Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959)

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To think at a moment like this I’ve no pad and pencil to record it all! Edinburgh geologist Oliver Lindenbroook (James Mason) and his assistant Alec McEwan (Pat Boone) set off on an expedition to the center of the earth. Following directions found in an inscription hidden in volcanic rock, the explorers travel to a volcano in Iceland to begin their journey. Along the way, a widow of a famous scientist Carla Goteberg  (Arlene Dahl) and an Icelander Hans Belker (Peter Ronson) join their party. However, the treacherous terrain and prehistoric monsters are not their only concern when rival scientist Count Saknussemm (Thayer David) is on their trail… With Charles Brackett and Walter Reisch adapting Jules Verne, you know you’re in for a humdinger action adventure fantasy and so it proves, with Mason returning to the author a few years after giving us his anguished Captain Nemo. Even Pat Boone warbling My Heart’s in the Highlands can’t deter us from enjoying monsters, subterranean flora, romancing Scots, an underwater ocean, a rumbling volcano and being sucked into the magnetic vortex that is the core of Earth itself with Dahl going through a virtual orgasmatron at the climax. Quite fabulous. Directed by Henry Levin with a score by Bernard Herrmann.

She Played With Fire (1957)

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Aka Fortune is a Woman.  I don’t suppose she’ll stay a widow very long.  Insurance detective Oliver Branwell (Jack Hawkins) uncovers a shifty art dealer’s ingenious scheme but is unable to do anything about it because the crook Tracey Moreton (Dennis Price) has married the investigator’s ex-girlfriend Sarah (Arlene Dahl) and he fears that she may be involved. The detective’s dilemma continues until the dealer gets careless one day and Branwell wonders if Sarah has anything to do with a series of arson attacks when he starts being blackmailed …  With a screenplay by director Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder and Val Valentine, working from a novel by Winston (Poldark) Graham, a splendid cast (including Greta Gynt, Bernard Miles, Ian Hunter and Christopher Lee!) and a great setting, you know you’re in for a good if complex noirish melodrama. Why let a little fraud get in the way of romance? Would you believe the preternaturally beautiful Arlene Dahl capable of murder? She’d been quite naughty in the previous year’s colour noir Slightly Scarlet, so you never know. Watch and wait … with a terrific score by William Alwyn.

The Black Book (1949)

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Also known as Reign of Terror, this is an incredibly exciting tale of the French Revolution. For those more familiar with his 50s Westerns and 60s epics, it may come as a surprise that this noir film, which is widely seen as an allegory for the HUAC blacklisting, is from director Anthony Mann. Not so much when you learn one of the writers is Philip Yordan, beefing up the original script by Aeneas Mackenzie and you realise this is no ordinary action flick. (Yordan spent the blacklist era outside the USA, churning out his own work and fronting for others for whom his home served as a refuge.) Stunningly shot by John Alton, Robert Cummings is a serviceable hero opposite villainous Robespierre (Richard Basehart) and Arlene Dahl was never lovelier as the seemingly duplicitous Madelon. Arnold Moss is terrifying as Fouche, the police enforcer. William Cameron Menzies constructed the sets from the leftovers of Joan of Arc (1948) and the tension in the hunt for the eponymous list of Robespierre’s enemies is palpable. Masterful filmmaking.