Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Dark Eyes of London, The (1939)


Main image of Dark Eyes of London, The (1939)
DirectorWalter Summers
Production CompanyJohn Argyle Productions
ProducerJohn F. Argyle
ScreenplayPatrick Kirwan
 Walter Summers
 John F. Argyle
PhotographyBryan Langley

Cast: Bela Lugosi (Dr Feodor Orloff); Hugh Williams (Inspector Holt); Greta Gynt (Diana Stuart); Edmon Ryan (Lieutenant O'Reilly); Wilfred Walter (Jake)

Show full cast and credits

Investigations into a series of murders lead the police to an insurance broker and his mysterious friend who runs an Institute for the Blind.

Show full synopsis

Dark Eyes of London (d. Walter Summers, 1939) was the first British film to receive the legally enforceable version of the 'H' certificate (as opposed to the advisory classification awarded to The Ghoul, d. Todd Hayes Hunter, 1933). It appeared two years after Universal announced the end of its production of horror films (due to Britain's restrictive censorship policies), leaving the genre wide open for British product.

It is debatable how far the certificate affected the film's box office takings. Some cinemas refused to show any film which carried an 'H' certificate, but these were the more upmarket venues. Instead, it was the 'fleapits' that showed horror films, and which were least likely to restrict what films their audiences could see.

One area that was affected was marketing. Argyle Productions had assured an American distribution deal with the 'poverty row' company, Monogram Pictures. They produced a mask of 'The Human Monster' (which was what the film was called on its US release in 1940) and used other ploys directly intended to draw in an audience of children. In Britain, the film's classification restricted its promotion solely to adults.

The film carries its nationalistic credentials on its sleeve, using London as the backdrop for a series of murders committed near the River Thames. But the plot is still contrived in a way that introduces the American Lieutenant O'Reilly (Edmon Ryan) as early as possible, in an obvious nod to US audiences.

In fact, O'Reilly's foreignness is highlighted throughout, with him uttering lines like "Don't they ever shoot anybody in this country?", after another body has been found drowned. Bela Lugosi's nationality is also singled out, and is used as a signifier of a pervasive foreign influence, in direct contrast to the wholesome 'Britishness' represented by Inspector Holt (Hugh Williams) of Scotland Yard.

The film was re-released in a colourised version after the end of the Second World War, a telling sign of its commercial success and popularity.

Paul Moody

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Body in the bath (1:55)
2. Orloff's fate (1:16)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Dead of Night (1945)
Face at the Window, The (1939)
Ghoul, The (1933)
Halfway House, The (1944)
Man Who Changed His Mind, The (1936)
Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936)
They Drive By Night (1939)
Langley, Bryan (1909-2008)
Summers, Walter (1896-1973)
Wallace, Edgar (1875-1932)
Horror Before Hammer