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  Mr. Denning Drives North Fury Road
Year: 1951
Director: Anthony Kimmins
Stars: John Mills, Phyllis Calvert, Eileen Moore, Sam Wanamaker, Herbert Lom, Raymond Huntley, Russell Waters, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Freda Jackson, Trader Faulkner, Sheila Shand Gibbs, Bernard Lee, Michael Shepley, Ronald Adam, John Stuart, Ambrosine Phillpotts
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Tom Denning (John Mills) is in the dock, awaiting the jury's verdict on his murder trial. He looks to them anxiously, and is horrified to hear them pronounce him guilty - as if that wasn't bad enough, the judge then tells him the sentence for his crime is death. He protests that they have it wrong and he will fight this order, but the judge pushes apart the two halves of his desk and advances on him, extending a fist to punch him in the face... Ah, but it's all a dream, Mr Dennings has been suffering a nightmare of which he has been having a fair few recently ever since he had an experience weeks ago. Everyone around him wonders what is amiss, but he's not telling, snapping at anyone who tries to make him see sense...

Mr Denning drives north over and over again in this thriller which marked another success for John Mills, who had quickly become one of the most popular stars of British post-war cinema. Here he got an acting workout as the theme of the piece was to put him through as much mental anguish as it possibly could, or his character at any rate, heading for a breakdown, not in his car but in his mind as he wrestles with the guilt of what he has done. He panicked when he should have kept a cool head and done the right thing, but through Mills we can certainly feel the oppression of his conscience making its presence apparent in every scene. Therefore this could easily have been a rather sadistic experience.

What lifted it above the dubious pleasure we were intended to draw from a simple act of placing one man who made one big mistake through utter torture for an hour and a half was how convoluted the script from Alec Coppel (adapting his own then-recent novel) became, often to the point of lunacy. That sustained the entertainment value, take the first instance of Denning cracking up when he abuses his position as an aerospace engineer (which obviously pays very well as he has a Rolls-Royce and a butler to make his life easier) to take one of the light aircraft up over the airfields and hangars, then buzz the people on the ground with it, a ridiculous sequence which nonetheless is highly amusing.

Not being the sort of recklessness the normally sensible Mills essayed in his movies, so we can tell right away something is up if that frankly rather great nightmare sequence that commenced the story was not enough. Actually, in another eccentricity the film started with a short clip of Denning and his wife Kay (Phyllis Calvert) driving north over which the opening credits were spoken by a stern narrator who was never heard from again, much like Orson Welles did in a few of his self-directed efforts: was the director of this, Anthony Kimmins, hoping for generous comparisons? He wasn't going to get them, but that wasn't to say his endeavours here were all camp, as he delivered a nice line in psychological pressure for his protagonist to manfully endure.

So what exactly has Mr Denning done that was so awful? We discover that when he decides a problem shared is a problem halved, and admits to his wife what's bearing down on him. It appears he has accidentally killed Herbert Lom! Well, not Mr Lom personally, but the dodgy foreigner he played who Denning's daughter Liz (Eileen Moore) was planning to run away with. To prevent this, he concocted a scheme where the fiancé with a criminal past ("white slavery" is one thing he was charged with!) will pen a goodbye letter to Liz and leave the country; as a shifty sort, he agrees to give up his supposed love but as Denning is heading out of the door he makes a remark to the effect that he has already enjoyed carnal relations with the young lady, and her father exploded, knocking him to the floor - and knocking him out for good. Where this goes next was part of the suspense, though you might just as well be chuckling as it skirts very close to farce, probably more if it hadn't been for Mills' panicky performance, backed up by a welcome cast of familiar faces. Music by Benjamin Frankel.

[This has been released on DVD by Network as part of their British Film line.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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