Man Bait (1952)

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Bookstore owner John Harman (George Brent) shares a brief kiss with his young blonde employee Ruby (Diana Dors), and when she tells her slimy ex-con boyfriend Jeff (Peter Reynolds) about that and how she accidentally tore her blouse on a file cabinet, Jeff sees a chance to blackmail her boss. The sudden death of John’s invalid wife sets off a chain of events that include Ruby getting murdered in the store and John becoming prime suspect. John’s wartime nurse turned loyal and devoted employee Stella (Marguerite Chapman), helps him try to clear his name, but further complicating matters is John’s assistant manager, the prim, strict and ambitious Clive (Raymond Huntley), who harbors an unrequited love for Stella. Clive too eagerly calls the police and takes over the store when there’s still just the thinnest circumstantial evidence against John.

It’s a simple plot that starts out shakily because you want to yell at John not to have that late night “work” session with the pouty vixen Ruby, who sets out to seduce him and then blabs all his financial and personal details to impress the jerk she caught shoplifting a rare book. Some dumb actions get the complications rolling, but they still come off as consistent from John, the overly kind, traumatized veteran and Ruby, the naive bad girl who doesn’t realize she’s dating a psycho. The slow build also fits the fine bookstore setting (and what a nice store it is) and does a good job setting up personalities so their motivations believably move the action later.

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After the schemes and crimes stack up and start going wrong, the movie gets more interesting, and is raised above average by drawing on the network of pasts, jealousies and resentments at the store and the nightclub where Jeff hangs out. The plot follows these two tracks and makes smart, unpredictable turns that feel natural, even when they depend on bad luck and random chance. Jeff is a rude and petulant ladies’ man who treats all women as disposable, but he accidentally kills Ruby, and improvises a frame-up that calls back to The Last Page (the movie’s original title) of the best-selling mystery that Clive has been raving about. It’s satisfying to see him get robbed by his former flame and then watch her rat him out to the police. It’s just as fun to watch Stella talk a bitter Clive into helping John find key evidence at the store. It all ends with John’s heroics during a fire–director Terence Fisher ended quite a few films that way.

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The pedigree on this one is good; Fisher directed from a script adapted by Frederick Knott (Dial M for Murder, Wait Until Dark), from the play The Last Page by James Hadley Chase (No Orchids for Miss Blandish). This was the first of the Hammer-Lippert partnership that produced several crime movies featuring American actors through the 1950s.

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13 thoughts on “Man Bait (1952)”

  1. Quite a good little movie all told. Nicely directed, with a bit of location work, and a suspenseful feel. One thing though, how could so many people possibly earn a living in such a small bookstore?

    1. I know, it’s a huge staff, I guess they sell a lot of those first editions or children’s books (which took up the whole lower level)! Enjoyable picture.

    2. Maybe because those were the good old days when there was no internet, no iPad, and no eReaders. People actually had to go out and buy books at a bookstore :-D.

      Tam

      1. True. Still, the store didn’t look that big, or seem to be doing the kind of rip-roaring trade to keep ’em all going. Anyway, it’s just a tongue in cheek observation – the movie’s a good one all the same. 🙂

    1. It is good, at first I thought it would play out slow and predictable but avoided all that once it got going. There were some good gems in those Hammer noir years, I’ve seen a bunch of them now.

  2. Thanks for the reminder of this natty little movie, K.

    It’s funny how different in approach the movie’s two titles are — it was originally called The Last Page — while at the same time both being good titles: one nice and noirish, the other nice and clever.

    1. A lot of the 50’s Hammer noirs go by different titles, I always have to look them up to be sure which is which. And a lot of these are good, I think I’ve seen about half of them now, I know you recently liked Blackout which I should get to soon.

  3. I’m a total sucker for Brit Fifties B Movies with
    American leads.
    As I mentioned on a previous thread CLOUDBURST
    is the best of the Hammer Noirs.
    HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE (Heatwave) is the
    second best. Carry on’s Sid James gives a wonderful
    performance in this one as a sweet natured millionaire married to
    a Femme Fatale.
    Tempean were also making good Noirs in the Fifties,
    worth checking out are TIGER BY THE TAIL (Larry Parks)
    THREE STEPS TO THE GALLOWS (Scott Brady)
    IMPULSE (Arthur Kennedy) and THE GILDED CAGE
    (Alex Nicol)
    Tempean also cashed in on Hammer’s Horror boom
    (BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE,FLESH AND THE FIENDS,
    JACK THE RIPPER) using Hammer talent,(Cushing,
    Sangster.)
    Hammer later used Tempean’s “house” director
    (Underrated John Gilling.)
    Also worth mentioning are the Merton Park B Thrillers
    Some of the best are as follows:
    DIAL 999 (Mona Freeman,Gene Nelson)
    THE COUNTERFEIT PLAN (Zachary Scott,Peggie Castle)
    TIMESLIP (Faith Domergue,Gene Nelson)

    Then there is handsome,likable Canadian actor
    Lee Patterson who during the Fifties was more or less the
    “King of Brit B Crime Flicks”

    I have used the British titles of the above films,most of
    them had alternative titles for the American market.

    Tuning into “Kristinaland” is rather like watching a Tarantino
    movie…you just never know what’s going to happen next.
    Many thanks for a wonderful varied blog!

    1. Every time you say that you make me want to change my blog name to Kristinaland!

      Keep these recommends coming because I do jot them down. I’ve seen most of the VCI released pictures, missing a couple though. I have Timeslip and Heatwave. And Lee Patterson was always well known in my home not only from movies but also his soaps in the 70s-80s. These are lots of fun and addictive, once you start on them you want to run through a bunch. Thanks!

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