Like fine wine and Guinness Stout, genre movies don’t always travel well. These would include an unfortunate number of cheapie British B-thrillers featuring name Hollywood actors brought over to England in the 1940’s and ‘50’s to add box office allure both at home and abroad.
Film stars such as George Raft, Dane Clark, Dennis O’Keefe, Alex Nichol, Dan Duryea, Arlene Dahl, Ginger Rogers, John Derek, Barbara Payton, Dana Wynter, and Jayne Mansfield all crossed the pond to star. Television had weakened their hold on audiences and the UK productions gave them opportunities to continue to feature and to earn an easy dollar (in some cases, a much needed one).
Unfortunately, their presence didn’t always make for better pictures. Too often it did more harm than good, as it was evident the stars were there only to be there. It also magnified the sense of de facto cultural uncertainty around these British thrillers. Already they were seen as imitative and rather tepid versions of American-style crime dramas. Adding token Hollywood involvement to the mix only underscored the conviction that these productions were not the real thing.
However, one movie actually strengthened by the presence of an American actor was ‘Forbidden’ (1948), a stylish noir thriller starring Douglass Montgomery. Montgomery had starred in the early ‘30’s opposite actresses such as Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn but by the end of the decade was yesterday’s news. After serving four years in the Canadian army in WWll, he'd become no news at all. However, the good-looking and affable Montgomery was ideally cast as a scientist estranged from his work and unhappy husband living emotionally and sexually apart from his wife. That his character happened to be Canadian served to reinforce his otherness.
Jim Harding was once a promising research chemist but through circumstance now works as a patent medicine man peddling hair restorer on Blackpool’s Golden Mile funfair. There he becomes attracted to Jeannie Thompson (Hazel Court) who spins candy floss at nearby stall. The two get together and begin an affair without Jim revealing to Jeannie that in fact he’s married to Diana (Patricia Burke).
While not exactly a femme fatale, Diana is one of the most venomous women in all of film noir. She’s a failed stage actress who persists in trying to get back on the boards even if it means sleeping with any joker she hopes can help her get there. Meanwhile, she refuses to give Jim a divorce because he still does provide her some financial security however meager. As she says, “Having a husband in the background at least gives me some choice”.
Diana hears of Jim’s affair from a local spiv, Johnny (Kenneth Griffin who specialized in playing assorted lowlifes and weasels). Diana confronts Jeannie, tells her that Jim is married, and attempts to buy her off, calling Jeannie “a fairground slut” and saying, “Why don’t you stick to your own kind or don’t they pay enough?”
When Jim finds out what Diana’s done, he decides that he’s had enough. Diana takes thyroid pills to control her weight and with his knowledge of chemistry, he figures he can increase the dosage enough to kill her without raising suspicion. Following through, he later finds her dead in their apartment and takes and buries her under the slate tiles of his factory lab. But it doesn't end there.
Harding is not a character we should like. He's complacent, compromised at every turn and often too ready to play the victim. And yet Montgomery persuades us to go along with Harding and to sympathize with him. Like Richard Basehart in ‘He Walked by Night’ (1948), Montgomery takes a character from whom we’d maybe rather keep our distance and renders him compelling.
The two female leads, Hazel Court as Jeannie Thompson and Patricia Burke as Harding’s wife Diane provide a fascinating contrast. Court, an actress with a doll-like radiance is a decent working class carny girl who knows her place. As she says, “I tried looking up over the fence once. Now I’m in me own back yard and it suits me fine”; Burke’s Diana on the other hand, is convinced her place is somewhere else but she’s really just ‘mutton dressed up as lamb’ and the only one who doesn’t know it is her.
‘Forbidden happens mostly in the vicinity of the funfair, a natural gathering place for fast-buck artists, con men, grifters, and wide boys like Johnny and his gang. The amusement park is a recurrent location in film noir and often is more threatening than amusing. And ‘Forbidden’ is a threatening film.
Told in flashback, 'Forbidden' was given an expressive direction by George King (’Crimes at the Dark House’ 1940), ‘The Shop at Sly Corner' 1947) and cinematographer Hone Glendinning's camerawork is visceral. Glendinning also shot ‘The Shop on Sly Corner' 1947, ‘The Noose’ 1948, and ‘Shadow of the Past’1950).
Once considered a ‘lost’ noir ' Forbidden' is part of Odeon Entertainment’s ‘The Best of British Collection’.