J. A. Pearson's Bookstore: Home to blackmail, secret passions and murder.
The Last Page (AKA: Man Bait) is directed by Terence Fisher and adapted to screenplay by Frederick Knott from James Hadley Chase's story. It stars George Brent, Marguerite Chapman, Raymond Huntley, Peter Reynolds and Diana Dors. Music is by Frank Spencer and cinematography by Walter J. Harvey.
John Harman (Brent) is a London bookshop manager who finds himself blackmailed by his busty young assistant, Ruby Bruce (Dors), and her new ex-convict beau Jeffrey Hart (Reynolds), when he foolishly steals in for a kiss during after hours stock taking.
British Hammer and American Exclusive teamed up to produce a number of low budget crime dramas in the early 1950s, often using American stars and directors blended in with British actors, they were produced in Britain in next to no time. The Last Page is a safe viewing for the undemanding film noir fan. Terence Fisher would become a legend amongst British horror fans (rightly so) for his work on Hammer's reinvention of the Universal Creature Features. Here he crafts a nifty atmospheric melodrama without fuss or filler, while just about managing to stop the flaws and daftness of plotting from sinking the picture.
Story has some interesting noirish characters and themes. The man who begins to pay for a moment of weakness, the young shapely gal in over head-lured to the dark half by a well spoken criminal element, while some secret passions amongst the staff of this particular bookstore come to the fore once things inevitably go pear shaped. The setting is a doozy as well, this bookstore is perfectly antiquated, so much so you can smell the leather bound novels nestling on the shelves. Walter Harvey's (The Quatermass Experiment) photography ensures that shadows feature throughout, and there's the odd macabre touch that befits the writing of Frederick Knott (Dial M for Murder/Wait Until Dark).
Cast are professional to the last. Brent (The Spiral Staircase) and Huntley (I See a Dark Stranger/Night Train to Munich) are the epitome of gentlemen in a rut, stoic and stiff, grumpy yet gritty, but nicely portraying men we expect to appear in a bookstore noir. Chapman (Coroner Creek) has an abundance of hard looking sexuality and Reynolds has a spiv nastiness about him, very cold but charming. But it's Dors who holds all the aces, she would impress herself upon many a red blooded male during three decades of British film and TV. Here at aged 21, as Ruby, she's a curvy blonde babe with full lips, a gal who understandably turns the heads. The character is tardy as well, hardly a crme, but mostly in Dors' hands she's believable as a girl clearly out of her depth, she's not a femme fatale, she's a weak willed person hurtling towards film noir doom. It's here where this British B noir gets its worth.
It's not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a good one considering the modest budget afforded it. There's dumb decisions made by characters, holes of plotting and the ending fails to seal the deal after the hard noirish mood eked out by Fisher, Harvey and Dors. However, as film noir time fillers go, it's well worth checking out. 6.5/10
VCI's Region 1 DVD is a mostly good transfer visually, with the odd moment of line trace and jump, but the sound mix is distinctly ordinary.