Saturday, May 30, 2009


Although "The Hour of 13" (**1/2 out of ****)doesn't top its predecessor, this polished but minor MGM item still qualifies as an entertaining, above-average, mystery thriller with a good cast, atmospheric studio settings, and competent direction. Arguably, "The Hour of 13" ranks as one of Peter Lawford's better starring roles in his extremely uneven and spotty career as a leading man.

Released in 1952, during the notorious McCarthy era, this Harold ("Rob Roy, The Highland Rogue") French directed film looks as if it were subjected to harsher censorship than its 1934 original. Nevertheless, scenarists Howard Emit Rodgers & Leon Gordon integrate the approved social propaganda seamlessly into their screenplay about what happens when a vindictive serial killer who ices British Bobbies on the beat in cold blood crosses paths with a handsome gentlemen jewel thief in London sometime during the 1890s. The Terror, the name by which the killer is known, murders a policeman near a house where a dinner party is in progress. As it turns out, the Lawford character has just filched a valuable jewel from around a lady's neck and is in the process of making good his escape when he stumbles onto the dead bobby. Mistakenly, the police suspect that the serial killer and the jewel thief are one in the same. As Connor, a high-ranking Scotland Yard inspector, actor Roland ("Thunderball") Culver makes a tenacious adversary. When Lawford comes forward to testify that the British officer that the police have arrested could not have been the murderer, Connor suspects that the Lawford character may be the killer himself in this cat & mouse Victorian mystery-thriller. The Rodgers and Gordon dialogue is very British and wonder to listen to.

Between 1935 and 1968, the Catholic Church forced Hollywood filmmakers to alter their movies to accommodate the Legion of Decency or weather a boycott. This pressure advocacy group demanded that Hollywood show the police in a positive light and that criminals must be punished for their crimes. "The Hour of 13" does a splendid job of observing the Production Code while allowing us to sympathize with Peter Lawford's urbane jewel thief Nicholas Revel. No, I won't divulge the surprise ending, since it needs to be experienced first-hand to be enjoyed, but "The Hour of 13" should leave you satisfied. Incredibly, the police are smart for a change, though they make an occasional mistake (check out the 'switch the liquor glass' scene), and the Peter Lawford anti-hero (he does steal for a living) often finds himself in several suspenseful tight spots. When he isn't tangling with the serial killer, he is dodging the nimble-witted Connor and a number of undercover London policemen assigned to shadow his every move. Dawn Addams provides the romantic interest as the daughter of a London cop who is engaged to marry an Army officer. Initially, Scotland Yard suspected the Army officer because he was found with the dead policeman's helmet in his hands. It is interesting that the Lawford character has no love interest and that the Dawn Addams character remains devoted to her husband-to-be. Of course, when the suitor discovers that Revel and his intended have dined together often he is disturbed. The revelation of the serial killer's motives is a nice touch. The Connors character poses more of a threat to Revel than the serial killer.

Anybody who has perused any books about Frank Sinatra and the infamous Rat Pack, of which Lawford was a member until Frankie gave him the boot) or books about MGM stars will really enjoy "The Hour of 13." According to books like The Rat Pack and The Men of M-G-M, Lawford severely damaged his right arm during his youth. Reportedly, he smashed it through a French door and did more damage to it when he extracted it. Consequently, his right arm remained virtually useless, except for minor things such as shaking hands, opening & shutting doors, and holding books. He relied visibly on her left hand and often anchored his right in his pants pocket. Armed with that knowledge, you'll be able to fully savor Lawford's performance. In the long shots, in a scene set in a darkly-lit warehouse, our heroic jewel thief fights with the villain and uses his right arm. Clearly, this was a double, because Lawford could not have done this on-screen fracas because of his physical impairment. If you like inside production information, background stuff like this will elevate your appreciation of all things Lawford.