No Orchids For Miss Blandlish (1948) John Legh Clowes

“No Orchids for Miss Blandish” is a bizarre little exercise in British cinema in its attempts to duplicate the flavor of a 1940’s American crime film. Filled with extreme violence and unabashed sexuality for its time, this inappropriate film somehow got plenty passed the censors despite howls of protest from self-righteous groups on both sides of the ocean. At the time of its initial release, the Daily Express called the film “a wicked disgrace to the British film industry.” The British censors even apologized for “failing to protect the public.”  In the United States, the film was not released until 1951, and then in a truncated version running only 92 minutes. The pulp fiction novel the film is based on was authored by British novelist James Hadley Chase writing as if he lived next door to Raymond Chandler or James M. Cain all his life. The film stars a mostly British cast portraying Americans in a New York State setting. The only exception to the English casting is that of Hollywood character actor, Jack La Rue who portrays underworld thug Slim Grisson. La Rue portrays Grisson as a violent second tier Rick Blaine straight out of “Casablanca.” He owns a night club, dresses sharp, smokes and has an inclination for continually rolling dice, his mannerisms screaming out Bogie. Even the way director John Legh Clowes frames La Rue in many scenes is evocative of Bogart (La Rue was supposedly in line to get the role of Duke Mantee in the film version of “The Petrified Forest” until Leslie Howard insisted Bogart recreate his original stage role in the film).  Linden Travers as Miss Blandish comes across as a  woman with an obvious taste for bad boys yet she and La Rue display little screen chemistry despite the passionate kissing scenes they are given. All in all she is not given much to do.

Millionaire heiress Miss Blandish (Linden Travers)  and her  fiancé are held up one night on a lonely road by a gang of small-time hoods who want to steal her jewelry. The heist goes bad when the fiancé is brutally murdered and several of the gang members end up killing each other. Miss Blandish finds herself at the mercy of Bailey (Leslie Bradley) the only surviving gang member, only to be taken hostage by the tougher Grisson gang supposedly led by the repulsive Ma Barker like family head Ma Grisson (Lila Molnar). In truth, the gang is run by her ruthless killer son, Slim (Jack La Rue). The Grisson gang decides to hold the well-heeled beauty for ransom.  In a case of what is now known as the Stockholm syndrome, where a hostage has feelings for their captor, Miss Blandish falls hard for tough guy Slim’s underdeveloped charm. They will return the stolen jewels to her father along with an explanation that she is going to stay with Slim of her own free will. Other members of the gang do not take kindly to this turn in events as they are losing what would have been their share of the loot. Miss Blandish’s father refuses to accept the fact that his daughter is willingly staying with the gangster, continuing to push the police and the press to get her back. The odd couple lovers make plans to leave the country, head to Cuba, where they can start a new life; however fate soon comes knocking on their door with other plans… 

One of the most unusual parts of the film is the British casts attempts at American accents which results in a mixed bag of crumpets and hot dogs with a syntax somewhere between Warner Brothers tough guys and Monograms East Side Kids, sometimes even slipping back and forth between the American speak and their native British manner.  Then there are the censor scissor moments like the long passionate kisses between the two oddly matched lovers and the strong violence; especially brutal is the killing of Miss Blandish’s fiancé early on in the action. The British press railed against the film calling it “perverse, sickening with its morals based somewhere deep in the sewer.” There are no redeeming characters in the film; just about everyone is shady and or violent. For example, a police officer shoots a criminal suspect not even giving him a chance to surrender. An investigative reporter sneaks into the room of nightclub singer Margo (Zoe Gail). At first she almost pushes him out the window belting him with a bottle before inviting him into her apartment and to her bed. The film’s ending is an over dramatic combination of poignancy and cold human behavior.

The uncut full length version premiered in the  U.S. back in 2009 when it was included in the Film Forum’s Brit Noir festival. In 1971, Robert Aldrich remade the film, now called “The Grissom Gang,” relocating the action to the mid-west during the depression and turning the gang into rural outlaws rather than the suit wearing gangsters portrayed in the original. With a cast that includes Scott Wilson, Tony Musante, Irene Dunne and Kim Darby as Miss Blandish, “The Grissom Gang,” thanks to the end of the production code, is more violent, sleazy and lurid than the original. Directed by Robert Aldrich, the film was one of many gangsters to be released in the early 70’s in the wake the success of “Bonnie and Clyde.”  

“No Orchids for Miss Blandish” is an oddity to say the least. I originally awarded the film ***1/2 but the more I thought about it, as I wrote this review, the less certain I became. At first I thought, “yes, they are going to pull it off, then again… 

***

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14 comments on “No Orchids For Miss Blandlish (1948) John Legh Clowes

  1. Dave Crosby says:

    Dear John, to me this film sounds terrific. I don’t know how you keep up this pace with excellent reviews that leave film lovers panting. Do you know if there’s a dvd? Also, do you know if Turner Movie Classics has it? I confess I’m a bit confused about your last paragraph. Do you mean you didn’t care as much for it on second viewing? And by the way, the illustrations here are great. One still of the character with the gun and open handcuffs seems really violent. I hate to say this, but this film sounds like a grub of my favorite ingredients. And, really, I’m just the nicest person. You’d never know.

    • John Greco says:

      Dave,

      Sam answered you question on the DVD availability to which the answer is yes. I recorded it on my DVR off TCM a while back and recently got around to just watching it. As for the confusion, what I was attempting to say was that as I was writing the review and thinking about the film I began to like it a bit less than I orginally did subsequently reducing the rating from three and a half to three. The film is a real oddity and, as Sam mentions, is fun in a ROCKY HORROR kind of way.

  2. Sam Juliano says:

    “One of the most unusual parts of the film is the British casts attempts at American accents which results in a mixed bag of crumpets and hot dogs with a syntax somewhere between Warner Brothers tough guys and Monograms East Side Kids, sometimes even slipping back and forth between the American speak and their native British manner…”

    Yep David, there most certainly is a DVD, in fact the Region 2 has been out for a few years before the recent Region 1. The film has achieved a kind of cult reputation, and the screening I saw in the summer of 2009 at the Film Forum featured an interactive audience who reacted to many of the lines with derisive laughter, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW style. As John notes above in his magnificent review the accents are bizarre, though they add to the fun. I would go along with the three-star rating, though in terms of dumb fun it rates a bit more.

    • John Greco says:

      Sam,

      Not much to add except to say it is a hard film to recommend to anyone. I like the comparison to ROCK HORROR.

  3. I remember having read this novella by James Hadley Chase a long time back, never know it was turned into a movie as well. I feel Chase was a far better writer than he was credited for, and though its been a long time, I still remember the tremendous fun I used to have reading his ultra-fast & utterly gripping books. Maybe I should give some of his books another read to see how they stand up to me now.

    • John Greco says:

      I have not read Chase’s book though I do remember a paperback movie tie-in at the time of the Robert Aldrich remake but never picked it up.

  4. The Lady Eve says:

    Completely ignorant of this film, I find it fairly intriguing. I was unaware that the British made “noir” films that mimicked those coming out of the U.S. in the late ’40s. 3 stars is still a decent rating, John, so I’m interested in tracking this one down…

    • John Greco says:

      It is a very odd little film. The British made a series of noir films, in fact, the FILM FORUM in New York had a Brit Noir festival back in 2009. Here is a link to the films in the series.

      http://www.filmforum.org/films/britnoir.html

      • The Lady Eve says:

        Of course I was aware of Night and the City (a favorite) and The Third Man – but what I was less aware of was Brit films in which the actors were using American accents in an attempt, I suppose, at a kind of “American noir”…& thanks for the link, John

      • John Greco says:

        Got ya. Actually, it is the only film that I am aware of where this has been done.

  5. […] read more about the film version, see what John Greco has to say over at Twenty Four Frames and Glenn Erickson’s fine analysis as his DVD Savant as well David Kalat’s typically […]

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