Watching 1939: Inquest (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film: 
Inquest (1939)

Release date: 
Dec. 1939

Cast: 
Elizabeth Allan, Philip Friend, Harold Anstruther, Herbert Lomas, Malcom Morley, Jean Shepherd, R. Watts-Philipp, Richard Coke, Charles Stevenson, Jack Greenwood, Jack Madren, Hay Petrie, Basil Cunard, Olive Sloan, Barbara Everest, Basil Cunard

Studio: 
Highbury Studios London

Director: 
Roy Boulting

Plot:
A gun is found in the ceiling of an old cabin where the Hamilton couple used to live. Margaret Hamilton (Allan) moved after the death of her husband Tommy. When the new owner finds the gun and sees the gun has two empty shells (indicating that it was once fired), he calls the police. Margaret is then contacted by the police and her deceased husband is exhumed. Margaret is then tried in Coroner’s Court, which is accusing her of killing her husband.

1939 Notes:
• The first film of Philip Friend.
• By the numbers:
– The only film Elizabeth Allan was in 1939. Allan receives a special “And” credit after the rest of the cast.
– Herbert Lomas was in seven films released in 1939.
– Barbara Everest was in three films released in 1939.
– Hay Petrie was in seven films released in 1939.
– This was Olive Sloane’s only film of 1939.

Other trivia: 
• Visatone Sound Recording System was used for the sound of this film, which was only used on a handful of films.
• The film focuses on the Coroner’s Court, which is seen as not as fair. The definition of the Coroner’s Court in the United Kingdom is as follows:
The coroner’s court is a court of law, and accordingly, the coroner may summon witnesses. Those found lying are guilty of perjury. Additional powers of the coroner may include the power of subpoena and attachment, the power of arrest, the power to administer oaths, and sequester juries of six during inquests.
• Written prologue of the film is:
‘The office of Coroner is of great antiquity and no satisfactory account of its origin can be given.’ Halsbury’s “The Laws of England.”
‘It is even more difficult to give a satisfactory reason for its continuance.’ ‘English Justice.
• Directed and produced by brothers Ray Boulting and John Boulting, respectively.
• Adapted from a play by Michael Barringer.
• An earlier version of Michael Barringer’s film was made into a film in 1931 under the same title. It starred Mary Glynne, Campbell Gullan and Sidney Morgan.

Elizabeth Allan and Philip Friend

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
While “Inquest” was made to be shown as a low-budget double feature, this 57-minute crime mystery a surprise: it was much better than I expected it would be.

The film begins when a gun is found in the ceiling of an old home. Because two shots are fired and the gun was hidden, it is automatically assumed that the gun was a murder weapon. The suspect is Margaret Hamilton, played by Elizabeth Allan, who lived in the house with her husband who died suddenly. His body is exhumed and Margaret is tried by a coroner’s court, which is defined in the UK as:
The coroner’s court is a court of law, and accordingly, the coroner may summon witnesses. Those found lying are guilty of perjury. Additional powers of the coroner may include the power of subpoena and attachment, the power of arrest, the power to administer oaths, and sequester juries of six during inquests.

Knowing nothing about this film or most of the actors entering this film, my expectations were low. I thought it would have a terrible storyline like other brief, low-budget 1939 films I have described. The only actor I was familiar with was Elizabeth Allan, who starred in MGM films in the early and mid-1930s.

However, the whole film I was kept on the edge of my seat wondering what really happened. The end takes a sudden and unexpected twist.

The film also may have a social message. It begins with a prologue:
‘The office of Coroner is of great antiquity and no satisfactory account of its origin can be given.’ Halsbury’s “The Laws of England.”

This made me wonder if the goal of this brief film was also to criticize the coroner’s court.

This film was also an early feature project where twin brothers Ray Boulting (director) and John Boulting (producer) partnered. The two later collaborated on films like Thunder Rock (1942), The Family Way (1966) and There’s a Girl in My Soup (1970)

While not the most notable film of 1939, this British “quota quickie” is a sleeper. Check it out for the surprise ending.

Check out the Comet Over Hollywood Facebook page, follow on Twitter at @HollywoodComet or e-mail at cometoverhollywood@gmail.com

 

Thank you for reading! What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.