Track the Man Down (1955)

Kent Taylor and Petula Clark in TRACK THE MAN DOWN (1955)

This 1955 British heist movie has gangsters, hostages, a comic-romantic angle, and some too-cute plot twists, but doesn’t suffer too much from those, remaining an entertaining enough B thanks to a fast pace, a fun mix of familiar faces, and a look at a huge pop star years before her massive worldwide success.

Singer Petula Clark plays a woman whose sister (Ursula Howells) is involved with a mobster who just helped heist a greyhound racing track, killing a guard in the process. That boyfriend (George Rose) comes over to the sisters’ flat with the loot in a bag (unbeknownst to the girls), plans a getaway with said sister and pesters Petula about her well-placed suspicion. Meanwhile, reporter Kent Taylor (pre-code romancer, TV’s Boston Blackie, lots of B westerns) is frustrated by his editor’s reluctance to let him cover the heist, assigning him instead to some silly entertainment story — stalking a maturing actress who’s just stormed out of her latest production. Somehow, through movie magic, we witness the crossing paths of the reporter, the actress, the suspicious sister and the whole mob of ruthless gangsters, plus if you act now I’ll throw in a busload of various and sundry colorful characters and also a small town doctor, all of whom get sucked in to this plot as if compelled by the irresistible gravity of a black hole. It’s kind of ridiculous if you put too much thought into it, and even if you don’t, but luckily this movie moves along just fast enough and has enough watchable actors (who are at their best when they don’t take the story too seriously either) that you don’t mind going with it.

And here’s how they all find each other; when the police come questioning Petula’s sister, she leaves word that Petula is to bring the bag to her and mobster boyfriend at a certain place on the way to Southampton. Petula goes Downtown (I can’t, and won’t resist) to Victoria station, and noticing some swarthy peculiar fellow is shadowing her Round Every Corner, she pops into a phone booth occupied by none other than Kent Taylor, arguing with his editor. What a coincidence! Instantly intrigued by the obviously fake story Petula gives him about being stalked by her angry husband, Taylor sticks around, and is accosted by a friendly alcoholic, who leads him back to the actress he was sent to cover. They all end up on the same bus (because Petula Don’t Sleep in the Subway darling) along with a young mother, her little boy and sick baby. Rose ends up taking the whole group hostage, keeping them in a boathouse overnight as the baby gets sicker. Petula says, I Know a Place to find a doctor, and gets chaperoned by the milder of the gangsters, played by the able scene-stealer Kenneth Griffith (The Prisoner, Four Weddings & a Funeral, political activist and documentary filmmaker) leaving behind a lipstick scrawled message on her compact mirror.

This movie, which could have been totally silly material in lesser hands, is handled skillfully thanks to some experienced talent. The Gloria Swanson type diva actress is played by Renee Houston (closer to say she looks like an older Jean Brooks complete with hairdo from The Seventh Victim). Houston is sharp and sarcastic throughout, and has a great confrontation with gangster Rose, telling him what a pathetic little man he is. Houston was briefly married to Brian Aherne’s brother and had a long career, appearing in Repulsion and many Carry On films. Kent Taylor is here as he was in most of his work; charismatic, capable and classy, just right for the slick newshound who could charm his way into anything. Petula, a star who’d worked since childhood in every area of entertainment, took a long break from acting not long after this movie. In a few years she’d reinvent her sputtering recording career and kick off her huge pop success on this side of the Atlantic with Downtown. Director R.G. Springsteen was more than qualified to make the plot breezy and efficient; the veteran with tons of B westerns under his belt soon after embarked on an equally prolific TV run directing series like Tales of Wells Fargo, Wagon Train, Bonanza, and so many, many more.

 (picture source)

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4 thoughts on “Track the Man Down (1955)”

  1. People on our side of “the pond” forget Petula was a considerable star in Britain in the 1950s, both as an actress and a singer. She didn’t have chart success stateside until nearly a decade after this movie came out.

    1. yes on a par with Shirley Temple, doing everything –radio, TV, music, movies. It was fun to see her at this point in her career. thanks for dropping by!

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