Peter Lawford, Gentleman Jewel Thief in The Hour of 13 (1952)

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.

15 thoughts on “Peter Lawford, Gentleman Jewel Thief in The Hour of 13 (1952)

  1. I ADORE Peter Lawford! ❤ I love all the Rat Pack guys at virtually any stage of their careers (as a group or on their own), and I feel Lawford doesn’t get enough attention.

    I’d never heard of this film 😮 – but I can definitely see how it would be in his wheelhouse. To me, he’s just as good at playing a sharp, intelligent character who keeps his knowledge close to his vest as he is at being a romantic, lovesick puppy who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s very good at “subtle” – which I’m sure lends itself well to this “so clever, he stays one step ahead”-type role.

    One of my favorite Lawford moments is in Sergeants 3 (which, if you can get past how it’s steeped in stereotypes, is actually a rather clever spin on Gunga Din)…Frank Sinatra has just knocked out a drunk and wild Dean Martin with one punch, and Lawford (who had strolled in just in time to witness this), casually asks, “Personal matter?” LOL. He underplays it to perfection! And I’m sure he uses that sort of deadpanned yet whip-smart sensibility to great effect in this movie, too. 🙂

    Thanks for putting this film on my radar!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right on, Jillian…you already knew Lawford’s capabilities at this type of character while he took me totally by surprise! I’d like to see Sergeants 3. I came across it in researching for the blogathon and now that I have your recommendation will bump it up on my viewing list 🙂

      I can totally see that scene that you’ve described playing out in my head! Haha!

      If you get the chance to see The Hour of 13, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. My guess is that as a fan, you will be in Lawford heaven 🙂 Also, do you have any recommendations for more Lawford roles similar to this one? I really enjoyed seeing a different side to his acting. It gave me a new appreciation for him.

      My pleasure! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Surprisingly, no. 😮 I didn’t realize until I glanced over his IMDb – but not only have I not seen several of his films, those I have seen in which he shows this different side are still within a comedic or romantic context.

        He has some enigmatic moments in Ocean’s 11 (especially when it seems he may have double-crossed the group). And in Sergeants 3, he plays a soldier who wants to leave the service and settle down with his girl – and he’s usually on top or ahead of Frank and Dean’s schemes to keep him in. There’s also Just This Once, in which he plays a rich playboy trying to outwit Janet Leigh, who’s been hired to manage his finances. (Unfortunately, I think Ocean’s 11 is a hot mess – and I’ve only seen Just This Once once, but I felt it fell apart at some point.)

        Then there’s his strictly “lovesick puppy” roles. 🙂 I’ve seen Easter Parade, Little Women – and my most recent find, It Happened in Brooklyn, with a young, sweet, Clarence Doolittle-like Frank Sinatra (only two years after Anchors Aweigh). It was almost too much sweetness for one screen. ❤ I loved it! 😀

        In my scanning, I also noticed that he was in two Alfred Hitchcock TV episodes. The Alfred Hitchcock Hour is streaming on Peacock right now, so I may check that out…I was scarred by Psycho at an early age, and I’m still usually skittish about Hitchcock (it’s why I went with a non-thrillerish choice for the Bernard Hermann blogathon) – but I may risk it for a shot at seeing “stealthy” (or maybe even “creepy”) Peter.

        I do recommend Sergeants 3, but I feel the need to repeat my disclaimer: it’s filled with badly done, typical Western stereotypes (to the point that it kept me from giving it a chance for a long time), BUT it’s also funny, silly, and a surprisingly clever adaptation of 1939’s Gunga Din that perfectly suits the Rat Pack and the Old West.

        I searched for The Hour of 13, but I don’t think it’s available to me right now. :/ But if I get a chance to watch it, I’ll be sure to let you know what I think. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for the great info! I’ll keep my eyes open for It Happened in Brooklyn and will check out those Alfred Hitchcock Hour episodes. They’re probably just what I’m looking for! 🙂

        P.S. I love Little Women, and Lawford’s chemistry with June Allyson is so sweet. Can’t say which I like better Good News or Little Women. I have yet to see their first pairing, Two Sisters from Boston, but it looks very cute.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I wanted to take in some more Peter Lawford content before replying. 🙂 I highly recommend his first Alfred Hitchcock episode – The Long Shot”, in Season 1 of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. Unfortunately, concerning his second appearance, I found his performance to be the only worthwhile part of the episode (which really disappoints me, because it also stars Martha Hyer and Julie London!). In both, he’s not really “stealthy Peter” or “creepy Peter”…He’s more like “shifty Peter”, which I find very interesting! His first appearance, the one I really recommend, is a downright showcase for him! 😀

        I also watched Good News for the first time. 🙂 (It was on TCM recently, and it’s still available on Hulu Live.) I was surprised (and impressed!) that he sang and danced so much! 😀 And all that French! ❤ What a way to set him apart from other young leading men of that time!…Alicia Malone said in her intro that he spoke French fluently but June Allyson didn’t speak it at all – and she was said to have admitted that Lawford spent hours teaching her how to teach him to speak French. 🙂

        This was also my introduction to Joan McCracken (she got my attention because our body types are similar – I was like, “Score one for the short girls!”). It was neat to see Mel Torme, and Connie Gilchrist is always amazingly funny. 🙂 Thanks for the recommendation!

        I haven’t seen Two Sisters from Boston either, and I don’t think it’s available to me right now. But there is another new-to-me Lawford film still on Hulu’s TCM – Exodus, starring Paul Newman. I’ll try to catch it before it expires.

        By the way, I mostly work from home now (since the beginning of the pandemic), and my job is independent and sometimes monotonous – so I play a new movie or show during the slow and quiet times, as background entertainment. That’s how I’m able to watch things so fast. 🙂

        Also, I meant to say in my last comment: One of the reasons I started my blog was to connect with others who share my interests. I enjoy chatting with you! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      4. I look forward to seeing The Long Shot. Sounds great! Yes, wasn’t he perfect for those ambiguous characters?

        Ah, nice catch with Good News! Yes, I love that backstory and the library scene he does with June Allyson is just wonderful. It makes me smile every time. He impressed me as well with his singing and dancing. You probably know this already being a Lawford fan, but I learned his right arm was impaired so he couldn’t really use it except for light tasks and learned to conceal it in his films. I would have never guessed it from watching him.

        Let me know how you like Exodus if you get the chance to see it! So glad you enjoyed Good News and that you started your blog! Thank you 🙂 It’s so nice chatting with you, Jillian. I have a feeling we will be discovering and appreciating many films together 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      5. Oh, wow – I did not know that about his arm! 😮 Poor guy. 😦 But I never would’ve guessed either…That also speaks well of the filmmakers he worked with, as I’m sure he needed help accommodating and concealing it.

        Yes, I think we will, too. 🙂 I look forward to discovering and appreciating more films with you! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      6. Exodus was my work entertainment yesterday. 🙂 It was ideal to work to – but I think it would be difficult to sit and watch it all at one time. It’s definitely an epic (3+ hours long!), a little slow, very intricate, and sometimes hard to follow. (Even with such length, it seemed that some important moments were missing.) If you watch it, I recommend either splitting it into parts or being prepared to really settle in. I have to pause frequently while working anyway, and trying to keep up with the detailed plot and all the politics made me do so even more. But there was something compelling about it that pulled me through to the very end, and it was sort of fun to spend the day with it. 🙂

        As for Peter Lawford, this role showcased yet another new side – “obnoxious Peter”! 😮 It was a totally different part than I ever imagined him playing – a sniveling, sort of nerdy, blatantly (yet realistically) anti-Semitic British military officer. But he dove into it 100%, which made watching him sort of fun. 😀 Also, he had an adorable little Errol Flynn-esque mustache. ❤ 🙂 He’s only in the first hour or so, as the story eventually moves away from him…And now that I think about it – I tried to watch for it, but I didn’t notice his arm at all! 😀 He was really expert at hiding whatever was wrong. (Gracie Allen was the same way…She suffered a really bad burn in childhood that left her scarred and with limited mobility in one arm. She always wore long sleeves and a large bracelet on that wrist – to hide a scar – and just worked around it.)

        Aside from Peter, the real bright spots for me were Sal Mineo (I often forget how much I like him, but he’s always tragically wonderful) and Jill Haworth. This was her first film role (she was only 15 at the time), but she seemed to be a very self-possessed young lady. Definitely gave off Grace Kelly / Audrey Hepburn energy. 😀

        I was very impressed, but had never heard of her – so, of course, I had to do some research. 🙂 Some interesting tidbits: she apparently went the bombshell glamour girl route as she got older, she was the first Sally Bowles in the original production of Cabaret, and she and Sal Mineo were very close and involved in real life – and it all began with this film. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      7. How interesting! Now that you mention it, I can imagine Peter in that kind of role and doing quite well! I’m discovering through our chats that Peter was not a “Johnny one note” – he was a layered performer.

        I remember seeing Sal Mineo in The Greatest Story Ever Told and Giant, but that’s all I’ve seen of his work…I need to fix that. I’ve never heard of Jill Haworth but she sounds like an actress I should learn about!

        Every now and then I get the itch to watch an epic, so I will put Exodus on my watch list 🙂 With a quick Google search I saw that the film was directed by Otto Preminger whose work I admire, especially Laura. And Eva Marie Saint is wonderful too.

        Thanks for sharing about this film, Jillian! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

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