GIDEON OF SCOTLAND YARD (John Ford, 1958)

T.E.B. Clarke adapted John Creasy’s first Gideon novel, Gideon’s Day, providing visiting Yank John Ford with an opportunity to make the film. Jack Hawkins shrewdly plays Inspector George Gideon, who is followed throughout the course of a single day, during which he misses dinner and his daughter’s onstage celloing but solves or resolves a string of criminal cases into the wee hours. One of Ford’s signal accomplishments is the balance his elegant, rambunctious film strikes between the chaos and confusion in which his hero and Scotland Yard cohorts seem to operate and the air of justifiable competence and wit that especially Gideon brings to the practice of police work.
     Ford, who directed The Informer (1935), shows here another police informant, a weasily though endearing cockney (Cyril Cusack, who gives the film’s most wonderful performance), whose life is in jeopardy, occasioning an incisively (rather than messily) thrilling chase. Abetted by cinematographer Frederick A. Young, moreover, Ford conjures voluminous fog that’s as haunting and eerily dangerous in color as the earlier film’s fog was in black and white.
     Anna Massey plays Gideon’s daughter, Sally. Early on, Ford’s camera lingers as Raymond Massey’s lovely daughter and Ford’s own godchild walks up steps, outdoors. This is a shot that will captivate men. Later in the film, another teenaged girl is shown walking upstairs indoors, the camera recording her observance by someone who has insinuated himself into her mother’s house, a sexual psychotic who will rape and murder her. The earlier shot of Sally implicates us in the sick man’s compulsion, stretching thin the line between “normality” and “perversion.” How I love John Ford!
     Meanwhile, Sally’s spirit and independence mark a generational change from her mother, Gideon’s cheerfully submissive wife.
     An Irish film, this, despite the London setting.

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