When it comes to Friday the 13th films, audiences generally recollect horror films involving a man in a ski mask. But before those gory films came to be, British film released by Gainsborough Pictures follows a group on a bus just minutes before the clock strikes midnight on Friday the 13th.
Directed by Victor Saville, Friday the Thirteenth (1933) the film begins with the following statement:
“You hear of an accident. There are victims. Strangers to one another. Supposing we could put back the clock and see how chance made these strangers share this appalling moment.”
The film begins as we see people riding a bus on a rainy night with the clock ticking closer to Friday the 13th. Lightning strikes a crane, and the bus driver has to swerve to miss the falling debris and wrecks. Newspapers flash on the screen with headlines about the wreck and that two people were killed. Before we know further, Big Ben ticks back to the beginning of Thursday the 12th and we see what lead everyone to get on this bus.
The film is divided into six stories, which are even segmented in the credits:
On The Bus: This follows Alf the Conductor (Sonnie Hale) and the driver Fred (Cyril Smith) as they argue about bets and discuss their superstitions.
Joe of the Caledonian Market: Joe (Max Miller) is a fast-talking shyster, selling phony goods in the market with undercover cops and a detective on his tale.
Jackson the Shipping Clerk: Jackson (Eliot Makeham) is a mild-mannered clerk who is planning to surprise his wife and take her on a cruise. However his wife, Eileen (Ursula Jeans) has another lover on the side.
Wakefield the ‘City’ Man: Wakefield (Edmund Gwenn) is an important businessman who has a very forgetful wife, Flora (Mary Jerrold). While her forgetfulness frustrates him, it may help him financially in the end.
Blake the Gentleman of Fortune: Blake (Emlyn Williams) seems good-natured when we first meet him but his intentions aren’t good, particularly when meeting up with Frank Parsons (Frank Lawton) who used to be in jail.
Mr. Lightfoot in the Park: Mr. Lightfoot (Robertson Hare) is a befuddled little man who is conned into buying a girl a pair of silk stockings after his dog tears her stockings.
Millie the Non-stop Variety Girl: Millie (Jessie Matthews) is a dancer who is in love with the schoolmaster, Horace Dawes (Ralph Richardson) and the two plan to be married. However, Horace wants Millie to give up her dancing career and she doesn’t agree with his idea.
Once we learn each of their stories, the film returns to the scenes at the beginning just before the wreck. But now, we know all of their backstories. For example, we now know the man reading the travel pamphlet isn’t as happy as he appears and the one offering to pay for another’s fare isn’t so benevolent. The crash occurs again and it is revealed where each person is and who lives and who died.
While I would consider Jessie Matthews, Ralph Richardson and Edmund Gwenn to be the biggest named stars in this film, there is no main lead actor in this story. This film is a true ensemble cast and each story gets equal pay. All of the stories are entertaining and each has a different tone. Jackson’s story is a little sad or sorry, Blake’s story is threatening, and Mr. Lightfoot’s is light and comedic. I can easily say the Ralph Richardson and Jessie Matthews story was my favorite.
This is an entertaining and interesting movie. I usually enjoy a retrospective story. My only complaint was there were too many stories to keep up with. With seven different stories, I got a little confused at one point who was who, especially when a new character was brought into one of the stories.
Never the less, this is a clever film and is a lucky gem to find on an otherwise unlucky day.