Friday, 1 March 2013

The Clouded Yellow

‘The Clouded Yellow’ is a cracking little thriller, a Brit Noir with an obvious debt of gratitude to ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’. It was directed by the under rated (not by me) Ralph Thomas in 1950.

It stars ginger crackpot Trevor Howard as David Somers, a secret service agent who, after a balls up behind the Iron Curtain, finds himself quickly and summarily unemployed. Somers is a wily, resourceful and dangerous man, but covers this with the outward signifiers of bumbling upper class idiocy – a big moustache, a tweed jacket, a yellow waistcoat. He hates traps of any kind. He also drinks far too much.

Desperate for any type of employment, he takes a job at a remote country estate cataloguing a butterfly collection. It’s not his kind of work, but it gives him time to think and removes him from the temptations of the city. It also brings him into the strange orbit of Sophie Malraux (exquisite Jean Simmons) the troubled, elfin niece of his employer. Sophie is a bag of nerves who is treated (unfairly) as if she is mentally ill by her aunt and uncle, but Somers sees beyond her wonky fringe (always a giveaway) and the two outsiders gradually fall in love.

She's mad - you can tell by her fringe.

The only cloud on their horizon is in the form of smarmy gamekeeper, Hick. Hick is apparently knocking off Sophie’s aunt and, in the oleaginous form of our old pal Maxwell Reed is a pomaded, self-satisfied sleazeball with a penchant for innuendo and other peoples combs. When Hick turns up dead after a comb-based argument with Sophie, she becomes the prime suspect. Trap hating Somers suspects a fit up, so he and Sophie go on the run.

'Oh sorry, toots, is this your comb?'

'Well, I like that'. 

What follows is a breathless escape that takes us from Hampshire to Newcastle and across the Pennines to Liverpool, pursued all the way by the Nice Old Police and Somers’ worried secret service contacts. Somers comes into his own, however, and uses every trick in his OSS handbook to evade capture. he even shaves off his moustache.

A favourite scene is set in a sinister taxidermists where Somers attempts to get himself and Sophie false passports. Surrounded by ex-animals, they are met by a deeply shady man cuddling a stuffed ape. They get what they need, but they must have been worried there for a moment. Luckily, no-one had heard of serial killers in the fifties.  

'Sorry for the delay, I was just stroking my monkey'.

At the last moment, on their way out of the country disguised as father and son, the real murderer makes themselves known, trots out a reasonable explanation and tries to kill Sophie with a dock workers hook. A thrilling rooftop chase ensues, then a fatal accident which involves falling in front of a goods train. Ouch.

Never cut your own hair.

Captain Hook.

A nasty way to go.


Despite being adapted from a best selling book, 'The Clouded Yellow' occasionally seems to have been made up as it went along which, in this case, enhances the desperate, improvised nature of Somers and Sophie's escape. Occasionally very exciting, it should be better known, really - but then people wouldn't be able to discover it for themselves.

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