23 Paces To Baker Street, 1956. 7/10

Different sort of mystery in that the protagonist, a playwright, Phillip Hannon (Van Johnson) is blind. That makes sense of the title (at first I though Baker Street implicitly meant Sherlock Holmes territory). There’s a small sub-genre of mystery with a detective with a built-in disadvantage; like James Stewart’s character in Rear Window.

Vera Miles plays Jean Lennox. Inspector Grovering is Maurice Denham, Cecil Parker is his butler, Bob Matthews; there’s Alice MacDonald (Patricia Laffan), a barmaid (Estelle Winstead), Joe (Liam Redmond), Lady Syrett (Isabel Elsom), Pillings (Martin Benson), and Janet March (Natalie Norwich).

Jean pops in to visit Phillip; he’s bitter about his condition “I’m all right as long as people leave me alone!” He starts off being a jerk and hardly lets up until the very end. A very coincidental visit to pub means that Phil overhears a man threaten a woman; something about a child, the name Mary, and enty of garbled stuff–interestingly, we don’t see any more of them than Phil does. But Phil gets so absorbed in the mystery that he records a dictation of what was overheard and arranges for the police to listen.

Obviously, what they hear can’t remotely be considered evidence, so they brush him off. But, Phil’s only getting started. He deduces that the woman he heard was a care provider who’d been sent on a job to the very entertaining Lady Syrett. Following the clue of the mystery woman, Janet, to her employment agency, we find Pillings, who acts a bit fidgety. Jean and Phil concoct a scheme to attract Janet’s attention, but they end up instead with Alice–Lady Syrett confirms that Janet is not Alice.

But Janet, responding to the ad to contact Phil, gets it right after she finishes her call. That sets up a very noirish sequence for Phil, in which he thinks he’s meeting Janet’s father in the pub, but instead he’s lured into a condemned building, and locked into a half-collapsed room. Thanks to his intuition and Bob’s arrival, he survives.

It seems that the ‘Mary’ in the mystery conversation was the Queen Mary. In other words, the plot involves kidnapping a child arriving from America on the liner. The police find the girl’s wheelchair and doll in a park. (Before we leave the Queen Mary topic: we get a quick scene at the police station in which the Inspector pronounces another passenger’s home as ‘Who-Stun’, that is, to us Yankees, he means Houston TX).

Soon, they’ve found the girl, unharmed. That’s easy enough. But the actual denouement leads us back to Phil’s, he lays a trap for Evans. It works out well, as his antagonist is ultimately booted off the fire escape and is done for. The final twist is that ‘Evans’ was a woman, that is, Alice.

Well, for me, the real surprise is that Phil, having barely survived his own ambush, would bother to risk ‘turning the tables’ on ‘Evans’ when all he has to do is call the police. I can see him preparing for the intruder, but to make a game out of it, including the cunning use of the tape recorder, is just stretching his luck.

This movie’s got an interesting premise, with nice on-location setting, and a pretty good sense of plotting. It’s fairly long, thanks to a lot of Jean/Phil scenes–some of which add a bit here and there; but, for me, the romance just exists on paper. Phil really doesn’t seem like an appealing choice for Jean, especially since he stood her up before. The other thing, which isn’t as noticeable, is that Bob’s comic relief is not funny, and far from being relief, is just a distraction.

23 Paces is worth seeing, and entertains well-enough. Farmermouse loved the tea party fixins’ at Lady Syrett’s. He gives this seven scones. 7/10.

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