Short Ends and Leader

'The Verdict' (1954)

Greenstreet and Lorre go Victorian

The Verdict

Director: Don Siegel
Cast: Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre
Distributor: Warner Archive
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1954
USDVD release date: 2009-05-08

Among many good films Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre made together, one of the most atmospheric and insidious is the last, The Verdict, a Victorian whodunit with surprisingly modern elements. It's available on demand from Warner Archive.

Greenstreet plays Superintendent Grodman of Scotland Yard. In the gripping first reel, he's hit with the news that a man who's just been hanged for murder under his investigation was in fact innocent. This is shortly after he's delivered a wonderful speech about the bitter-tasting fruits of his profession, where success is measured by hanged men. The disgraced Grodman wanders the fogbound streets in a daze, hearing execration heaped upon him from the same public who cheer the death penalty in their cry for law and order. There's a delicious sequence of nightmare images superimposed over his blubbering profile.

Peter Lorre plays his friend Victor, an illustrator who spends most of his time drinking with chorus girls. When one of their friends is murdered in a locked bedroom, they investigate while Grodman's ambitious replacement (George Coulouris) stumbles around arresting whomever he can, including the victim's brassy girlfriend (Joan Lorring) and a short-tempered Member of Parliament (Paul Cavanagh) who sticks up for the rights of miners. Another sharply etched character is the hysterical busybody of a landlady (Rosalind Ivan), who provides delightful details.

Peter Milne scripted from Israel Zangwill's classic The Big Bow Mystery, a milestone that's both the first locked-room murder (or rather the first credible one) and a parody of the detective story. The film is so ingeniously twisty that the viewer simply watches each new development and apparent digression with rapt attention, or at least this one did. While the solution might occur to today's viewer, I think it's surprising anyway and reminds us that the originators of a genre are often its most subversive players. In its quietly unsettling way, the story observes the ease with which authority can convict an innocent man; more than a plot device, it's a crucial theme that unites the whole narrative.

This is the feature debut of Don Siegel, who begins an illustrious career in tough contemporary crime films with this richly artificial period piece. The TCM website credits critic Jean Pierre Coursodon for pointing out a distinct similarity between this film and some of Siegel's later, more famous ones, but spelling it out here would give away too much. Siegel has the sense to take full advantage of excellent actors, a smart script, and the cinematographic chops of Ernest Haller, who demonstrates the same facility with brooding, silken black and white as in Mildred Pierce and Humoresque, only without Joan Crawford. Frederick Hollander provides the music, including a tarty throwaway song for Lorring's nightclub act; it falls within his docket for cabaret-type numbers, especially for Marlene Dietrich. In my book (say, where is my book?), this remains a curiously underrated example of postwar Hollywood craft.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.