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The Man in Half Moon Street

by Charlie Largent Dec 30, 2023

The Man in Half Moon Street
Blu-ray – Region Free
Imprint
1945 / 92 Mins. / 1.33:1
Starring Nils Asher, Helen Walker
Written by Garrett Fort
Photographed by Henry Sharp
Directed by Ralph Murphy

Just because a movie is in black and white doesn’t mean it has to be colorless, but such is the case with The Man in Half Moon Street, well-photographed by Henry Sharp but anemically directed by Ralph Murphy. Released in 1945, the film is a high society gothic set at the tail end of Britain’s Victorian era which only makes matters worse; these bluebloods are usually the reserved type and in Murphy’s hands, they act as if none of them had any blood at all.

Though it sounds like another werewolf thriller, or at least half of one, The Man in the Half Moon Street, is a science fiction take on Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray. The film version of Dorian Gray is a perennial but Murphy’s movie has been difficult to find, and is probably best remembered as a footnote; it was remade in 1959 as The Man Who Could Cheat Death, a far more robust, not to mention bloody, telling of the tale.

Murphy’s film was based on Barré Lyndon’s 1939 play and stars Swedish actor Nils Asther as Julian Karell, a scientist who slums as a portrait painter and has gained a foothold in Britain’s upper class. His latest subject helped him to make that leap, she’s a debutante named Eve Brandon whose portrait will be unveiled at a party held by her father Sir Humphrey. The painting is a success but Karell himself doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, a nosy connoisseur is struck by the portrait’s similarity to another artist’s style not seen in decades. And an elderly party-goer is struck by Karell’s remarkable—and intimate—knowledge of events from the distant past. It seems he’s either a savant with psychic powers or, just as preposterous, a hundred year-old man.

Karell gets his youthful good looks from a mysterious potion he keeps locked in a safe—it glows with what we have to presume is a neon-green color (Sharp also photographed 1940’s Dr. Cyclops in irradiated Technicolor). But Karell’s elixir is running out and he needs more victims for his experiments. One of them is a medical student named Allen Guthrie (played by Morton Lowry who appeared in Dorian Gray later that year). Guthrie’s frantic predicament—we first meet him as he’s attempting suicide—leads to some displays of actual human emotion that make him a standout in this emotionless cast, unfortunately he must pay the price as most guinea pigs do in mad doctor movies.

One of Murphy’s better known films was Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, a minor league programmer that faded in the imposing shadow of the 1933 version starring W.C. Fields. Murphy also faced competition from Albert Lewin’s Dorian Gray released just months later, leaving Murphy’s film to languish in the dustbin and finally slip into obscurity thanks to the colorful Hammer remake starring a serpentine Anton Diffring as the never-aging anti-hero.

That film showed director Terence Fisher at his Grand Guignol best—a stark contrast to Murphy who seemed allergic to the slightest hint of suspense. The same could be said for Asther who bears a startling resemblence to Dorian Gray‘s Hurd Hatfield, though Hatfield managed to suggest a few compelling kinks beneath his handsome armor.

Helen Walker, so vivid in that same year’s Murder, He Says, is oddly muted as Eve, whose dashing fiancé is on a fast track to the old folk’s home. The finale, a fiery blood and thunder moment in the Hammer version, is staged almost as an afterthought, with Karrell’s fate happening mainly off camera and at a discreet distance.

Walker’s own fate was a sad affair, her fondness for the lush life led to a deadly auto accident that killed an unlucky hitchhiker—she gained a reputation that only grew rockier, keeping her movie appearances at a minimum. Still, she managed to recover well enough to make a memorable impression as the duplicitous psychologist Lilith Ritter in Edmond Goulding’s Nightmare Alley where her haunted beauty fit the nightmarish scenario.

Imprint has rescued The Man in Half Moon Street from oblivion though even its lovely transfer of Sharp’s photography may not keep it from returning there. Though the picture is given the high gloss treatment it’s Miklós Rózsa’s romantic score that may have more staying power. Along with the fine transfer Tim Lucas is on hand for a feature length commentary.

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Alfredo Garcia Garcia

Thanks for the rediscovery

Boppa

This story clearly inspired the second Kolchak TV movie, The Night Strangler, which was written by Richard Matheson.

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