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Crown v. Stevens (1936)

British Film Institute

Main image of Crown v. Stevens (1936)
35mm, 65 min, black & white
DirectorMichael Powell
Production CompanyWarner Brothers First National Productions
Executive ProducerIrving Asher
ScreenplayBrock Williams
From a novel byLaurence Meynell
PhotographyBasil Emmott

Cast: Beatrix Thompson (Doris Stevens); Patric Knowles (Chris Jansen); Glennis Lorimer (Molly Hobbs); Frederick Piper (Arthur Stevens); Googie Withers (Ella Levine)

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A bored housewife with designs on her husband's money involves an innocent young man in a murder plot.

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Crown v. Stevens was made by Michael Powell with an eye firmly set on the light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, Crown proved to be his penultimate 'quota' film and the last of these that survives intact. His following assignment, The Man Behind The Mask (which does exist, but in a much truncated form with a private collector) was released only three weeks after Crown, and it importantly served as an introduction to producer Joe Rock, who would fund Powell's first truly 'personal' project, The Edge of the World (1937).

Crown v. Stevens was one of five Powell films made for producer Irving Asher at Warner Brothers' Teddington studios, and is a crime melodrama that, had it been made a few years later, would probably have been labeled a film noir. Based on a recent novel by the popular and extremely prolific novelist Laurence Meynell (it had been published only a few months before production began), it tells the story of a naïve young man who becomes involved in the machinations of a murderous and ultimately unrepentant femme fatale, played with strength and conviction by Beatrix Thompson, a theatre actress in her only starring role for the cinema.

The rich cinematography is by Basil Emmott and the screenplay is a typically polished effort by Brock Williams; both also worked in the same capacities on three earlier films Powell had made for Asher: Something Always Happens (1933), and two currently 'lost' films, The Girl in the Crowd (1934) and Someday (1935). The Girl in the Crowd gave Googie Withers her first film role, and she turns up again in Crown, having great fun in a comic role as a breathless party girl with a lust for money, cigarettes and alcohol. The role of the 'good' woman is taken by the perky Glennis Lorrimer, who is rather charming in one of her last roles as Patric Knowles' interior decorator girlfriend; Lorrimer is probably best remembered today as the Lady in the Gainsborough Studios' opening logo. Although admittedly lightweight, in its ambiguous tone and suggestive cinematography, Crown recalls Powell's superior Her Last Affaire (1935) and, with the latter, is notable as one of the few comparatively 'dark' films he made in this period.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Death of a moneylender (3:05)
2. Taking advice (2:12)
3. Murder attempt (5:03)
Complete film (1:03:26)
Powell, Michael (1905-1990)
Withers, Googie (1917-2011)
Early Michael Powell