Director: Richard Eichberg
Screenplay: Miles Malleson & Victor Kendall
Starring: Jameson Thomas, Jack Raine, Muriel Angelus, Eve Gray, Frank Perfitt
Running Time: 86 mins
BBFC Classification: PG
When a posh diner party is held up at gunpoint by ‘Flash Jack’ and his violent gang – resulting in the theft of a lot of expensive jewellery and the death of one of the servants – Scotland Yard’s Detective Harry Cross (Jack Raine) is brought in to track down Jack and put a stop to his terrorising of the upper classes. All that Cross has to go on is a gambling chit, for £5, which was accidentally left behind at the scene of the crime. Cross therefore heads over to the gambling casino where the chit originated from to investigate further and it’s there that we learn that our ‘hero’ is a bit of an unfaithful letch – he’s certainly drawn towards public (and private) dancer Dolly who’s more than happy to flash her lovely legs at the charismatic cop. It turns out that Dolly moonlights helping the gangsters and Cross wants to squeeze her, one way or another, for information that could help crack the case.
Back at home with his wife, Harry is held to account for a long hair found on his jacket, which indicates that his better half obviously knows that he’s a bit of a womaniser. After first calling his wife a ‘suspicious hussy’ (!) he explains where the hair came from and compares his interest in Dolly to that of a signpost that he needs to read in order to learn which direction he needs to take his investigation in. A fair point perhaps, but lines like these reflect just how little respect many men had for women in the thirties. Saying that though, a couple of scenes later we see a man with a monocle politely kissing the back of a woman’s hand – is that creepy, patronising or kind of sweet – I’ll let you be the judge!
To be fair, later, when pushed for something more than a bit of playful flirting from Dolly, Harry declines to go into her apartment, which is just as well as she’d helped ‘Flash Jack’ set up an ambush for our Casanova cop. His excuse – it’s his wedding anniversary, so he obviously has some sense of priority!
Harry later learns of a plot to rob some uber wealthy patrons of a priceless necklace while they attend their box at a theatre. This then results in a police raid and a fight on a roof top, although on the negative side we’re also ‘treated’ to various musical numbers, in their entirety; yawn! But finally Cross manages to persuade Dolly to help him with his investigations, much to his jealous wife’s annoyance, and they pay a somewhat anticlimactic visit to the gang’s hideout.
Night Birds was one of several films made in bilingual form, with a partly German crew, by BIP, at the dawn of the ‘talkies’. It stars transatlantic actor Jack Raine, who’s probably more famous for his roles in Julius Caesar and Quartet. Network has done a good job in producing a brand-new transfer and for a film of this age it looks pretty good. However, the sound quality is more varied and there is a bit of ‘slurring’ at times making it difficult to discern what is being said in a few scenes.
As a rare curiosity Night Birds is worth a look, but I found that it had dated quite badly and would have probably worked better as a stage play. And, as was the case with many films of the time, all the actors deliver their lines in a rather clipped, stiffly delivered – full English – kind of way, which tends to grate these days. Even when someone gets a knife thrown at them they politely exclaim: ‘You swine!’
Director Richard Eichberg handles the crowd scenes well, but as I’ve alluded to before, the whole thing feels a bit too stagey and was probably shot on just a few sets. Most of the actors seem to stare out past the camera unnecessarily, as if looking out to sea or towards a live audience!
Unfortunately the pacing is all over the place and there are far too many pointless conversations that lead nowhere useful to the plot, scenes showcasing musical numbers (featuring songs which were probably cool at the time, but have mainly lost their appeal nowadays), and too many scenes of Dolly warbling painfully for the film to really work satisfactorily. And, although there’s quite a bit of exposition in the script, I was still a bit confused as to what was happening at times. Some questions that the viewer might have are never truly satisfactorily answered either.
Probably the film’s biggest draw-back though is the leading man, whose character is hard to take serious for much of the running time, probably because he himself doesn’t seem to be taking events seriously and he spends way too much time singing to himself as if he’s in a different film!
Night Birds has been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Distributing who are, to their credit, currently releasing lots of these rarer British film titles.
The only special feature on the disc is an alternative ending, which seems to include a bit more banter between Cross and his wife, although it’s difficult to tell as there’s no sound on this extra making it a little redundant.