Director: Lawrence Huntington
Screenplay: John Reinhard & John Argyle
Starring: Wilfred Lawson, Movita Castaneda, Michael Rennie, Morland Graham
Running Time: 78 mins
BBFC Classification: PG
Three miles off the German coast is the Westerrode lighthouse, helping sailors in the North Sea to avoid the nasty rocks in that area. In charge of this structure is Wolfe Kristan, a grumpy ex-merchant seaman who lost both his hand and his wife to the sea. The film kicks off with the latest of his lighthouse assistants quitting, telling the harbour master that he’s had enough of the man’s surly silence and obstinate ways. Apparently he’s the fourth assistant to quit in less than six months!
It turns out that Wolfe, played well by Wilfred Lawson (Nothing Barred), has never really gotten over the death of his pretty wife and is constantly hard on both himself and others. We see him in a local tavern drowning his sorrows with two bottles of rum and then fighting a local hot-head, called Sinbad (yes, really!), who he knocks out with one punch.
Meanwhile a young woman, Marie (played by Movita Castaneda), who has recently escaped a concentration camp, is trying to give the Gestapo the slip. They find her trying to hide from them so, to evade capture, she dives into the sea and is later rescued by ‘Mr Grump’ on his way back to the lighthouse. He promises not to say anything about her presence if she’ll stay with him, but she doesn’t want to get him into trouble and decides to give herself up the next morning.
Throw into this mix an English spy, Anthony Hale (Michael Rennie), who is also on the run from the German authorities. He pretends to be Wolfe’s new assistant, after first nicking the real assistant’s papers, so he can hide out for a couple of days and await his scheduled pick-up by the allies, who are expecting to find some important aerial photos in his possession.
It soon becomes apparent that Wolfe is obsessed with Marie because of her uncanny resemblance to his dead wife and he becomes increasingly vexed and possessive when he sees that she is attracted to the handsome spy. When the real lighthouse assistant is found in the back of the truck that Hale put him in, the Gestapo alert a local German gunboat, and it’s only a short time before the brown stuff really hits the propellers and all hell breaks out on Westerrode Island…
Tower of Terror is primarily a war-time thriller, but also has some horror elements thrown into its gritty mix when Wolfe’s true nature is revealed in the third act. It’s also mainly a three-hander between the two men and the damsel in distress, which makes for some interesting character dynamics. It has to be said that Michael Rennie (The Day the Earth Stood Still), playing Hale, seems a bit too one note, hence it falls to the weirdly called Movita (sounds like a drink), and Lawson, to make things interesting and they don’t disappoint. Both are good actors and give solid three dimensional performances.
The film is reasonably well shot, although not enough is really made of the remoteness of the lighthouse so I expect much of it was filmed on studio-bound sets. The picture quality is pretty good, even if there is a bit of grain near reel changes, but I guess that’s to be expected for a movie of this age. The sound is pretty good too.
The film also boasts a couple of decent action set-pieces, namely a shoot out between the spy and his informer and the Gestapo in a warehouse, which is pretty well-staged, and a cool hand-to-hand fight between Hale and Wolfe in the lighthouse itself. Wolfe’s hook hand comes in pretty, err, handy as he often gets the upper hand (!) against his younger opponent. Puns intended… Having said that, the shelling of the lighthouse isn’t quite so convincing, but it still works.
All in all Tower of Terror is a decent little Brit-flick from the war-torn forties; one that exhibits quite a dark streak, which should appeal to both thriller and horror fans alike.
Tower of Terror has been released on DVD and is being distributed by Network Distributing. The only special feature is basically a picture gallery – showing off 57 stills and press shots from, and for, the film, including some glamour shots of the main stars.