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The Snorkel
(1958)

Director: Guy Green
Cast:
Peter van Eyck, Betta St. John, Mandy Miller, Gregoire Aslan


Although regular readers of this web site will know that I regularly watch movies with a lot of violence and other kinds of law-breaking activities, in my private life I certainly don't emulate all that stuff I see in movies. I am actually a pretty normal person in my various interactions with others, maybe even a little dull. The main reason I don't get into criminal activity is that I certainly don't want to do anything that would risk me facing time in jail or prison. And also, like a certain brand of oatmeal, it's the right thing to do. Neverless, I must confess that in my spare time, my thoughts on occasion run towards thinking about doing criminal activity. It's certainly not because I want to actually execute these criminal activities. Instead, I treat these thoughts as a kind of mental exercise. After reading so many stories about criminals whose activities in crime were done in such a stupid manner that they ended up getting caught and put behind bars, I want to know that I am much smarter than those dim-witted fellows. Also, I want to know if there is such a thing as the perfect crime, though I admit that after thinking about various crimes for many years, I have concluded that a perfect crime is near impossible. Take arson, for example. Though it was once stated on Monty Python that everyone has at one point wanted to set fire to some great public building, for me the potential problems of doing so have made me balk in quick notice. How to transport the flammable materials to the building without anyone noticing? How to get the fire started without risk getting burnt up yourself? And how to get away from the blaze before firemen and other authority figures coming to the scene that might see you and later identify yourself in a lineup?

Then there is the crime of theft. Well, that comes with its own unique potential problems. There are so many cameras everywhere you go, so you are probably being photographed even before you enter the building where you intend to steal something. Not to mention security alarms, safes, and other protective measures that make the art of the steal harder than ever in this day and age. But the crime that I think about more than arson and theft is murder. Just a few seconds of thought about this crime instantly brings up so many obstacles that I don't even get close to seriously thinking of doing it myself. For one thing, it's likely you will be suspected by the authorities shortly after doing the murder, because there is the fact that the majority of murders are done by people who knew the victim. But even if you think you are cleverer by killing a random person, you'll still find a whole heap of problems just with the act of murder itself. Strangling a person takes a very long time, and your victim will be struggling throughout. For that matter, stabbing a person can also take an eternity to do, and you'll leave a big mess that could potentially have evidence pointing to you as the culprit. Shooting a person will make a lot of noise. Then there is all the work you have to do after killing the person, unless you are dumb enough to leave the crime scene intact with possible evidence pointing you. Cleaning up a crime scene is hard work, and can sometimes leave new evidence pointing to you that wasn't already there. If you decide to move and dispose of the body elsewhere, you have to risk the chance of being caught with the corpse during the transportation... and risk the body leaving evidence during the transportation... and disposing of the corpse in a way that nobody will later discover it.

As you have just seen, there is a lot to consider when it comes to the deadly art of murder. When I am putting the idea through my mind, I sometimes think that maybe I have planned a perfect murder, only a few seconds later realize that I have missed something that could point the way to me. The SnorkelThere is also the fact that it seems that every year, the police come up with new technologies to more quickly than ever solve recent murders or reopen cold cases and capture long running fugitives, such as DNA technology. Another factor is that with all the movies I have watched that have centered around someone committing "the perfect murder", the endings of these movies usually have the message that there is no such thing as the perfect murder. Even though this message has been countlessly repeated in my experience, I still find each cinematic journey to that message interesting to a degree, which is why I was up to seeing The Snorkel. I also wanted to watch it for this web site because I recently realized (to my embarrassment) that up to now, I have never reviewed a movie from the Hammer studio, which this movie is. The "perfect murder" in this Hammer movie is done by a man named Paul Decker (van Eyek, The Longest Day). At the beginning of the movie, he kills his rich wife in a particularly clever way: He drugs his wife in their mansion, and while she is sleeping, he seals the windows and doors in the room from the inside. Then he allows natural gas to seep into the room, but before the gas can affect him, he breathes fresh air from the outside via tubes connected to the title object while waiting under the floorboards of the room. While he is hiding under the floorboards, the house servants break into the room and discover his wife's dead body, and promptly call the police. The police investigation sees that the room was sealed from the inside, and rule Paul's wife's death as a suicide. After everybody leaves, Paul gets out, and "returns" home with the solid alibi that he was away on business. But Paul's stepdaughter Candy (Miller, The Man In The White Suit), who has long believed that Paul killed her birth father years ago, is convinced that her stepfather Paul killed her mother, and is determined to uncover evidence proving that he did it. But can she do that before Paul turns his sights on her?

As you can see from that plot description, The Snorkel is a Hammer movie much different than what is usually associated with the brand - it's a fairly serious drama with no monsters, and no gore for that matter. Also, the movie was made on a tight budget in black and white. That is certainly interesting, but another interesting aspect is with the opening of the movie. If you read the plot description in the above paragraph, you might have felt some Columbo-like vibes from how I described the opening of the movie. I have no idea if this opening was an influence on the later television show, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was. This opening sequence does differ from Columbo by starting immediately with the unfolding murder instead of starting with some back story. But back story is not needed for this particular story. In the five minutes that unfold before the opening credits are displayed, we see clearly what the character of Paul is doing and hopes to accomplish. True, we don't know at this point why he is committing murder, but this omission isn't bothersome. The whole sequence is all the same enthralling, one reason being it's directed very well. There is very little audio, so we in the audience have to concentrate on everything that is unfolding. And every step that Paul takes, from sealing the windows to crawling under the floorboards, manages to feel plausible, and increases the suspense and make us wonder what is going to happen next. Will Paul pull off his plan without any hitches? I feel I should mention while talking about hitches is that there is a little puzzlement in the sequence, that being that we are given no idea during the scene how Paul managed to subdue his wife so that she would subsequently breath in enough natural gas and die. (We have to wait some time afterwards to get the answer.) But other than that, this opening sequence is very well done, and will definitely get viewers quickly interested in what will follow.

After that aforementioned opening sequence, The Snorkel doesn't waste any time in giving the audience more explanation. The police arrive on the scene at around the nine-minute mark, and in their subsequent (and swift) investigation, there is exposition that gives us everything we need to know without seeming the least bit forced and awkward. After that point, and knowing that Candy is convinced that Paul murdered her mother, you are probably expecting that the screws would soon start turning slowly but surely for Paul. Though actually, they start turning a lot slower than you might think. Sure, Candy is convinced from the start that Paul murdered her mother, and she starts an investigation. But her concerns are pretty much dismissed by everybody around her, and she doesn't really make any progress. In fact, we have to wait almost an hour before Paul starts to get truly concerned about what Candy is doing and saying. There is some significant padding in this movie. Also, Candy only makes a true start with her investigation by a coincidental movie poster she sees plastered on a wall in town; without it, she would have got nowhere. While there are these and other problems with the script for The Snorkel, I must confess I didn't think about them too much during my viewing. I was never bored at any moment, for one thing. Director Guy Green (A Patch Of Blue) makes every scene (padding or not) move quickly enough. And while there may not be a constant feeling of suspense and danger, when moments come where the character of Candy (and sometimes Paul) is in danger, there is definitely an uneasy feeling where you can't determine for sure what will happen until the entire scene unfolds. Plus, a lot of the movie's shortcomings can be forgiven for the movie's last twenty or so minutes, which are very suspenseful and unpredictable. Though to be honest, I think director Green should have removed the final minute of the movie, which seems unnecessary except maybe to soften what we might think of one particular character (or possibly ensure that the movie would pass the strict British censor board.)

Director Green also very well accomplishes the basic elements of movie making with The Snorkel. I'm glad he shot the movie in black and white, because for this particular story, I think color would have been too distracting. The black and white photography gives the movie an appropriately moody feeling. Also, Green manages to get the movie's two main characters (and the actors playing them) to strike the right tone the majority of the time. I will admit that Candy does sometimes become a bit overbearing with her repeated and somewhat whiny convictions that her stepfather is a murderer. But she does have plenty of quiet moments that give us breaks and make her sympathetic. While actress Mandy Miller does fairly well with this character, the standout performance in the movie is that of Peter van Eyck as the murderous stepfather. On the surface, it's a difficult role - van Eyck has no dialogue for the first twenty-three minutes of the running time, and he's required to act in a generally low-key style that at the same time shows a great deal of intelligence with just words and facial expressions rather than with actions. He manages to steal the show by putting some playfulness in his dialogue. Not too much - that would have ruined the movie's somewhat dark and suspenseful mood. But all the same, by observing his acting, you can see that van Eyck is having a very good time playing a ruthless creep. He is so interested in his character that we in the audience cannot help but be interested in him, even when his character does some really despicable actions. He alone makes up for the aforementioned weaknesses of The Snorkel, and with the other good touches, makes this a sleeper of a thriller. While it may not be up to Hitchcock standards, it's definitely an above average effort for the Hammer studio, and deserves to be mentioned alongside their more well-known horror movies.

(Posted November 26, 2019)

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See also: Murder On Flight 502, The Naked Face, Who Killed Mary...

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