Review: Torment/The Paper Gallows (1949): Operation Illogic Bomb

Brother, can you spare a crime?

Taking one for the team department:

Probably the best things I can say about director John Guillermin’s 1949 film Torment (aka The Paper Gallows) is it’s only a scant 65 minutes and that time certainly isn’t wasted, as the story gets right to it as soon as the film begins. A man in a trench coat and hat sneaks into a dark house and seems to shoot another man dead. It turns out, that man in the trench coat is Jim Brandon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dermot_Walsh), a crime novelist who reenacts violent crimes for his novels but is having a bit of trouble with his latest book. Jim lives with his brother Cliff (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bentley_(actor)) and a pretty live-in secretary, Joan (Rona Anderson). Cliff also writes crime novels with better success, it seems. Cliff and Joan quickly figure out Jim is cooking up a new murder mystery based on the sound of multiple gunshots around the house (and Cliff also discovers Jim is using real bullets this time!). Jim shows up and fails in dictating his new ideas to Joan, but Cliff tamps his now cranky brother down while Joan prepares the evening’s dinner (soup, spaghetti and prunes- yeesh!).

Cliff and Joanie, NOT siting in a tree….

Yes, we find out both siblings have a thing for Joan, but she’s more attracted to Cliff, as he’s a LOT more stable than his brother, who’s more than a little strange, as we’ll soon find out (or if we haven’t guessed already). Cliff mentions that one Curley Wilson (Michael Martin Harvey) is supposed to drop by later that evening to chat. Apparently, Curley is a former criminal with a penchant for lock picking, so the plan is to leave the front door unlocked and let Curley have his fun with it when he arrives, which he does. Cliff goes looking for Curley after he hears what he thinks are movements in another room, but finds a dead cat Jim had strangled earlier during his opening “murder.” Weirdly, Joan is only mildly upset about this once she’s told. Cliff soon finds what he thinks is Curley’s corpse with a knife in his back, but the body vanishes after he tells Joan and worse, Jim suggests they all go to bed soon after, which they do. Curley isn’t found at all, but everyone goes to bed as if nothing happened that evening? But wait, there’s MORE.

MVD sells this on DVD if you really want to see this.
Demanding that “A” for effort and still failing the class..

It was at this point where I had some major questions, but I decided to keep watching because I figured the film would pull itself up from the fresh holes it had dug for itself and the second half would make some kind of sense. But, nooooooo. The film’s single mindedness not only revealed who the murderer was (and too soon at that), the story tried valiantly to toss a few noir-like monkey wrenched plot devices into the mix guaranteed to deceive absolutely no one as the murderer tried to cover some tracks (and actually commit a new murder, to boot). This ends up as a good looking, moody and dark toned film that’s filled with unbelievably strange characters, bizarre situations and one dead cat, whose demise is brushed off one too many times. There’s an awful gunfight/chase late in the movie that’s laughably predictable and the ending feels somewhat unsatisfactory even as a character gets their just desserts. Fortunately, the director made much better films later on in his career, and you can see that growth in specific works. As noted, this only 65 minutes long, so it’s not a total waste of time, but you’ll feel cheated if you go in with any great expectations.

-GW

3 thoughts on “Review: Torment/The Paper Gallows (1949): Operation Illogic Bomb

  1. Hey Greg! I guess that’s one British noir I’ll be giving a wide berth to…though I’m curious if I’d really “grip my seat with excitement.” I’d never heard of this film before now (under either title), and perhaps there’s a reason for that…but what prompted YOU to watch it?

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      • Well, maybe I WILL give it a watch…I’m now curious to see it looks. And who knows, maybe I’ll spot the hidden subtext you missed and actually enjoy the movie!

        And I thought I’d heard of John Guillermin before, and sure enough…the 1976 version of ‘King Kong’! And I love this line from his Wiki page: “Mr. Guillermin had a reputation as an intense, temperamental perfectionist, notorious for screaming at cast and crew alike.” I wonder if anyone ever screamed back at him!

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