The next two volumes in the Ealing Studios Rarities collection dominate the column this week. Launching Volume 2 is the 1935 adaptation of Captain Frederick Marryat's Midshipman Easy, which marked the solo directorial bow of Carol Reed, after he had teamed earlier in the year with Robert Wyler on the comedy, It Happened in Paris. Yet, while this swashbuckling adventure offers glimpses of the craftsmanship for which Reed would become renowned, it is perhaps most notable now for the debuting appearance in the title role of Hughie Green, the 15 year-old radio personality who would go on to find fame as the host of the TV game and talent shows Double Your Money and Opportunity Knocks and infamy as the posthumously revealed father of maverick presenter Paula Yates.

Taught by his wealthy, but eccentric father (Lewis Casson) to uphold the rights of man, Jack Easy (Hughie Green) joins the Royal Navy in the 1790s and is sent to serve as a midshipman aboard HMS Harpy. Captain Wilson (Roger Livesey) takes a shine to the boy, even though his fondness for philosophising and intervening in other people's disputes earns him the enmity of Boatswain Biggs (Harry Tate), who also has little time for Mesty (Robert Adams), an Ashanti prince who was sold into slavery and is frequently subjected to cruel torments and inhuman punishments. Indeed, when he is mistreated by Lieutenant Sawbridge (Arthur Hambling), Easy comes to his rescue and his readiness to fight the bullying Vigors (Anthony Rogers) similarly helps win over his initially dubious crewmates.

In company with Mesty and Gascoigne (Tom Gill), Easy saves the ship during a storm and convinces the captain to promote Mesty. The friends also play a key part in the capture of Spanish brigand Don Silvio (Dennis Wyndham) off the coast of Sicily, with Easy's insistence that the ship be commandeered and the loot plundered with the minimum loss of life preventing the Spanish prisoners from being made to walk the plank. But, while his actions win him the admiration of liberated heiress Donna Agnes Ribiera (Margaret Lockwood), Biggs is less impressed and they fight a duel.

As the story ends, Easy survives the encounter to return ashore and settle the affairs of his late father. But, while the denouement seems a little downbeat, Reed and screenwriter Anthony Kimmins more than capture the spirit of Marryat's novel, which was once as much a favourite with adolescent readers as The Children of the New Forest, which, curiously, has only ever been adapted for television rather than the big screen. Maurice Elvey had attempted to tackle Easy's exploits in 1915, with Compton Coutts as the eponymous youth and AV Bramble (who would later co-direct the 1928 melodrama Shooting Stars with Anthony Asquith) playing Mesty in blackface.

What is fascinating about this version, however, is the way in which Reed depicts Mesty, who is almost presented as the hero of the piece. The contrast couldn't be more striking than with the way Paul Robeson's African characters were portrayed in J. Elder Wills's Song of Freedom (1936) and Robert Stevenson's King Solomon's Mines (1937), in which British Guyanan actor Robert Adams also took supporting roles. He is clearly more comfortable before the camera than Hughie Green, who struggles to resist projecting to the rear stalls, as he had been used to doing while touring with the company of his hit radio show. But Roger Livesey and a young Margaret Lockwood more than compensate and helped convince Graham Greene, then reviewing films for The Spectator, that Reed (with whom he would collaborate on The Fallen Idol, 1948; The Third Man, 1949; and Our Man in Havana, 1959) was a talent to watch.

Greene also admired Edmond T. Gréville's Brief Ecstasy (1937), although his head might have been turned by Linden Travers, as he seemed more interested in the fleeting shots of `a leg in the library, buttocks over the billiard-table' than he did in the narrative. That said, he did applaud Gréville for capturing the mood of `starved sexuality' at the heart of the ménage and also Ronald Neame for the fluent camerawork that was unusual for a British film of the period.

Rushing into a London coffee shop to find a telephone, Hugh Williams knocks a cup over Linden Travers. In embarrassed confusion, he tries to mop up the spillage and touches her leg. Affronted, she slaps him and storms off, leaving behind her briefcase. Checking the address, Williams goes to Travers's bedsit and she is touched that he waited on the stairs to return the case in person. However, she initially proves reluctant when flatmate Renee Gadd urges her to accept Williams's invitation to go out for the evening and surprises herself by having such a nice time. They dance and quickly become besotted with each other. But as he escorts her home, he reveals that he has to go to India the following day because his father is gravely ill. He hopes she will wait for him and takes his leave.

Travers is distraught at the parting and Gadd has to remind her that she is due to attend a lecture that morning at University College. She had been keen to hear Professor Paul Lukas speak, but arrives too late and is piqued to hear fellow female students leaving the hall swooning about his intelligence and good looks. Summoning the courage, Travers goes to Lukas's office to apologise for missing his talk. But he readily forgives her and reveals that he has been following her progress and would like her to become his assistant once she has finished her exams.

As time passes, Travers comes to admire Lukas and accepts his marriage proposal. But, shortly after they tie the knot, Williams returns to Britain and is crushed to discover that he has lost his soulmate. Convinced that he can win back her heart, he pays her a visit and is aghast to learn that she is married to the man who has been appointed his guardian. Unsurprisingly, passions become inflamed once the pair are together under the same roof and their lingering glances are noticed by Lukas's devoted housekeeper, Marie Ney. But, while Travers is tempted by the dashing pilot's youth, charm and sense of adventure, she realises that she loves her husband and his mind and she just about manages to resist temptation.

Already a major Hollywood player after pictures like George Cukor's Little Women (1933) and William Wyler's Dodsworth (1936), the Budapest-born Lukas was a big star for such a medium-range British feature and his assured downplaying eventually persuades the audience that Travers is making the right choice in sticking with him. The ever-dependable Ney makes a hissable adversary for the conflicted lovers, but they make rather soppy targets for her rage. Invariably cast as a decent cove, Williams lacks the devilish glint to convince as a cad, while Travers always seems a touch too self-conscious to convey the kind of sensual allure that so enchanted Greene. Nevertheless, there is nothing salacious or melodramatic about the scenario and Gréville directs with a flair for locale that will recur in a later item discussed below.

Ronald Neame's nimble camerawork is also a key feature of Walter Forde's The Four Just Men (1939), an adaptation of a 1905 Edgar Wallace thriller that had been updated to reflect the growing crisis in Europe by the admirable triumvirate of Angus Macphail, Sergei Nolbandov and Roland Pertwee. The story had previously been filmed as a silent by George Ridgeway in 1921. But this version reflected Ealing's patriotic attitude under Michael Balcon and presages the docudramatic style that would come to typify the studio's wartime output.

Foreign correspondent Frank Lawton has been on assignment in Germany trying to discover the identity of a traitor in the upper echelons of the Establishment. However, he is captured and seems set to be executed as a spy before colleagues Hugh Sinclair and Griffith Jones break into his Bavarian cell and escape to Blighty before the Gestapo can catch them. Back in London, the quartet resume their everyday roles, with Sinclair acting in the plays that Jones bases on the exploits of the Four Just Men, while French couturier Francis L. Sullivan makes a little extra pocket money providing costumes for Jones's theatre. But they are soon forced to resume their secret identities when Lydia Sherwood, the wife of Foreign Office mandarin Roland Pertwee, is murdered and Scotland Yard inspector George Merritt is baffled by the crime.

Despite ambitious reporter Anna Lee snooping around, Lawton, Sinclair, Jones and Sullivan conduct a covert investigation of their own and soon reach the conclusion that the killer is Alan Napier, an MP whose popularity is rooted in his support for the appeasement of Adolf Hitler. As Sinclair begins to romance Lee to keep her out of the way, Lawton heads back to the continent and it emerges that an attack is being planned on the Suez Canal that would cut the country off from its empire in the east. But, worse is to follow, when it transpires that Napier is planning to facilitate a German invasion before Britain is in a position to defend itself.

Given the circumstances in the summer of 1939 and the fact that Aneurin Bevan had advised on the House of Commons sequences, this must have felt more like an illustrated news story rather than a rollicking espionage adventure. Indeed, Winston Churchill recognised the propaganda value of the picture when he had a newsreel coda appended to the 1944 reissue to show how his government had taken command of a losing situation and turned the tide of the conflict. Yet, for all its flagwaving potency, this never comes across as jingoistic or simplistic and anticipates the likes of Alberto Cavalcanti's Went the Day Well? (1942) in depicting the Nazis and their Fifth Columnist sympathisers in as cunning and dastardly foes.

It also set a trend for having extraordinary men lead unassuming lives, as Leslie Howard's troubleshooting archaeologist would do in Pimpernel Smith (1941) and dozens of comic-book superheroes would do after him. Moreover, it also accommodates the dry wit that made Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) so entertaining and effective in alerting audiences to be on the lookout for quislings. Hugh Sinclair proves the most debonair of the foursome, with his delight in assuming disguises coming in handy during the denouement when he has to impersonate Napier in Parliament. However, Frank Lawton also shows well as the consumptive journalist weighed down by the seriousness of the nation's peril and it is his acceptance that treason can only be fought with equally underhand means that gives the entire vigilante enterprise the dark subtext that makes its title seem all the more ironic.

The film was criticised in some quarters in the isolationist United States for demonising the Third Reich. However, it proved sufficiently popular back home for a TV series to appear in 1959, with the intriguing cast of Richard Conte, Dan Dailey, Jack Hawkins and Vittorio De Sica being backed by their respective sidekicks June Thorburn, Honor Blackman, Andrew Keir and Lisa Gastoni.

Angus Macphail was also responsible for the screenplay of The Big Blockade (1942), which boasts outstanding talent on either side of the camera, but feels like a dress rehearsal for the kind of austere realism that would become the Ealing leitmotif for the remainder of the war. Many of the films produced in the first two years of the struggle had placed the emphasis on the fanaticism and buffoonery of the enemy and the durability of the average British soldier and citizen. But countless educational shorts and newsreels had been produced during the same period warning of the ruthlessness of the enemy and the dire need for everyone to do their bit for the cause. Thus, Michael Balcon decided that the studio had to reflect the grim truth of fighting the Axis and, as a consequence, Ealing propaganda took on a new naturalism and an edge that left audiences in no doubt that they were no longer watching escapism, but being encouraged to redouble their efforts to bring about victory.

Produced in conjunction with the Ministry of Economic Warfare, this collection of pep talks and dramatic vignettes now seems like a cumbersome exercise in lecturing viewers about the need to undermine Germany's ability to conduct warfare on an industrial scale. Journalist Frank Owen gets the ball rolling by speaking directly to the camera and explaining how the blockading of Europe is vital to prevent fuel and other resources from reaching the Reich's vast network of factories. American journalist Quentin Reynolds and President of the Board of Trade Hugh Dalton also put in their pennyworth. But the bulk of the action is made up of sketches explaining the importance of bleeding Germany dry.

Bookending proceedings are scenes showing Michael Rennie and John Mills leading an RAF bombing raid on Hanover, while, in between, come episodes involving skipper Will Hay and first mate Bernard Miles's efforts to see off the Luftwaffe pilot strafing their boat, shipping clerk Ronald Shiner making an urgent call from a pay phone, government bod Leslie Banks and Red Army officer Michael Redgrave taking it in turns to mock German stereotypes, and Robert Morley as a dyspeptic Nazi complaining bitterly about the difficulty of trying to control an entire continent while getting precious little help from the useless Italians.

In truth, this is a film whose purpose far surpasses its proficiency and it should be approached as an historical artefact rather than a crowd-pleaser. Combining second unit footage shot by Douglas Slocombe with Wilkie Cooper's studio-bound skits, effects expert Roy Kellino's model sequences and extracts from newsreels and training films, editors Charles Crichton and Compton Bennett certainly had their work cut out for them. But it's clear that Balcon and associate producer Cavalcanti were feeling their way towards a new method and one wonders how much latitude debuting director Charles Frend was given in calling the shots. He clearly proved a quick learner, however, as the former editor nailed the docu-realist style in his next two outings, The Foreman Went to France and San Demetrio London (both 1943), which still rank among Ealing's most accomplished wartime pictures. .

Volume 3 starts by harking back to the heyday of Associated Talking Pictures, the company co-founded by theatre director Basil Dean that was responsible for the construction in 1931 of the studio complex that still stands on Ealing Green today. Despite being responsible for hiring such major talents as Gracie Fields, Will Hay and George Formby, Dean remained very much a man of the stage and few of his pictures have worn well. Sadly, his adaptation of HC `Sapper' McNeile's play, The Impassive Footman (1932), is a case in point, as Dean allows the half-decent premise to become increasingly melodramatic as the coincidences and contrivances start to mount up.

Betty Stockfeld has been married to Allan Jeayes for eight years. She longs for a child, but her spouse is a bad-tempered hypochondriac who is far too preoccupied with his own misery to spare a thought for anyone else. When the couple go on a sea cruise for Jeayes's health, the neglected Stockfeld is charmed, therefore, when the ship's dashing doctor Owen Nares proves a solicitous companion. However, when he declares his love for her and begs her to leave Jeayes and marry him, she protests that she could never betray her sacred vows.

Shortly after returning to Britain, Jeayes is stricken with a rare spinal disease and the only surgeon capable of performing the delicate operation to cure him is Nares. However, Jeayes recognises him from the ship and accuses Stockfeld of adultery and warns her that if anything untoward should happen to him while he is under the knife valet George Curzon is under strict instructions to mail a letter to his lawyer giving all the evidence he would need to secure a murder conviction.

Fortunately, the procedure is a complete success and Stockfeld urges Jeayes to divorce her so they can each seek a second chance of happiness. But he refuses and informs her that they will soon be leaving the country to prevent her from consorting with Nares. However, Curzon overhears Jeayes being warned that he needs to avoid excitement as his heart is still weak. Seizing his moment, Curzon reveals that he is the father of the young woman who was seduced and discarded by Jeayes in his youth and he sombrely informs him that his pregnant daughter died of shame and that he had been biding his time as a seemingly loyal employee for the opportunity to make the cad who ruined his life pay the ultimate price for his callousness. Jeayes panics and clutches at his chest. But Curzon has no intention of helping him and keeps hold of the incriminating letter when Stockfeld returns to find the body and is comforted by the gallant Nares.

Played out in rooms that look stage sets and photographed with little cinematic sense by Robert Martin, this feels as though it could have been made two years previously, when performers huddled round the primitive microphones secreted among the props and nobody made any unnecessary movements for fear that the rustling of their costumes would drown out the dialogue. Allan Jeayes is more animated than his co-stars, but he seems unaware of the magnifying power of the camera. Consequently, his performance is far too grandiloquent, even for what is essentially a pantomime villain. Stockfeld and Nares are only marginally better, with Nares often tended towards the inert. But Curzon contributes a nice display of seething obsequiousness and the relish with which he condemns Jeayes and delivers his verdict is worthy of Tod Slaughter in his prime.

During the 1930s, Ealing could never compete with the likes of MGM, which established its own studio at Borehamwood to create plush vehicles for its British contract players. However, the odd transatlantic exchange was arranged, with Edward L. Cahn taking the helm for Death Drives Through (1935), which was scripted by Gordon Wellesley from a story devised by Katherine Strueby and future directing great John Huston, who was still at the start of his screenwriting career and had only just taken a co-credit on the aforementioned Carol Reed comedy, It Happened in Paris.

Containing plenty of high-speed action filmed at the Brooklands racing circuit, the plot lacks the punch of the 1932 Howard Hawks drama, The Crowd Roars, and Robert Douglas is no James Cagney. In fact, he comes off second best to George Formby in Monty Banks's TT Races comedy, No Limit, which was also released by ATP in 1935. But those familiar with David Lean's The Sound Barrier (1952) may recognise elements of the narrative, which sees Douglas's mechanical wizard invent a new transformer and join the unpredictable world of motor racing to prove to motor magnate Percy Walsh that they are on to something big. However, ace driver Miles Mander resents having an interloper on his tail and causes an accident that could easily have been fatal Walsh's daughter, Chili Bouchier, is desperately in love with Douglas and begs him to quit racing. But he is bent on testing his gizmo and beating Mander in the way that will hurt the most - on the track.

Competently shot by Eric Cross and James Wilson, this conveys something of the danger of motor sport in its early years. But not even the typically lively Bouchier can pep up the romantic subplot and it's all too easy to see why the prolific Cahn was forced to eke out a living in the Hollywood B-hive, first as the director of the long-running Our Gang series and then as the purveyor of such drive-in fodder as Creature With the Atom Brain (1955), The She-Creature, Shake, Rattle & Rock! (both 1956), Motorcycle Gang, Dragstrip Girl (both 1957) and It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958).

The quality of the fare rises considerably with Frieda (1947), an adaptation by Ronald Millar and Angus Macphail of the former's stage play, which set the tone for the run of `problem pictures' that would make the names of director Basil Dearden and his trusted producer, Michael Relph. Released in the same year that the legendary Ealing comedies were launched with Charles Crichton's Hue and Cry, this also makes exceptional use of the physical and emotional debris left behind by the war, as it tackles the thorny topic of how to deal with a nation that had not only caused six years of grotesque conflict, but had also exterminated six million Jews. The Holocaust plays less of a role here than it might have done if the film had been made on the continent. But the sense of loss and anger is every bit as keenly felt by the residents of a picturesque country town that had largely escaped the ravages of aerial bombardment.

Having been shot down over occupied territory, RAF pilot David Farrar is helped to escape a POW camp by German nurse, Mai Zetterling. They exchange vows in a bombed-out church during an air raid and he cannot wait to introduce her to his family back in Denfield. But, while mother Barbara Everest is just glad to have her son home again, Zetterling is viewed with deep suspicion by her new neighbours. She finds a friend in sister-in-law Glynis Johns, whose husband had perished overseas, but Farrar himself seems oblivious to the difficulty his wife faces in finding acceptance at a time when Germans are still regarded as the enemy no matter what part they played in the Third Reich.

In a typical piece of insensitivity, Farrar takes Zetterling to the pictures, where she is forced to sit through newsreel footage of the liberation of the concentration camps. But things become trickier still when Zetterling's brother, Albert Lieven, arrives wearing a Polish uniform and soon betrays the fact that he remains a committed Nazi. Moreover, he convinces Farrar that Zetterling will always be loyal to the Fatherland and he almost allows her to drown herself before coming to his senses and promising her that everything will be fine from now on.

Given the somewhat rosy picture of the postwar period presented in Ken Loach's recent documentary, The Spirit of `45, it's fascinating to note Flora Robson's performance here as a newly elected Labour MP, as her views on equality still leave her struggling to accept her nephew's choice of bride. The rustic reverie cut in the style of a Soviet montage by Leslie Norman (father of Barry) is equally telling, as even though the Cold War is beginning to envelope Europe, it was still easier to overlook the crimes of Josef Stalin than accept that not every German had been a Nazi, as he had atoned for the Pact of Steel by becoming an ally in the fight against the Axis. In hindsight, therefore, there is deep irony in Zetterling's impassioned declaration, `You can't treat human beings as though they were less than human without becoming less than human yourself.'

But it's not just the politicking that raises eyebrows here. Farrar's homecoming hero is something of a clod, whether he is (intentionally or not) dropping Zetterling in potentially awkward situations or choosing to take the word of her obviously unscrupulous brother over her own. However, the entire episode with Lieven seems to have been concocted to dodge the central issue and let the truculent locals off the hook by allowing them to vent their spleen on a textbook Hun stereotype. Engulfed by John Greenwood's manipulative score, the final third of the film is thuddingly melodramatic and only retains credibility through the thoughtful performances of the compassionate Johns and the poignantly vulnerable Zetterling, a 21 year-old Swedish actress making her English-language debut. Clearly, this would have been a courageous project just two years after the cessation of hostilities. But, seen from a distance of seven decades, it lacks the finesse of `rubble films' like Wolfgang Staudte's The Murderers Are Among Us (1946) and Roberto Rossellini's Germany Year Zero (1947).

Farrar is even more of a bounder in Basil Dearden's Cage of Gold (1950), which the director and producer Michael Relph insisted has been foisted on them by Michael Balcon at the eleventh hour. In fact, this was a long-planned project and, in spite of some pretty poisonous reviews, it performed admirably at the box office. Part of the appeal was clearly Jean Simmons (on the cusp of her departure for Hollywood), in what was a rare leading role for a young woman in an Ealing picture. But there was also a noirish feel to the story, with the RAF hero gone bad having much in common with demobbed villains in any number of American crime melodramas in the immediate aftermath of the war.

Artist Jean Simmons is on her way for a date with doctor James Donald when she is waylaid on the Underground by former beau David Farrar. He follows her to The Palette Club in Chelsea and even takes a table opposite Simmons and Donald at the restaurant. As they walk home along the Embankment, Simmons insists that Farrar means nothing to her. But his flashy way with champagne persuades Donald to accept a post at a Harley Street surgery rather than following father Harcourt Williams into National Health service in Battersea.

Predictably, Farrar shows up at Simmons's studio and she offers to paint his portrait in uniform. A montage shows them dating behind Donald's back and a guilty-feeling Simmons is appalled to discover she is pregnant. Farrar does the decent thing, but the soulless registry office ceremony presages his exit that night when he discovers the money she inherited from her parents is long gone. Flitting over to France, Farrar takes a job at the Cage of Gold club owned by Herbert Lom, a Parisian shark involved in currency smuggling who is deeply jealous of Farrar's flirtation with chanteuse Madeleine Lebeau. However, Farrar's interest in her doesn't last long, as she takes a shine to banker's daughter Maria Mauban and tries to extort money out of her father by threatening to elope with her.

Back in London, Donald has refused to abort Simmons's baby and she is making the most of raising her son with housekeeper Gladys Henson. However, when Donald sees a report in the paper that Farrar has been killed on a transatlantic diamond run, he proposes to Simmons and she accepts him. The trouble is, Lom had arranged for Grégoire Aslan to borrow Farrar's passport and he arrives in London on false papers hoping to blackmail Simmons and Donald over their bigamous union. But, when Inspector Bernard Lee is called in to investigate when Farrar is found shot in his rooms, he is surprised to find a third suspect emerging after Donald and Simmons have each claimed responsibility in order to save the other.

Atmospherically photographed by Douglas Slocombe and played to an ominous Georges Auric score, this is a rattling good yarn. Working from a story he had devised with veteran Viennese director Paul L. Stein, Jack Whittingham packs the narrative with incident. But, while much of it is contrived, Dearden still manages some neat touches, most notably with his positioning of Farrar and his portrait between Simmons and Donald during their earnest tête-à-têtes and his building of the tension during the Punch and Judy show at young Tony Britton's birthday party, as Simmons dreads Farrar returning before she has had a chance to explain his reappearance to the doting Donald.

Never the most charismatic or animated of actors, Farrar delivers one of his better performances as the smooth-talking chancer, while Simmons ably reveals the wilder side of her outwardly demure bohemian. Donald is more than a little dull and worthy and his decision to accept the NHS post is a typically coy piece of Ealing socialist boosting. But the Parisian interlude has its longueurs and the denoument is far too tidy. However, what is left lingering is the suspicion that Simmons has settled for Donald and the cosy middle-class lifestyle he can offer her and that, for once, there is no guarantee of a happy ever after. 

Completing this week's British survey are four more films from Renown, which specialises in reviving the programmers that were once the mainstay of a night out at the movies.

John Gilling will be best remembered for his Hammer outings in the 1960s. However, he had already been in the film business for three decades by the time he made the likes of The Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile (both 1966) and The Mummy's Shroud (1967). Having started out as an editor in 1933, he landed credits as a screenwriter before serving in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He returned to cinema in the mid-1940s and earned a reputation as a safe pair of hands with crime programmers like The Voice of Merrill (1952).

Producers Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker were clearly impressed and rehired Gilling for The Gilded Cage (1955), another low-budget mystery that starred American actor Alex Nicol, who was seeking to widen his horizons as his contract at Universal Studios wound down and he sought to cash in on solid supporting turns in Budd Boetticher's Red Ball Express (1952) and the Anthony Mann duo of Strategic Air Command (1954) and The Man From Laramie (1955), in each of which he had co-starred with James Stewart. Sadly, there is no one of a similar calibre in this routine offering. But the cast works hard and Gilling keeps the plot moving in a bid to make spotting the culprit that little bit more difficult.

Arriving in Britain for a tour of duty, USAF security officer Alex Nicol hooks up with brother Michael Alexander, who lends him his room at a hotel near the base while he is on call. Prompted by an urgent note addressed to his sibling, Nicol goes to the Stein Bechfield Gallery to meet actress Veronica Hurst, who is being shown a priceless Degas painting nicknamed `The Gilded Cage' by curator John Stuart. She hints that Alexander has fallen into bad company, along with her co-star and flatmate, Ursula Howells, who calls the hotel room later that night and mistakenly warns Nicol that their shady scheme is becoming disconcertingly dangerous.

Intrigued, Nicol goes to the Palette Club run by part-time picture restorer and Howells's ex-husband, Elwyn Brook-Jones. He also meets theatre director Clifford Evans and garage owner Ronan O'Casey and, taking the hint when Hurst pretends not to know him, he dances with Howells, who accepts a lift back to her apartment. As they run lines from her play while sitting on the sofa, Nicol and Howells kiss and he makes an embarrassed exit. However, he finds her purse in his jacket pocket and returns to find her dead on the bedroom floor. He fights with a figure hiding behind the door and is appalled to discover it is Alexander, who insists he had nothing to do with the murder, but admits that he had agreed to transport a package to the United States to settle a debt with O'Casey.

Nicol allows Alexander to leave before calling the cops and is still there when Hurst gets home. He tells Inspector Trevor Reid and Sergeant Patrick Jordan that he was attacked by an unseen assailant and is concerned when a piece of USAF insignia is found at the crime scene. But he doesn't tell them about a press clipping in Howells's purse relating to the Degas and makes nothing of it when someone tries to drop a sandbag on him from the lighting gantry at the theatre. Similarly, he laughs off an abduction in broad daylight that leaves him heading down the Thames on a coal barge before he dives clear and swims to shore. Alexander is not so fortunate, however, and is locked in a room at O'Casey's garage after being held at gunpoint by Evans, who is plotting to steal the Degas and smuggle it to a private collector in the US. But Nicol refuses to quit, even after an attempt to shoot him on the stage of the darkened theatre and he joins forces with Hurst's Javanese valet, Charles Wade, to rescue her and Alexander and expose Evans's reluctant partner in crime.

Despite a neat twist involving a meticulous copy of the masterpiece, this is a pretty standard variation on the troubleshooter theme that sees the maverick get better results than Scotland Yard by refusing to play by the rules. Nicol acquits himself well as the two-fisted hero, while Hurst and Howells make admirably contrasting femmes fatales. Besides a climactic chase through the wharves near Tower Bridge, Gilling spends more time on serviceable soundstage sets than out and about in the capital, but he maintains momentum without ever generating genuine suspense.

French exile Edmond T Gréville makes an altogether better job of Guilty? (1956), a splendidly convoluted tale of murder, smuggling and the Maquis that derives from the Michael Gilbert novel, Death Has Deep Roots. Celebrating his 25th anniversary as a director, Gréville had notably directed Carole Landis in Noose (1948), Mai Zetterling in The Romantic Age (1949), Erich von Stroheim in The Other Side of Paradise (1953) and Jean Gabin in Le Port du Désir (1955) before tackling this assignment with typical assurance. Yet, despite the knowing performances and some slick cross-cutting between events in London and Avignon, the storyline stalls in the latter stages and suffers from having too many minor characters proving key to the denouement.

Accused of murdering the father of her since deceased child, hotel receptionist Andrée Debar annoys judge Donald Wolfit by protesting her innocence at the start of her Old Bailey trial and insisting on the dismissal of her defence counsel, Leslie Perrins. On the advice of France-Soir journalist Franck Villard, she accepts the help of his wartime pal John Justin, who runs a small claims firm with his father, Hugh Morton. They secure the services of leading lawyer Norman Woolland, who agrees to take the case against regular adversary Stephen Murray. However, on hearing that Debar was found in the room of Michael Anthony by manager André Mikhelson, bartender Sydney Tafler and guests Kynaston Reeves and Betty Stockfeld, Woolland suggests that Justin goes to France to investigate how Debar came to know Anthony during the war and whether anyone else might have wanted him dead.

Returning to the Provence Hotel to question the accusers, Justin and Villard encounter a wall of silence. But French blonde Barbara Laage takes a keen interest in their activities and turns up on the night ferry train as Justin heads for Avignon. She even check into his hotel and listens in on his phone calls thanks to switchboard operator Jacqueline Sassard, as Justin seeks out anyone who knew Anthony or Debar back in 1943. Eventually, he is tipped off about the Moulin Vert vineyard by ailing lawyer Félix Clément, in spite of the efforts of angrily protective wife Margo Lion to chase him away.

Back in Blighty, Debar listens from the dock as expert witnesses testify that Anthony died from the kind of commando stab used by trained Resistance agents, while both Reeves and Stockfeld stick to their statements that Debar alone had the opportunity to get into the victim's room unobserved. Murray suggests to the jury that Debar killed her ex-lover in revenge for him leaving her to have their child in a Gestapo jail, but Woolland dismisses the theory and picks holes in the testimony of Mikhelson, Tafler and Reeves.

Meanwhile, Villard is beaten up when collecting information at an amusement arcade from Justin's trusted snoop, while he avoids careering off a winding mountain road after having his brakes tampered with during a visit to Moulin Vert to see absent owner, Marcel Lupovici. Laage is amused by his amateurish methods and, just as she hints that Stockfeld needs watching, Woolland humiliates her in the witness box by revealing that, while she claims to be respectable, her first husband was a jailbird and that she is now secretly married to Lupovici.

Tipped off about odd happenings in a wine shop in the town, Justin is led into a trap at the old paper mill and only just escapes with the aid of the local gendarmes, who explain that the Nazis used the mill to print banknotes on a press that has since gone missing. Justin realises that Anthony was involved in a forgery racket and he is joined by Villard, who has come to impart the news about the connection between Stockfeld and Lupovici. Once again, Laage listens in on their conversation through a bug planted in the hotel room. But, as they plan a nocturnal search of Moulin Vert, Debar confesses that she killed a German soldier in the tunnels beneath the vineyard to protect Anthony, who was hiding there while acting as liaison between the Free French and the Special Operations Executive. Yet, while he later betrayed her devotion, she did not have a motive to kill him.

Just as the jury is about to return its verdict, the culprit is identified and his connection established to an off licence in Soho. Naturally, Debar is acquitted and she returns to Paris to tell her story to Villard's paper, while it seems clear that Justin will be seeing a good deal more of Laage's Interpol operative. Yet, notwithstanding the steady drip of clues in the slick flitting between the courtroom and the seedier parts of Avignon, the resolution is somewhat anti-climactic. The performances are more enagaging, although Donald Wolfit milks his cameo as the judge and the excellent Laage is too often reduced to eavesdropping while reclining on her hotel bed. But this rattles along enticingly enough and it is interesting to note that Gréville had to come to Britain to make a film about the Resistance, as the subject of the Occupation was still too raw to be broached across the Channel.

Few short stories have been filmed as often as WW Jacobs's `The Monkey's Paw'. Published in 1902, it was adapted three times as a silent (in 1915, 1919 and 1923) before Hollywood journeymen Wesley Ruggles and Ernest B. Schoedsack co-directed a sound version for RKO in 1933. Such was its reputation that it was selected as one of the first productions to be mounted by the BBC in 1939 and such is its enduring appeal that, after at least half a dozen more small-screen incarnations, American director Brett Simmons has yet another cinematic version lined up for release later this year. Yet none can quite match Norman Lee's 1948 retelling, which survives some ripe acting to generate plenty of disconcerting suspense, thanks, in no small measure to Victor Hembrow and George Ward's splendidly cluttered sets, Bryan Langley's eerie lighting and Stanley Black's brooding score.

While chatting to curio shop owner Hay Petrie, slippery dealer Sydney Tafler becomes obsessed with a monkey's paw in a glass case  Petrie is reluctant to sell, but ends up parting with the creepy object, even though he warns Tafler that is has yet to bring good luck to anyone who has owned it. The following day, Megs Jenkins wakes husband Milton Rosmer to open their general store in a quaint Cornish village. He comes down to find rascally Irishman Michael Martin Harvey whistling on the doorstep, as he waits to take in the newspapers and make the first deliveries. Rosmer confides that he owes a tidy sum to bookmaker Vincent Lawson, but hasn't let on to Jenkins, who disapproves of gambling. As they flirt with Cockney gossip Rose Howlett, Jenkins rouses son Eric Micklewood, who joins Rosmer and Harvey to discuss his hopes of becoming a motorcycling champion. However, fiancée Brenda Hogan is less than impressed with his scheme as she is keen to get married as soon as possible.

That evening, having feasted on a pheasant that Harvey has poached, the family is surprised by a knock on the door. Tafler enters to ask for directions and is intrigued by a painting on the parlour wall. Jenkins is reluctant to part with the heirloom, as she considers it is unlucky to sell anything left in a will. But Tafler persists and, even though he isn't offering much, it will help Rosmer pay his debt to Lawson. So, while his wife is distracted, he concludes a deal and Tafler throws in the monkey paw as a goodwill gesture. Much to Rosmer's astonishment, Harvey is appalled to see the item and warns that it is cursed and explains how he knows by flashing back to the time when he still lived in Wexford.

One night, while he was casing the home of Norman Shelley, he is caught climbing the wall by local sergeant Patrick Ward and cons him into thinking he is going to pay court to the maid. As he climbs to the upstairs room, Harvey overhears Shelley showing actress Joan Seton and her drunken husband Mackenzie Ward the treasures in a room he always keeps locked. Among them is the monkey's paw and he reveals that it came from the Indus Valley and was cursed by a fakir who wanted to highlight the danger of tampering with fate. He gave the paw the power to grant three wishes, but ensured that tragedy followed each one. Shelley admits that he has often been tempted to test the paw's powers, but has left instructions for it to be destroyed after his death.

Suddenly, Seton screams because the paw has turned in her hand and Shelley knows she has made a wish. Ward also suspects that it is designed to do him ill, as he strongly suspects his wife of having an affair with her co-star. As the trio go downstairs, Harvey opens the window and searches the room by torchlight. He steals the paw and is about to climb down when he sees Ward shoot Seton dead when she refuses to come home with him and Harvey concludes his tale by saying that Ward committed suicide, while he made arrangements to have the paw delivered to Shelley so he could claim the reward offered for its return.

A montage follows showing the family's neighbours gossiping about the folly of swapping a painting for a paw. But Rosmer is quietly satisfied with his business and keeps the object in his waistcoat pocket as he regrets not being able to lend Micklewood the cash he needs to buy a top-of-the-range motorbike. He half jokes that his father should make a wish. But, when Lawson threatens to sue unless Rosmer comes up with £200, he makes a silent wish and feels the paw turn in his grasp.

Dismayed that the postman failed to bring him a windfall, Rosmer spends the rest of the day fretting about his debt. As night falls, Howlett pops by to tell Jenkins that she saw Micklewood and Hogan squabbling outside the cinema in Truro and the scene shifts to show them making up because Hogan is proud of her man for taking part in a prize race at the speedway track to raise the money to get Rosmer out of hock. However, as the rain pelts down against the shop, Jenkins has a bad feeling and she is distraught when Hogan enters with track manager Alfie Bass to reveal that Micklewood won the £200 Rosmer needed, but died from hideous burns after crashing his machine.

Harvey is convinced the accident was caused by the paw. But, as they return from the funeral, the bereft Jenkins pleads with Rosmer to use it to bring her son back to life. As a storm rages outside, she laments that she would take him back in any state and Rosmer is so crushed by guilt that he makes the wish and instantly regrets it. Cutting back from a shot of the flowers on Micklewood's grave, the action returns to the parlour as there is a resounding knock on the door. Jenkins becomes hysterical as the bolt jams and Rosmer uses the delay to wish his boy dead again. There is nobody outside as Jenkins finally opens the door and Rosmer convinces her that the paw never had the power to grant wishes and that everything that has befallen them has been pure coincidence.

However, as he stares directly into the camera, the viewer is left in no doubt that he will spend the rest of his days waiting for the misfortune that must inevitably accompany his wishes and the film ends with Harvey handing the paw back to Petrie, who puts it back in its case knowing it is only a matter of time before someone else falls under its malevolent spell.

Filmed on a shoestring at the Kay Carlton Hill Studios in St John's Wood, this is far superior to the average Butchers Film Service offering. Dependables like Rosmer, Jenkins, Petrie and Tafler turn in solid performances, but the picture belongs to the impish Harvey, who would excel the following year in The Case of Charles Peace. Lee and co-scenarist Brenda Toy appear to have based their script on a 1903 one-act play by Dorothy Parker's father, Louis Napoleon Parker. But, while the quality of additions like the gossip montage, the Wexford flashback and the Truro row varies greatly, this is a thoroughly engaging curio and it makes for a fine double bill with the other title on this Renown disc, Montgomery Tully's The House in Marsh Road (1960).

Novelist Tony Wright and wife Patricia Dainton are so hard up that they keep having to flit from rooming houses owing rent. However, when Dainton gets a letter from lawyer Derek Aylward, she is delighted to learn that she has inherited Four Winds, a house that belonged to the disabled aunt who had fallen out with her sister many years before. Exasperated at being stuck out in the sticks, Wright asks Ayleward about selling the place so they can return to London. But Daintain has fond childhood memories of the House in Marsh Road, even though it appears to be haunted by a poltergeist that has been named Patrick by cleaning lady Anita Sharp-Bolster.

While Wright is annoyed by the armchair that keeps moving around in the hall, Dainton is happy to put down roots and feels safe having Patrick to protect her. Her husband seeks solace in the Plough Inn, where property dealer Sam Kydd informs him that the house could be worth £6000. He also recommends a typist to help Wright with his manuscript and he is instantly smitten when comely blonde Sandra Dorne comes to collect his papers. She tells him she is in the middle of a divorce and needs the money, but she is more than a little taken aback when the mirror in the hall cracks while she is putting on her scarf.

Peeved when Aylward gives Dainton a lift home from the station, Wright drunkenly implies they're having an affair and gets his own back by flirting with Dorne in her sitting-room in nearby Witherley. He feels guilty, however, and snaps back at Dainton when she asks about her over breakfast the next morning. On going into his study, Wright finds his papers covered in ink and blames Sharp-Bolster, but she insists it is Patrick teaching him a lesson for not taking him sufficiently seriously. Wright begs his wife to sell up and move away, but she contents herself with letting Roddy Hughes take away some unwanted furniture and this defiance drives Wright into the arms of Dorne, who tells him that she has no intention of being a mistress and he promises to marry her once she is free.

A telegram arrives for Wright while he is out and Dainton catches him in a lie when he says he has been in the pub the whole time. They argue and he goes for a night on the town with Dorne. She asks him for £20 to pay her lawyer and, when Dainton refuses to lend it to him, Wright steals it from her desk and mails it to Dorne in London. However, when she writes back to thank him, Patrick ensures that Dainton finds the letter and she confronts Dorne in her own home, while Wright is hiding in the kitchen. He is stung when Dainton says she only wants her money back and that Dorne is welcome to Wright as he is a worthless sponger. Dorne is furious because she thought Wright owned Four Winds and wonders why she always falls for losers. But Dainton has pushed her spouse too far and when he says in anger that he could kill her a plan begins to form in his mind.

Returning home to assure Dainton that his affair was a mistake and is over, Wright tinkers with the fuses on the top floor and gets his wife tipsy before bedtime. He leads her to the upper storey and goes to push her down the lift shaft fitted for her aunt's wheelchair. However, Patrick slams the gate shut and Dainton gets away with nothing more serious than a bruised shoulder. She spends the next few days in bed, with Wright doing his level best to be concerned. He offers to make her some hot milk and stirs in an overdose of sleeping pills. But a loud sigh stops her from drinking and, when Wright leaves to see why all the bells in the house have started ringing at once, Dainton pours the milk into a plant pot and locks the door when a nervous Wright comes to check on her in the middle of the night.

Dainton packs a bag and leaves early the next morning. Lawyer Llewellyn Rees is unconvinced by her claim that Wright is trying to murder her and, over drinks, she asks Ayleward if she is overreacting. He offers to drive her home and she accepts because she already hates being away from the house, even for a night.

In her absence, Dorne pays Wright a visit and she is turned on by his admission that he would kill Dainton to be with her. They kiss on the sofa and he persuades her to spend the night. As they get undressed, however, Wright's photograph falls over on the bedside table and, as they lie in bed together, a burning coal jumps out of the downstairs fire and Patrick pushes the flammable armchair alongside it. Soon, the entire house is ablaze and Sharp-Bolster arrives to see Dorne trying desperately to open a window. As Inspector Geoffrey Denton arrives with the fire brigade, the doors suddenly open inside the house. But Wright and Dorne are trapped on the stairs. Arriving home to see her home turned into an inferno, Dainton shakes her head sadly, as she accepts Denton's contention that it must have been struck by lightning.

Adapted by Maurice J. Wilson from a novel by Lawrence Meynell, this may not be the most sophisticated supernatural movie ever made. But it is such a relief to watch a haunting that has not been captured on found footage that its flaws can be overlooked. No one is credited for the special effects, but they are highly effective (if obviously cheap) and their impact is well supported by John Veale's Herrmannesque score. Montgomery Tully might also have borrowed a couple of tricks from a master, most notably by putting a small light inside the glass of milk as Wright makes his way through the darkened house, as Alfred Hitchcock did to make Cary Grant's progress to Joan Fontaine's room all the more nerve-jangling in Suspicion (1941).

Wright and Dainton obviously aren't in the same league. But they hold the piece together capably enough and Dorne makes a highly alluring femme fatale. Tully directs with customary efficiency and he and cinematographer James Harvey make evocative use of John Earl's sets. Fans of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca (which Hitchcock filmed so memorably in 1940) will recognise the allusion to the torching of Manderley in the denouement. But, while it pales by comparison, this still makes for enjoyable viewing and, indeed, represents something of a find.