‘Footsteps in the Fog’ (1955)

Ripping yarn.

Shot in England for Columbia, this is a Victorian thriller whose story should be discovered by the viewer step by fog-shrouded step. It begins with a funeral attended by grieving widower Stephen Lowry (Stewart Granger). When he returns to his posh mansion, with the camera tracking his broad back through gates and doors that he never closes behind him (or else we couldn’t follow), we get our first well-played indication that he is not what he seems. Neither is the put-upon little mouse of a housemaid, Lily Watkins (Jean Simmons, Granger’s wife), who dares to reach beyond her place and surprises even herself with her cool audacity. The viewer follows spellbound as their machinations twist around each other in an unpredictable pattern of alliances and cross-purposes.

Other characters are one-dimensional–a lovestruck maiden (Belinda Lee), her clueless father (Ronald Squire) and jealous suitor (Bill Travers), the doughty Inspector (Finlay Currie), a blackmailing weasel (William Hartnell), and other types–but all are allowed at least a moment or two for projecting their perspectives on a drama with more than one murder. Of course the show belongs to the two protagonists, and Stewart and Simmons make the most of these profoundly ambiguous creatures. We regard them with amusement, compassion, and sometimes discomfort. We fear for them and dread them. Both are formidable and sad, especially Lily, whose only desire is to “serve” the master she loves.

Based on the story “The Interruption” by W.W. Jacobs (best known for “The Monkey’s Paw”), this carefully written script is by Lenore Coffee and Dorothy Reid, famous for focusing on women characters. Reid was silent star Dorothy Davenport, famously the widow of morphine addict Wallace Reid. The prolific and illustrious Coffee wrote vehicles for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford; this film came the same year she scripted the Deborah Kerr version of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.

This fair Technicolor 1.85:1 print has a few out-of-focus scenes that might possibly be part of the negative, although it seems unlikely that the great color photographer Christopher Challis (The Tales of Hoffmann ) and director Arthur Lubin (the 1943 Phantom of the Opera ) would have let it go. What’s definitely a remastering issue is that the titular fogbound scene looks like hell on an HD screen. The color on the trailer is obviously faded in comparison with the feature.

RATING 7 / 10