Sunday 6 November 2011

The Verdict (1946)

THE VERDICT is an American period thriller, released by Warner Brothers in 1946 and starring Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and George Coulouris.  It is notable for being the debut feature of one of the great American directors - Don Siegel, who made among many others INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS [1956], THE KILLERS [1964], THE BEGUILED [1971] and of course DIRTY HARRY [1971].

Everybody has to start somewhere though and for Siegel it was here in a very un-Siegel like setting of foggy London cobbled streets, Scotland Yard and a hoary old suspenser.  The set up is that Sydney Greenstreet is a respectable old detective who inadvertently sees an innocent man convicted and hanged.  Summarily dismissed from his post and replaced by a loathsome incompetent, he sets about righting this wrong.

To be honest there's very little in this that would make you sit up and think the director was destined for greatness.  It's an efficient little supporting feature, what Leslie Halliwell used to call "a programmer", no more, no less.  I suppose if you were really stretching a point you could say that there are pointers towards the violent amorality of the police that we would see later in DIRTY HARRY and perhaps a hint of the ambivalence towards authority that ran through most of Siegel's work but it really would be a stretch.

Sydney "By gad sir, you are a character" Greenstreet
Peter "You're hurting my arm" Lorre
So rather than wear yourself out looking for things that aren't really there, I'd suggest you wait for a rainy Sunday afternoon, stick THE VERDICT on and enjoy the incomparable Greenstreet and Lorre.  A couple of film anorak points worth mentioning.  First, the cinematography is by Ernest Haller who, up until his death in 1970, was one of those industry veterans whose life and career coincided almost completely with the emergence and development of cinema. He lensed his first film in 1920 and was still going strong into the mid-1960s.  His work in the 1940s is synonymous with Warner Brothers, to whom he was contracted, and he is largely responsible for the look of many of their classic output.  The make-up is by Perc Westmore, an Englishman who moved to Hollywood in the 1920s and worked on literally hundreds of films; a forgotten name now to all but the cognoscenti but this guy has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Finally, the special effects are by Robert Burks, who went on to become Hitchcock's favourite cameraman.

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