In 1890 on the gaslit, foggy streets of London, policemen are being targeted by a murderous madman known as “The Terror.” High class jewel thief Nicholas Revel (Peter Lawford) coincidentally steals a famous emerald the same night and location of the last attack. Nicholas, now a prime suspect of the murders, must clear his name and find the real murderer, using himself as bait.
Here’s our anti-hero — the charming, sophisticated gentleman thief, Nicholas Revel. When we first meet Nicholas, he is practicing stealing a necklace from around a bust’s neck. With a flick of the wrist he displays his skill, boldness, and precision, thus setting the tone and enjoyment of our movie – watching Nicholas weave in and out of situations in his inimitable way.
Whether entering a society event through a mirrored door, or teaming up with the police commissioner’s daughter (Dawn Addams) to plant suspicions in any direction but his, Nicholas confirms his adage – “The safest place is in a crowd.”
Though this is a little known film, The Hour of 13 has noteworthy folk on its production team. Let’s take a look at some of them…
The Hour of 13 was made at MGM’s British studios and was adapted from X v. Rex, a novel by Philip MacDonald. MacDonald’s most famous screenwriting credit is for his adaptation of Rebecca (1940). The screenplay by playwright Leon Gordon and Howard Emmett Rogers (Libeled Lady, 1936) is delightfully witty and smooth. This film is a remake of The Mystery of Mr. X (1934) with Robert Montgomery in the lead.
The production designer on The Hour of 13 was Alfred Junge – arguably the most influential art director of his time. Junge had been a collaborator with Powell and Pressburger on eight of their films, starting in 1939 and ending in 1947 with Black Narcissus, for which he won an Oscar. Junge worked on everything from Alfred Hitchcock’s early films (The Man Who Knew Too Much, Young and Innocent) to Technicolor spectacles — Knights of the Round Table and Mogambo (1953). The sets are indeed lush and pleasant to the eye in The Hour of 13. Junge brings Victorian England to life with detailed sets, luxurious decor and his recreation of the city of London is brimming with atmosphere and mystery.
Admittedly, I had never heard of the director Harold French before seeing The Hour of 13. I learned that French was a British stage actor and director who caught the film bug. During his twenty year movie career, he was known for comedies but proved his versatility with war films, thrillers, musicals, and dramas. Although he is not as celebrated among British film directors, French has some interesting credits to his name including Disney’s Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue (1953). I am so impressed with The Hour of 13 that I want to see more of his work. Any recommendations? Please leave them in the comments!
On to the cast…
I was curious how Lawford would fare within a period mystery. I love him in Easter Parade and Good News, but those delightful, fluffy musicals are a horse of a different color to a dramatic crime story. I shouldn’t have doubted. Lawford fit so well into the period mystery scene that I wish he had done more of them. Victorian England was the perfect setting for his refined speaking voice, elegant manners, and aristocratic bearing.
I loved seeing Lawford play an ambiguous character. The signature Lawford charm was evident, but he gave Nicholas an extra bit of edge that made him a compelling character and one of his most interesting roles and performances during this stage in his career.
The rest of the cast is assembled with excellent British actors. Dawn Addams is innocent, lovely and provides a nice contrast to the enigmatic Lawford. Roland Culver (Thunderball) earnestly plays Scotland Yard inspector Connor, the man determined to frame Lawford. Leslie Dwyer and Colin Gordon provide light comic relief as Lawford’s accomplices. Michael Hordern, Heather Thatcher (Beau Geste, 1939) and Richard Shaw round out the cast.
In a way, this movie reminds me of To Catch a Thief (1955) with our suave jewel thief on the run from the police, while trying to track down the real thief, or in this case, the real murderer. And in the same vein, our sympathies lie with our anti-hero.
The Hour of 13 is not pretentious – it knows its bounds and stays within them, while the able cast provides a solid piece of entertainment for those willing to descend into its world of dark alleys and urbane thievery.
This post is my contribution to The 2nd Annual Peter Lawford Blogathon given by Kristen of Hoofers & Honeys in honor of Peter’s birthday, September 7th, 1923! Thanks for letting me participate, Kristen!
CLICK HERE to read the other entries about the talented Mr. Lawford.