Footsteps In The Fog

UK (1955) Dir. Arthur Lubin

Having just buried his wife, wealthy Stephen Lowry (Stewart Granger) finds himself being blackmailed by his maid Lily Watkins (Jean Simmons) who discovered the fact Lowry poisoned his wife for her money. Completely besotted with her master, Lily at first asks to be made housekeeper then fires the other staff who had bullied her previously. But when Lowry attempts to kill Lily one heavily foggy night he accidentally kills the wife of a local policeman instead. Lily proves invaluable in the aftermath of this error which is just the beginning of more trouble for Lowry.

This British period crime thriller from veteran director Arthur Lubin is based on the short story The Interruption by W.W Jacobs. It’s probably a little unfair to immediately make a Hitchcock comparison but the truth is the story is right up his street, since Hitch himself has made films about spouses bumping each other off (Dial M For Murder for example). But he would have done more with this story whereas Lubin tells the whole tale inside 85 tightly packed minutes. Not a scene is wasted but the characters do suffer from being a little hollow with expository conversations being there main contribution.

Providing a subplot is solicitor David MacDonald (Bill Travers) who is in love with socialite Elizabeth Travers (Belinda Lee) who happens to be in love with the recently widowed Lowry. David isn’t happy about this and tells Lowry, who puts on an upset face that anyone would assume he is ready to date again so soon after burying his wife, but secretly he is chuffed at this news.

However with Lily staking her claim to Lowry’s heart he is in a bit of a situation, but at least there is David who can woo Elizabeth away – but if he can’t Lowry has a choice to make. Being the deviant type Lowry indeed makes his choice but someone is going to get hurt in the process, and not in the emotional sense, forcing him to concoct a devious plan to get around the safety net one of them has in place in case something should happen to them.

And thus we have a complex game of cat and mouse as this love quadrangle is about to implode as seventy-five percent of the participants enter into self-preservation mode. Seventy-five percent you ask? Yes, David the solicitor is unhappy that Elizabeth is head over heels with Lowry but can’t help think the guy is dodgy and tries to warn Elizabeth off him. He is unsuccessful until he receives a visit from Lily’s brother-in-law Herbert Moresby (William Hartnell) changes everything.

These moments of rushed plot developments add plenty of intrigue to the eventual outcome, with the main players forced to rely on their guile and capabilities for hatching devious plans to outsmart each other, but they are often added in a hasty, sequential manner as if to telegraph the next move to the audience. Had the film run a longer this could have been addressed and a great sense of tension would have been achieved.

Outside of this little quibble the script is fairly well thought out and most of the questions that pop into our heads while watching get a satisfactory answer – except why Lily and Elizabeth think Lowry is such a catch unfortunately. With just a short story to work from, screenwriters Lenore Coffee and Dorothy Davenport (a former silent film actress) have crafted a fairly taut and pseudo-gothic tale with snappy and astute dialogue and a strong female lead in Lily to offset the typical lovelorn eye candy of Elizabeth, and the stuffy, testosterone aura of the males.

Lily is something if a femme fatale in many ways – ambitious, cunning, manipulative – yet there is a pervasive air of innocence about her, a simplicity in her myopic pursuits that creates the impression of someone fighting from behind the eight ball at all times despite holding all the trump cards. In a beautifully measured performance, Jean Simmons plays her as such, making her a villain you want to hug and get behind, creating a childlike character possibly in search of a father figure than a husband. The irony is that Simmons was married to co-star Stewart Granger at the time, with him being sixteen years her senior, prompting suggestions of the same thing from Simmons in real life.

It is interesting to note that when the two are on screen together their natural chemistry enhances the dynamic of the scene, Granger in particular seems to transform from a fairly listless performer into a much more livelier one in his wife’s presence. Bill Travers as David suffers from the same problem of inertia for the most part, hardly registering more than one facial expression while Belinda Lee is suitable window dressing. In a more interesting support role is soon-to-be Doctor Who William Hartnell, shockingly not playing a heavy or a sergeant major but a working class chancer at which he is surprisingly effective!

Very much a product of its time, this film is somewhere between the stiffness of post war British cinema and the impending explosion of Hammer horror films, the Victorian setting and gothic atmosphere being the shared elements with the latter. Shot in colour, this suffers from the overpowering presence of green creating a washed out, dull veneer that dates it badly bit once you get past that, it does add something to the mood and eeriness of the Lowry mansion once the story gets darker.

It may be under the radar compared to many other films in the genre and the period, but Footsteps In The Fog is an enjoyable period drama that builds into a clever thriller. It is hardly a paradigm shifter but it has enough good ideas, an engaging story and a strong lead performance to fully satisfy the audience.

The cinematic equivalent of the little dog with the big bark.  

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