Director: St John L. Clowes
Script: St John L. Clowes
Cast: Jack La Rue, Hugh McDermolt, Linden Travers, Walter Crisham, Leslie Bradley, Zoe Gail, Jack Durrant, Lilli Molnar
Running time: 103 minutes
The Miss Blandish (Linden Travers) of the film’s title is a sheltered heiress, who is almost kept prisoner in her millionaire father’s palatial house, by her over-protective dad, causing her to be an unrequited romantic. Unfortunately, that romance seems thin on the ground toward her father-approved (and therefore boring) fiancée who clearly wants her more than she wants him.
On the way home from a date the couple are targeted by a cheap thug (tipped off by her maid’s boyfriend, Johnny) who is after her diamond jewellery worth $100,000. The small time thug is joined by the nasty Bailey gang and when a fight ensues with the fiancée, the unsuitable suitor is brutally killed by one of the gang’s psychopaths, Riley, and, after a further shoot-out, Miss Blandish is kidnapped by the survivor and taken to a remote hideout he’d previously set up with an equally dodgy acquaintance.
The surviving thug is prevented from raping the heiress when he’s interrupted by the arrival of his rival, Slim Grisson, and his larger gang, who also want their cut of the diamonds and any hostage money. The remaining member of the original Bailey gang is quickly dispatched and Miss Blandish pleads for her life. Slim (Jack La Rue), struck by her beauty and poise, takes her back to his club, ‘The Black Dice’, and hides her there, much to the annoyance of the Grisson gang’s boss, aka Slim’s mother, Ma Grisson (Lilli Molnar). It doesn’t take long for Slim to fall in love with his captive, and Blandish with him, and very soon they start planning on running away together.
Miss Blandish, to ease her father’s worry, sends the diamonds back to him with a note saying that she is alive and well and is now in love with Slim, but her dad, kind of understandably, refuses to believe it. Instead, frustrated by the lack of progress by the police, and disturbed by his daughter’s pronouncement of love for a known criminal, he employs a private detective to get to the bottom of the matter and locate his only daughter. The detective finally tracks Miss Blandish down and finds out where she and Slim hideout when they’re not holed up at the club. A police raid then ensues with somewhat predictable consequences for all those involved.
No Orchids for Miss Blandish caused enormous controversy on its initial release, because of the high levels of violence on display, some of it of a sexual nature. Though made with a largely British cast, it was set in New York, with some of the actors often struggling with their American accents, which didn’t endear it to many snooty critics that were around at that time. However, I think its very British brutishness gives it a unique identity all of its own.
There is plenty to enjoy here, from some impressive sets and un-PC musical numbers, at the Black Dice club, through to some interesting fast-paced dialogue delivered by some quite scary hoodlums, all moodily lit in a black and white Neo-noir style.
However, I think the weakest element is probably the central love story, which I didn’t really find believable. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty evident that many women are attracted to ‘bad boys’, at least for a while (probably seeing them as fixer-upper projects to work on), but Slim doesn’t have the smooth tongue with the ladies that I think he’d need in order to woo the likes of Miss Blandish. He spends most of his screen time brooding, slapping around his female staff, throwing dice and, oh, killing people… However, after seeing how his disturbing mother behaves one kind of understands why he’s turned out the way he has!
Based on the best-selling (and far nastier) book by James Hadley Chase, No Orchids for Miss Blandish certainly provides more character depth than many a 1940s crime story, but it tends to overstay its welcome, with perhaps too many characters jostling for attention. Worth a watch if you’re a fan of gangster films that feature desperate molls and truly psychopathic henchmen. Oh, and look out for the late, great Sid James who has a small role as a bar man.
Powerhouse Films are distributing No Orchids for Miss Blandish on Blu-Ray. As per usual for Powerhouse Films there are plenty of special features including:
Interview with Richard Gordon and Richard Nielson (34.5 mins) – Legendary producer Richard Gordon talks about the censor’s reaction to the film and nicely sets the tone for No Orchids then release, while actor Richard Nielson shares the fact that he was paid about £250 for working on the film, for 10 days work, and spent most of that money on trying to woo the actress who sang the main song on the film. Apparently it didn’t work, but he enjoyed trying!
Miss Blandish and the censor (41 mins) – Ex- BBFC examiner Richard Falcon provides the history behind the film’s tough time with the British censors, who cut over a minute’s worth of footage out of the film, footage which has since, sadly, disappeared.
Soldier, Sailor (49 mins) – This mix of both drama and documentary tells of a WWII battle at sea. This support feature film was made by the Ministry of Information. It’s actually quite an interesting watch, if only for seeing how much things have changed since the late forties.
Theatrical Trailer (2 mins) – This features quite a bit of violence so obviously that’s how the marketing men were selling the film at the time.
Black Dice trailer (1.42 mins) – This one tries to focus on the story more.
Image gallery – 27 stills including some posters