Friday, February 24, 2017

23 Paces to Baker Street

I watched 23 Paces to Baker Street off my DVR recently because I knew it was coming up on the FXM Retro schedule. In fact there are two airings: today at 11:15 AM and tomorrow morning at 7:45 AM.

The movie starts with Phillip Hannon (Van Johnson) dictating into a tape recorder in his flat in London. Obviously he's a writer of some sort; although we never see the outcome of his writing we learn pretty quickly that he's a playwright, and that his latest play was a hit on the other side of the Atlantic and is now being produced in London. We also learn that he went blind from some sort of accident. This blindness has turned him bitter, because he had a fiancée in the States, one Miss Jean Lennox (Vera Miles), whom he dumped after going blind because who'd want a blind guy like him? Anyhow, Phillip leaves his secretary Bob (Cecil Parker) to do up the typing while Phillip nips off to the pub down the street.

While at the pub, Phillip sits next to a glass wall dividing two parts of the pub, so we can see two people come in on the other side, and start talking. Phillip only hears part of the conversation, but it's clear that the woman in the conversation is being asked to do something that she doesn't want, and something that sounds as though it could be criminal! And since Hollywood has the trope of the blind man who can see more than all the sighted people put together, we know that Phillip's belief that there's a criminal plot afoot is going to be borne out to be true. This even though he goes to the police and is rebuffed.

Phillip is undeterred, and sets out to stop the crime himself, with the help of Bob, who can see and follow a nursemaid who might have something to do with the plot, as well as Jean, who clearly still carries a torch for Phillip, having come all the way over from the States at a time when transatlantic travel wasn't so easy to be here. Of course, it's not an easy search, as this nursemaid could be working for any of dozens of people. It also doesn't take all that long for the bad guys to figure out that somebody is on to them, leading to one killing and another attempted killing. But will Phillip be able to stop the plot before it happens?

Actually, the part of the story about uncovering the criminal plot is wrapped up a good 10 minutes before the end of the movie, except that one member isn't caught, giving us ample time to have a climax reminiscent of the later Wait Until Dark. But you know that Phillip is going to survive and wind up with Jean, because Hollywood wouldn't give us a movie that offed him after making him the unbelieved hero for the rest of the film.

If 23 Paces to Baker Street has problems, it's that it's treading territory that's all too familiar. I mentioned the trope of the blind man who sees more than everybody else; there's also the trope of the person nobody believes, but is of course right, and the nefarious plot, and Hollywood's stereotypes of London. That having been said, everybody plays their parts well and the result is a movie that works without being anything special. I think you'll be entertained, but left with a feeling that there are movies out there that are a lot better.

There's one other problem, and that's that the print FXM showed the last time they ran it was panned and scanned from Cinemascope (which we see in the opening credits) down to 4:3. The movie did get a DVD release from the Fox MOD scheme, and is even on Blu-Ray. Amazon reviews say that the DVD is panned-and-scanned; I can't tell about the recent Blu-Ray release.

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