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Penny and the Pownall Case (1948)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Penny and the Pownall Case (1948)
35mm, black and white, 47 mins
Directed bySlim Hand
Production CompanyHighbury Productions
Produced byJohn Croydon
Story and scriptW.E.C.Fairchild
PhotographyWalter Harvey
MusicElisabeth Lutyens

Cast: Ralph Michael (Detective Inspector Michael Carson); Peggy Evans (Penny Justin); Christopher Lee (Jonathan Blair); Olaf Pooley (Von Leicher); Ethel Coleridge (Mrs Hodgson); Diana Dors (Molly James)

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An artist's model, with aspirations to be an amateur detective, helps a Scotland Yard detective break a gang helping Nazi war criminals escape from Europe.

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An amiable but strictly routine detective potboiler, Penny and the Pownall Case is a good example of the kind of film made specifically as a double-bill supporting feature, as indicated by the 47-minute running time and the rock-bottom budget. Shot in five weeks by independent company Highbury Productions, it was the only film directed by Harry 'Slim' Hand, who had previously worked as a sound recordist and production manager.

However, it deserves some passing attention, partly for the presence of future stars in very early roles, but mostly for the time-capsule image of late 1940s Britain, with its references to postwar food rationing ("You're worse than the Food Office!" complains Penny when asked to fill out a form), the use of the now obsolete teletype for conveying messages at speed, and the highly topical issue of Nazi war criminals attempting to flee Europe. Fans of Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89; 2005-) will be particularly intrigued to see an old-fashioned police box being used for its proper purpose during the climactic chase.

Penny herself is clearly inspired by Jane, the hugely successful comic-strip heroine created by Norman Pett for the Daily Mirror in 1932, which became particularly popular as a morale-booster during World War II, both in its original form and as a stage play. There was also a film, The Adventures of Jane (d. Edward G. Whiting, 1949), starring Christobel Leighton-Porter, the model who posed for the character just as Penny does in this film. Both Jane and Penny are seen in a wide variety of outfits, and are just as frequently caught in a state of semi-undress, though always strictly within the bounds of the late 1940s censorship code.

Peggy Evans is appealing enough in the title role, and Ralph Michael makes an effective foil as male lead Inspector Carson, but the acting honours are mostly taken by Christopher Lee in what was his first significant screen role. His subsequent career makes his character's sinister secret less of a surprise than the makers presumably intended, but his peculiar brand of devilish charm is clearly visible even in embryonic form. Diana Dors was yet to become a platinum blonde, and the secretary Molly is deliberately dowdy, to strike a contrast with the glamorous Penny - though Hand nonetheless stages a shamelessly gratuitous bedroom wrestling match between both women, clad only in damp pyjamas.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Molly's late night (2:00)
2. A very indifferent model (3:38)
3. Kidnap and rescue (3:20)
4. Police cars and boxes (3:00)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Dors, Diana (1931-1984)
Lee, Christopher (1922-)
B Pictures