Warn That Man Review
England, the early 1940s. The Nazis, finding out that Lord Buckley (Raymond Lovell) entertains many Very Important People at his residence, concoct a plan. While the staff and Lord Buckley himself are held captive, Haussman (Lovell again) impersonates the master of the house, with plans to abduct "That Man" (Winston Churchill) when he next spends the weekend at Buckley Hall. Unfortunately for them, Lord Buckley's niece Frances (Jean Kent) has already arrived and guesses what is going on, and her suspicions are shared by her fiancé John Cooper (Philip Friend) and his friends George Hawkins (Gordon Harker) and naval captain Andrew Fletcher (Finlay Currie)...
If that premise sounds familiar, it's more or less that of The Eagle Has Landed. But this is from a play by Vernon Sylvaine, a prolific playwright specialising in comedy and farce, produced in 1941, two years before this film version (for which Sylvaine wrote the screenplay, with director Lawrence Huntington) and thirty-four years before Jack Higgins's novel was published and thirty-five before its film version. The film's stage origins are quite apparent, as despite some location work, some special effects and a couple of scenes in the tank at Welwyn Studios, much of the action in a relatively short running time (82 minutes, 79 on this DVD with PAL speed-up) and it's as much comedy as it is thriller. How much of that is a matter of taste: personally a little of Gordon Harker goes quite a long way. Raymond Lovell does well in a dual role, with trick photography making him appear at times in the same scene as himself, Philip Friend is bland, Finlay Currie dials up the Scottishness and Jean Kent defines "plucky female lead". Lawrence Huntington's filmography features a lot of what his IMDB entry refers to as "routine second feature melodramas and thrillers", starting at the dawn of the talkie era in 1930 into the 1960s, with work on television from the 1950s onwards. As old as the century, he died in 1968. While no one would call Warn That Man an overlooked gem, it's clearly a professional job of work – you sense he got this one done before going on to the next. After its cinema release, Warn That Man disappeared into the archive. This is its first release for home viewing, though it had at least one UK television showing on Channel 4 in the late 1980s.
Warn That Man is released by Network as part of their British Film Collection, licensed from StudioCanal's who own the rights to the Associated British catalogue. It is released on Blu-ray and DVD. The latter was supplied for review, and is single-layered and encoded for Region 2 only. Affiliate links above refer to the DVD. For those for the Blu-ray, go here.
Filmed in black and white and Academy Ratio, as you might expect for a film of this vintage, Warn That Man is presented on DVD in the ratio of 1.33:1. It's an unfair comparison to the simultaneously-released Night Birds: this film is thirteen years younger and clearly the original materials are in a better state, hence the HD master and the Blu-ray release. On DVD it looks fine, and contrast – vital to monochrome – and greyscale look accurate. There is still some signs of print damage here and there, and some unusually large cue dots where the reel changes would have been.
The soundtrack is the original mono, and is clear and well-balanced. What is a fair comparison to the Night Birds DVD is that this one does have English hard-of-hearing subtitles available. At one point, sixteen minutes in, the subtitler seems to have admitted defeat and the end of one sentence is rendered as "[UNINTELLIGIBLE]". I couldn't make it out either.
The only extras are two PDF files, one a playbill for the original play from December 1941, which shows that Gordon Harker originated his role on stage. The other dates from June 1945 and is a playbill for another Sylvaine work, Madame Louise, which was later a BBC Sunday Night Theatre production in 1956, but curious viewers will be disappointed to hear that it is lost from the archives. Brian Rix played in and presented that production and Madame Louise was one of six Sylvaine plays produced for the BBC in 1972, recorded from stage productions, under the series label Six of Rix. All of those are lost as well. Vernon Sylvaine died in 1957 at the age of sixty-one.