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My Brother's Keeper (1948)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of My Brother's Keeper (1948)
35mm, black and white, 96 mins
DirectorAlfred Roome
Production CompanyGainsborough Pictures
ProducerAntony Darnborough
ScreenplayFrank Harvey Jr
Based on a story byMaurice Wiltshire
PhotographyGordon Lang
MusicClifton Parker

Cast: Jack Warner (George Martin), Jane Hylton (Nora Lawrence), David Tomlinson (Ronnie Waring), Bill Owen (Syd Evans), George Cole (Willie Stannard)

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Two convicts escape while handcuffed together, and are pursued by police and the press while attempting to track down their former associates.

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A convicts-on-the-run thriller similar to the much later The Defiant Ones (US, d. Stanley Kramer, 1958) and Runaway Train (US, d. Andrei Konchalovsky, 1986), My Brother's Keeper is very much in the vein of Gainsborough's similar melodramas-with-a-social-conscience of the late 1940s.

It was the first of two films directed by Alfred Roome, whose career was largely spent editing comedies (1930s Aldwych farces, 1950s Doctor films, 1970s Carry Ons), though he also cut Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes in 1938. My Brother's Keeper clearly shows this background: individual scenes are brisk and brief, and Roome constantly cross-cuts from pursuers to pursued to keep the pace up.

Although the casting of Jack Warner as the out-and-out villain George Martin looks glaringly incongruous today, in the late 1940s he played several crooks before becoming typecast as PC Dixon, the epitome of straight-backed authority in The Blue Lamp (d. Basil Dearden, 1950) and Dixon of Dock Green (BBC, 1955-76). Here, he shows a range that Dixon denied him, of a complex man wrestling as much with inner demons as with the forces of law and order, culminating in his suicidal decision to brave a minefield rather than risk recapture. The influence of studio head Sydney Box can be detected in several references to Martin's troubled childhood - a recurring theme in Box's Gainsborough productions as well as his earlier The Seventh Veil (d. Compton Bennett, 1945).

George Cole has less to work with in terms of raw materials, but his portrait of the naïve, not overly bright Stannard, falsely accused first of rape than murder, provides an excellent example of the actor negotiating an unusually successful transition from child to adult star.

The film was inspired by a quotation from Henry Hassett Browne that begins "All men are born brothers, and anything that hurts my brother hurts me" - a concept that fuelled more than just the title. The two convicts are the most obvious "brothers", but they are paralleled by similar relationships between Waring and his rivals, the police officers, and even Martin's wife and mistress, and the tension between these various groups keeps the suspense going even during lulls in the main chase. Although overshadowed both critically and commercially by Ealing's It Always Rains on Sunday (d. Robert Hamer, 1947), My Brother's Keeper showed enough promise as a directing debut to make it regrettable that Roome returned to his old profession so quickly.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. On the run (3:33)
2. In the cottage (2:37)
3. Press ethics (1:09)
4. Nora's conscience (4:36)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Cole, George (1925-)
Denham, Maurice (1909-2002)
Hyde-White, Wilfrid (1903-1991)
Lee, Christopher (1922-)
Roome, Alfred (1908-1997)
Tomlinson, David (1917-2000)
Warner, Jack (1896-1981)