Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Snorkel (1958, Guy Green)

Another Hammer thriller co-production with Columbia Pictures, this time directed by Guy Green (Academy Award-winning Cinematographer for David Lean's masterful 1946 Great Expectations) from a Jimmy Sangster co-authored screenplay, based upon a story by Anthony Dawson (he of the long visage and thunderous expression, the evil Marquis of The Curse of the Werewolf [1961] and the treacherous Professor Dent of Dr No [1962] among many other roles).

This little thriller killer begins with a strangely Columbo-esque opening, as we see the killer's meticulous preparations and planning for the murder that is about to occur, then watch the deadly act being carried out.  This particular murderer is Paul Decker (German actor Peter van Eyck, later to appear in classics such as The Longest Day [1962] and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold [1965], as well as many a Teutonic Dr Mabuse semi-sequel), arranging the death of his wife via gassing in a room locked from the inside, whilst he survives hidden in the room breathing through the titular device which is attached to a tube to breathe air from outside.  So the police arrive to be confronted with a sealed room murder (Columbo meets Jonathan Creek?), as van Eyck gives a seething and malevolent performance in silence from his hiding place beneath the floorboards.

The particular 'One more thing'-ing one-eyed detective on this case however is Decker's stepdaughter Candy (played by fourteen year old child actress Mandy Miller), who had already suspected him of murdering her father in a 'boating accident' and is now convinced he is responsible for the death of her mother.  Her pleas to the local police inspector (the wonderfully named Gregoire Aslan, later star of epics King of Kings [1961] and Cleopatra [1963]) and her guardian Miss Edwards (Betta St John, of Corridors of Blood [1958] and the memorable role of avenging witch Patricia Russell in the quite marvelous The City of the Dead [1960]) falling on deaf ears, Candy takes it upon herself to prove her wicked stepfather's culpability in this 'impossible murder'.

Miller's performance as Candy is so annoyingly and unrelentingly adolescent that i did find myself (as i always did with Peter Falk's televisual investigations) sort-of hoping that the killer would get away with it.  However, Decker's willingness to murder loveable and inquisitive dog Toto after it uncovered a clue was unforgiveable (even if it may have given a certain green-hued Ms Thropp a thrill from whichever dimension in which she now resides).

Nicely tense, well played and with assured direction from an Oscar worthy ex- Director of Photography, this is yet another gem that deserves to be more than a curiosity obscured by its burgeoning Gothic Horror Hammer brethren.

(Though Decker's plan to give drugged milk in order to murder did make me wonder if the women in this family were related in some way to a certain Mr Baracus who didn't want to get on no plane.)


  1. From the title and intial photo, I was expecting a cut price snorkel based alien/mutated person, what I got was an interesting sounding murder mystery. I have to wonder if audiences at the time made a similar mistake :D

  2. I'd always wondered about it myself - i remember reading the title 'The Snorkel' - and it being a Hammer film - as a kid, but had absolutely no idea what the hell it could possibly be about. I was very pleasantly surprised. And also glad to have another film from the Alan Frank book 'Horror Films' that i was given for my 11th birthday ticked off the list.

    It's not really a horror though. Psychological murder / thriller? You can't really say 'murder mystery' when you see the guy doing the killing right at the start.

  3. Maybe it still counts as a murder mystery if it's a mystery for the police but not for the audience?

    Reminds me of that recent case where Jensen Button and his wife were gassed with anaesthetic pumped through the air conditioning so thieves could steal their stuff.

    Why do thieves never use chloroform any more? There used to be loads of it about in Sherlock Holmes stories and suchlike.

    It's a shame that the kid is annoying, because she looks quite nice.

    This film sounds much more sinister with its German title: Der Schnorchel.

  4. Many things sound sinister in German. I wish i'd thought of the Jensen Button thing at the time of writing: i'd have worked in a mention and perhaps an ill-humoured joke about it.

    I suppose it's less a mystery and more a procedural: but with a young girl doing the investigations rather than the police.

    I was probably a bit harsh on Ms Miller - her acting's really good. It's just that 90 minutes of a crying and emotionally overwrought child confirmed absolutely my lack of interest in being a parent. There's only room for one attention-hogging emotionally overwrought person in this house and i was here first!