husband-to-be, a sort of tabula rasa for a male fantasy — not least spurred on by the rise of female writers and artists encroaching on a male-dominated cultural field. This led to a backlash among male creators, who eagerly portrayed women as muses rather than creators.
However, the version of the myth most commonly retold in 20th century literature, plays and film is the one originated by Irish playwright, political activist and Nobel laureate George Bernard Shaw in his 1912 play Pygmalion, best known today perhaps in its 1956 musical version My Fair Lady. Here, Shaw turns the tropes of Pygmalion on their heads — Eliza Doolittle is no blank slate for her “creator”, phonetics professor Higgins to fill with virtue, but a headstrong, loud and independent “flower girl” from the lower classes, whom he tries to reform into a “lady”. The all-important twist of Shaw’s Pygmalion was that Pygmalion didn’t get his Galatea in the end. The prospect is doomed from the beginning, since Higgins has little respect for Eliza when she is only an uneducated flower girl, and Eliza, seeing through his class contempt, leaves him for the timid middle-class social climber Freddy. While several stage and film versions give Higgins and Eliza a “happy ending” together, Shaw sharply criticised such adaptations of his text, as, in his mind, the whole point of the play was for Eliza to realise her own self-worth, that in fact she was too good for Higgins, rather than the other way round.
Alexander Paal was clearly fascinated with the idea of nature vs. nurture brought up by Shaw in Pygmalion (socialist Shaw harshly criticised the popular idea that poverty was a natural trait, rather than the result of circumstances), as he examined it in two different films. The class aspect is less prominent Four Sided Triangle, but it’s still there, as Barbara Payton’s character (the “Eliza” of the film) is a downbeat city playgirl returning to her birth village with the intention of saying goodbye to her old friends before killing herself. She is then collectively “reformed” by “Higgins” and her other childhood friend, the “Freddy” of the film. But, asks Paal this time, what if “Higgins” was to clone his Galatea? Perhaps he could make her love him, instead of “Freddy”? However, the film ends in tragedy, for the clone at least. Stolen Face has a similar premise — in this case closer to Shaw’s play. Here Lizabeth Scott’s Alice serves as Pygmalion’s unattainable idea of Galatea — and Pygmalion sees Mary Mackenzie’s Lily merely as clay for his creation.
Paal seems to place himself somewhere between the original Pygmalion myth and Shaw’s proto-feminist class pamphlet. Both films seem to, in a somewhat backhanded way, acknowledge the folly of the male hubris in the idea that a woman can be moulded, “reformed” in the idealised image of a male artist, or reformer. In he case of Four Sided Triangle the parable is somewhat muddied, as the three childhood friends all come from the same class, and the original Barbara Payton character is actually “reformed”, even if she chooses “Higgins'” friend, rather than “Higgins” himself. But in the case of Stolen Face, Lily during one of her fights with Ritter asks “Why don’t you stop trying to make me into something that I’m not?”. The parallels between Eliza and Lily are interesting, as Eliza is able to lift herself out of poverty, but rejects the lifestyle of obedient trophy wife to a well-off aristocrat, doomed to fetch slippers and look pretty, and instead returns to her roots and opens a modest flower shop, which had been her dream all along. Lily, on the other hand, fails to use the opportunity provided by Ritter to find her own self-worth, and is more interested in clinging to the materialistic trappings of her new life — and as opposed to Eliza, she is not able to break free of “Higgins'” control over her. Again, the parallels are not water-tight, as the two women start off from very different beginnings. While both are poor, Eliza is a self-assured, driven and hard-working woman with a clear goal to educate herself, while Mary is described as a habitual criminal and drunk who has accepted her lot in life as a failure, and seems to have no interest in self-improvement. So while Shaw seems to say that the only difference between rich and poor is money, Paal’s conclusion seems to be that you can’t polish a turd.
Going beyond Pygmalion and Shaw, however, the film’s premise is hard to swallow. There is certainly a grain of truth in Dr. Ritter’s idea that physical attractiveness can influence a person’s life trajectory. A study from 2006 showed that people who are deemed less attractive by prevailing beauty standards do in fact have a slightly higher propensity for committing crimes. On the other hand, a 2011 study concluded that people who are deemed attractive also receive lighter verdicts for similar crimes. The tendency has been explained by the so-called Matthew effect, according to which one’s happiness and success in life is often the cumulative result of many factors, for example childhood poverty can lead to a bad start in life, affecting both mental and physical health, which can affect your perceived physical attractiveness, and combined, for example, with low self esteem, lack of education and a social safety net, can lead to a greater risk for committing petty crimes in order to survive, etc. While the effect didn’t get a name before 1968, it was basically this argument that Shaw made on several occasions: poor people commit more crimes, partly because they often don’t see any other choice — and partly because it is the rich who define what is criminal and what is not. And in Stolen Face, Lily also describes the phenomenon in the beginning of the movie: “What sort of job would I be able to hold with this face?”
Now, what makes the premise somewhat difficult to buy in the terms of the film, at least to a modern viewer, is that fact that even with her facial scarring (her make-up, that is), actress Mary Mackenzie is stunningly beautiful, seems both strong-willed, independent and smart. I would take Lily, scar and all, over the rather plain-looking and utterly boring Alice any day. Furthermore, Dr. Ritter himself seems to contradict his own theory: if looks was all that mattered, then there would be no need for him to, as he puts it, provide for her a stable and prosperous environment in which to turn her life around. In fact, in becoming a stay-at-home trophy wife of an opulently rich doctor, her looks would matter very little in terms of her economic survival. Oddly enough, while trying to get away from Shaw’s original premise, Paal seems to circle back to it, again asking the question of whether immorality and poverty are linked because immoral people become poor, or because poor people can’t afford to be constantly moral. And here Stolen Face departs in the opposite from Shaw’s Pygmalion, showing that you can’t wash the stripes off a tiger: despite being given a new, pretty face and a castle to live in, Lily descends further down her immoral path, now fuelled with Ritter’s wallet.
The main issue with the script, finished by Martin Berkeley and Hammer stalwart Richard Landau, is that I don’t buy the character motivations nor their circumstances. Dr. Ritter just doesn’t seem enough like a mad scientist to go through with what is the central premise of the film. When the ball gets rolling, Lily becomes too much of a caricature of the drunken broad for the viewer to take her seriously, especially as we found her extremely likeable in the beginning of the movie. The movie does go to some lengths to explain Lily’s animosity toward Ritter — he tries to control and shape her into the image of Alice against her will. But despite this, the portrait of Lily that the second half of the film paints smacks of class contempt. And it’s also difficult to buy the notion that Alice completely takes it in stride that Ritter has stolen her face and tried to create a copy of her for his own amusement. Were I a woman, I would run pretty fast in the other direction if a man I was dating showed such signs of control mania and tendency toward manipulation. Plus, if he is ready to settle for a copy of my face on a completely different woman, I would genuinely question his reasons for “loving” me. But Alice shows no such qualms. One thing that struck me as odd was that despite Lily’s absolutely unacceptable behaviour, no-one ever speaks of divorce as an option for Ritter. As it turns out, getting a divorce in the UK was an exceedingly difficult affair even in the fifties. There was, for example, a three-year bar on divorce from the beginning of the marriage, meaning that it would have been almost impossible for Ritter to get a divorce from Lily even if he wanted to in the stretch of time that the film takes place in. Knowing this lends a bit more credibility to the way Lily is able to hold Ritter hostage in their marriage.
The way in which the characters are written and portrayed makes for a very muddied moral conclusion. One problem with the film is that there’s really no character we can sympathise with. From the moment we learn Dr. Ritter has turned Lily into a copy of Alice our sympathy with him starts rolling fast downhill, and the situation is made no better by the way in which he completely ignores all of Lily’s wishes and tries to stifle her personality, controlling her as though she were his possession. Lily is the character we initially sympathise with, but as stated, the latter half turns her into a complete caricature of a drunken bitch, turning the audience against her. Alice is no more than a pretty face and a husky voice, and has no genuine character traits, so we really don’t care much what happens to her. The script seems to make an effort at showing the cruel way in which Ritter controls and manipulates Lily, setting up for some sort of class and feminist statement, but then makes a 180 degree turn, instead making Lily the villain of the story. When Lily bites the dust in the end, we as the audience are not quite sure how we are supposed to feel, and that feeling is enhanced by the way in which the final struggle in the train car is depicted. It’s like the ending of LOTR: The Return of the King, where Frodo sort of pushes Gollum into the lava, but not quite, and only because Gollum won’t stop fighting. It’s sort of an accident, but only sort of. Ritter does also sort of push her out the door. When Alice and Ritter walk away in the ending of Stolen Face, now together again, it’s hard to feel happy for them. But it’s also hard to feel sorry for Lily, because the film works so diligently to set her up as the villain of the piece. For a film that seems to want to explore a moral conundrum regarding class, the picture turns the tables on the audience so many times that by the time we reach the conclusion, we have forgotten what the original question was. The ending just feels like the anticipated ending of the story, rather than something which holds any meaning.
Stolen Face was one of four Hammer films that Alexander Paal was involved with in the early fifties, and the only one he did not partly finance and produce, even though his influence is clear. It was Paal who brought over Hollywood star Paul Henried from the US to star in Mantrap, and thus secured him for a second picture as well. Stolen Face was the last of three Hammer films that were financed on a 50-50 basis by Hammer and American Lippert Pictures (Lippert continued distributing Hammer’s output in the US, though). Lippert demanded that the UK pictures distributed in the US have recognisable Hollywood stars in the leading roles, which explains Henried’s and Scott’s involvement. Henried was paid 20,000 dollars and had an option on 15 percent of Lippert’s profit from the movie. Despite the film being successful enough for Lippert to order extra prints, the company declared the film a financial dud, at which point Henried sued. After some legal wrangling, he dropped the 15 percent claim and accepted a 500 dollar bonus.
The music serves the film well, as it should, being composed by Sir Malcolm Arnold, who created the legendary score for David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1958), which earned him an Oscar. Arnold creates a beautiful piano motif for Alice, which does much to help sell her otherwise nondescript character, and elsewhere uses an effective Bernard Hermann-like doom-laden and suggestive score, which highlights key scenes, twists and reveals, sometimes a little too effectively. The swinging jazz number performed when Lily drags Ritter to a club was written by renowned bandleader and composer Jack Parnell, voted best drummer in the UK by Melody Magazine seven years in a row in the 40’s and 50’s, and who went on to compose a number of theme songs and scores for TV.
Stolen Face received mixed reviews upon release. Motion Picture Daily wrote: “Founded upon an intrinsically dramatic idea, the story, despite abrupt changes of pace and slant, holds interest steadily […] until the letdown that takes place at the close where the screenwriters appear to have run out of gas. Their failure to provide a finish worthy of the start penalizes good performances by the leads and the support, performances possibly good enough to please most patrons nonetheless.” Harrison’s Reports called it a “fair program picture” […] Though the picture has not been produced badly, the story is only mildly interesting, for the action in unconvincing and unpleasant.” Exhibitor wrote: “The screen play […] is familiar and, although Henried is competent and Scott gets lots of opportunities in a dual role, the story is against them”. And according to Variety Scott “is capable enough, considering the slow, heavy-handed direction by Terence Fisher“. British Kinematograph Weekly wrote: “The co-stars gave their best, and the staging was deluxe, but neither succeeds in bringing conviction to its extravagant plot”.
Today Stolen Face has a 6.1/10 audience rating on IMDB, based on around 650 votes, and not enough entries for a Rotten Tomatoes consensus. AllMovie gives it 3/5 stars, with Craig Butler writing: “In other hands, this unbelievable premise could have been the springboard for a serious examination of obsession; here, it’s merely the gimmick that propels a romantic melodrama. But if one can accept that it’s just a gimmick, one can enjoy the ride. Terence Fisher directs with efficiency and the occasional flash of flair, accepting the limitations of the script and emphasizing its stronger points. He’s aided by a good central performance from Paul Henreid and a delightful job from Lizabeth Scott, who gets to show off her good girl/bad girl split in a very deliberate manner”.
TV Guide calls Stolen Face “an interesting drama”, while Jonathan Lewis at Mystery File labels it a “quirky little British thriller”. Derek Winnert gives it 3/5 stars, writing: “This old-style fantasy thriller is totally incredible of course, but still eerie, entertaining and oddly compelling, and it is ably handled by director Fisher with pleasing, effective performances, especially by Lizabeth Scott.” Dave Sindelar at Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings is not quite as positive: “I wasn’t very impressed with the movie. It does surprise me that it didn’t quite go in the direction I expected, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with where it did go. […] Take away the central gimmick, and there’s really nothing more here than a rather ordinary romantic melodrama. The ending, though an example of poetic justice, is also a little too pat for my taste.”
As a melodrama with a fringe SF slant, Stolen Face is serviceable, largely thanks to an effective direction by Terence Fisher, a mildly novel spin on the plastic surgery trope and Mary Mackenzie’s lively dubbing of Lizabeth Scott. The acting is solid without impressing — Paul Henried was never the most charismatic of players, and was often relegated to second banana for a reason. The script does neither him nor Scott any favours, which is the main problem with the movie. When it also turns on Mary Mackenzie’s character, we find ourselves without a character to root for. Screenwriters Berkeley and Landau drop the ball toward the second half of the movie, muddling the moral of the tale and failing to give the film a satisfactory ending.
Paul Henried, born Paul Hernried in Austria, was a stage-trained actor who quickly took to film in Germany. Vehemently anti-Nazi, Henried fled to the UK shortly after the NSDAP rose to power, and made his stage debut in London in 1937, and soon found himself working in films alongside other German and Austrian expats. After notable supporting parts in Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Night Train to Munich (1940), he was lured to Hollywood, where he was cast as a romantic lead in Joan of Paris and Now, Voyager! in 1942, which were both successes. The role he is best known for today is that of resistance leader Victor Laszlo in Michael Curtiz’ insanely popular propaganda movie Casablanca (1942), where he was the third wheel alongside Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Henried had a good run in the forties until he was blacklisted by the five major studios in 1948 for “un-American activities”, although he never understood why, according to a 1984 autobiography. He continued working with smaller studios in Hollywood and turned briefly to producing and directing a couple of his own films, including the minor hit Hollow Triumph with Joan Bennett (1948). It was during his blacklisting that he made his two movies for Hammer in the UK. Despite the blacklist being lifted in 1954, Henried was never able to recapture the success of his glory days as an actor, and instead returned to directing both films and TV, the latter which became his bread and butter in the late fifties and sixties. Of his films, best remembered is probably the 1965 effort Dead Ringer starring Bette Davis. He became a successful TV director, directing shows like Schlitz Playhouse of the Stars, Maverick, Bonanza, The Third Man, The Big Valley, and not least close to 30 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He retired in 1971 and had the chance to enjoy a long retirement, as he passed away in 1992, at the age of 84.
Lizabeth Scott was born in 1922 to Slovak immigrants in New York as Emma Matzo and took the stage name Elizabeth Scott while training to be a stage actress. In 1945 she was signed by producer Hal Wallis to Paramount, and under contract made 21 films between that year and 1957, although around half of them she made on loan to other studios. She appeared as a leading lady or “other woman” in a number of movies, often beside up-and-coming leading men like Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Dick Powell and Raymond Burr. However, after a brief 15 minutes of fame, her career failed to take off properly, and the quality of the roles she was offered lessened. Her last film was Loving You, opposite Elvis. She eventually turned to real estate.
After watching Stolen Face, I really want to see more of Mary Mackenzie. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be all that much to see. She did appear in 18 feature films between 1946 and 1966, most of them rather forgettable crime dramas, but did more interesting work on television for BBC. Little information is available about Mackenzie on the web, even the usually well-researched Forgotten Actors has only the flimsiest of biographical facts. Her IMDb bio mentions that Mackenzie was primarily a radio star, and the BBC’s Programme Index finds her as leading lady in a number radio serials between 1949 and 1955, both mystery and crime shows and comedies. The Lancashire Telegraph notes that she was the first person from Burnsley, the birthplace of Ian McKellen, to star in a lead in a British TV show. In about 1949 she played the main role in the first television serialisation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. A later television serial that Mackenzie starred in was The History of Mr Polly, which was an adaptation of an HG Wells novel. She passed away in 1966, only 44 years old, in a car accident.
Another interesting face in the cast is Arnold Ridley, in one of his rare feature film appearances. Ridley was an actor and playwright who worked mainly on stage, and wrote over 30 plays. The best known of these is the comedy suspense thriller The Ghost Train, which Ridley was in inspired to write in 1923 when he was marooned one evening at a rural train station. Despite receiving lukewarm press, the play was a massive hit and ran for close to 700 nights at London’s West End between 1925 and 1927. The play was novelised in 1927, and has been turned into both a musical version and a chamber opera. At least a dozen film adaptations, credited and uncredited has been made over the years, the best known probably being the 1941 Arthur Askey vehicle with the same title as the play and the uncredited Will Hay movie Oh, Mr. Porter! (1937). The play strongly contributed to the popularisation of railway mysteries, such as Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (1933) and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), among many others. Other noteworthy films based on Ridley’s plays were The Flying Fools (1931), Seven Sinners (1936), Easy Money (1948) and the Ealing comedy Meet Mr. Lucifer (1953). Off-stage, Ridley appeared regularly on TV, having recurring roles in shows like Starr and Company (1958), Yorky (1960-1961), Coronation Street (1967-1969) and Crossroads (1968-1971). However, what made him a household name was the role as the timid medic Charles Godfrey in the immensely popular war comedy series Dad’s Army (1968-1977). In 1982 he was appointed an OBE for his services to theatre.
André Morell, playing Alice Brent’s fiancé David, was a distinguished character actor of the stage and the screen, who appeared in A-class movies such as Ben-Hur and The Bridge on the River Kwai. However, to friends of science fiction, he is best known for having played Bernard Quatermass in the third season of BBC’s Quatermass franchise, Quatermass and the Pit (1958). In fact, he was the first pick for the original series, The Quatermass Experiment (1953, review), but turned it down. When Reginald Tate, who got the role, passed away shortly before the filming of the second season in 1955, Morell was once again approached, but again declined. And when Hammer made the movie version of Quatermass and the Pit, they asked Morell to reprise the role, but he declined for the third time. Morell also played one of the leads in Eugène Lourié’s Godzilla ripoff Behemoth the Sea Monster (1959) and appeared in three episodes of Doctor Who in 1966. Friends of fantasy may be interested to know that he voiced Elrond in Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings animation in 1978. He played Dr. Watson opposite Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes and Christopher Lee’s Henry Baskerville in Terence Fisher’s classic adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1959. He then played the lead in three more of Hammer’s horror movies: The Shadow of the Cat (1961), The Plague of the Zombies (1966) and The Mummy’s Shroud (1967). Morell passed away in 1978 from lung cancer.
Hungarian expat Alexander Paal was primarily a still photographer who worked in the US in the 30’s and shot promotional stills for many films and movie stars. He relocated to the UK in the 40’s, and in 1948 married Hungarian actress Eva Szöke, whom he brought to the UK and renamed Eva Bartok. After the three-year bar on divorce had passed, the two broke up their “passport marriage” that was probably engaged only to help Bartok escape from then communist-ruled Hungaria. Paal had previously worked with Alexander Korda in Hollywood, and helped finance and produce the film A Tale of Five Cities in 1948, with Bartok in a small role, however, the film wasn’t released until 1951. Paal’s association with Hammer began when the studio decided to take a more active approach to their collaboration with American partners — and Paal, with his Hollywood contacts, came in handy. After producing three films and co-writing one for Hammer in the early fifties, Paal went freelance with chequered results. He wrote, produced and directed one film in West Germany in 1954 and in 1955 produced the noir anthology Three Cases of Murder, headlining Orson Welles. After a 10-year hiatus from filmmaking he produced the UK-US-Hungrarian co-production The Golden Head, an adventure comedy set in Budapest, in 1964. After this he convinced Orson Welles to let him produce Welles’ adaptation of Karen Blixen’s The Heroine in Hungary. Only one day of shooting took place on the film in 1967 before Welles concluded that the Hungarian crew wasn’t up to the task and probably inflated their cost calculations, and he promptly left the country, and the film fell apart. Paal’s most enduring film project was also his last, when he returned to Hammer in 1971 and co-wrote and produced Countess Dracula.
Editor Maurice Rootes’ greatest hour was probably when he acted as editor on Ray Harryhausen’s classic Jason and the Argonauts in 1963. He also worked on three SF movies: Spaceways (1953, review), Four Sided Triangle and First Men in the Moon (1964). Art director C. Wilfred Arnold had a long and diverse career, from working on Alfred Hitchcock’s early films The Lodger (1927) and Blackmail (1929), to the giant ape movie Konga (1961), with none other than Bruce Wayne’s butler Michael Gough in the lead. Through US distributor Lippert, screenwriter Richard Landau also worked on Lost Continent (1951, review), Hammer’s Spaceways and The Quatermass Xperiment (1955, review). He eked out a living as writer of low-budget schlockers in Hollywood, including the Boris Karloff vehicles Voodoo Island (1957) and Frankenstein 1970 (1958), before becoming a sought-after TV writer in the late 70’s. He wrote several episodes for The Six Million Dollar Man (1977-1978), and was one of the primary screenwriters for the SF movie The Black Hole (1979), best known for its superb cast. Of the legendary Hammer horror crew, there are several people already on board, such as producer Anthony Hinds, assistant director Jimmy Sangster and makeup artist Philip Leakey. Costume designer Edith Head went on to win an astounding 8 Oscars in Hollywood.
Stolen Face. 1952, UK. Directed by Terence Fisher. Written by Martin Berkeley & Richard Landau from a story by Alexander Paal and Steven Vas. Starring: Paul Henried, Lizabeth Scott, Mary Mackenzie, John Wood, Susan Stephen, Arnold Riley, Cyril Smith, Terence O’Reagan, Diana Beaumont, Russell Napier, Ambrosine Phillpotts. Music: Malcolm Arnold. Cinematography: Walter Harvey. Editing: Maurice Rootes. Art direction: C. Wilfred Arnold. Makeup: Philip Leakey. Sound recordist: Bill Salter. Wardrobe: Edith Head. Produced by Anthony Hinds for Hammer Films and Lippert Films.