Koch Vision // 1942 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge George Hatch (Retired) // April 30th, 2004
"Do you have any space left?"
"The whole front page, my boy."
Unpublished Story is an extremely well executed British World War II propaganda piece, and what sets it apart from other entries in this subgenre is its clever plot centered around that very topic. Bob Randall (Richard Greene), a wounded and shell-shocked war correspondent, has just returned to London with a lead story about the horrors he witnessed at Dunkirk, and a dire warning that "it must never be allowed to happen here." A few days later, he's outraged by a front page article calling attention to a rally by The People for Peace Society and challenges the editor's judgment about running such an inflammatory and irresponsible item. "Yes, they're a bunch of cranks," he's told, "but it is news and we don't want to crack down on freedom of speech, do we?" Randall vehemently disagrees, calling it "out and out defeatism" and plans to attend the next meeting to "tear a piece out their peace jamboree."
There he meets Carol Bennett (Valerie Hobson), who has yet to be published in the paper's fashion pages but wants to take on a bigger story to establish her credibility. The speakers advocate "moderation versus strenuous resistance" and adhere to beliefs in "the superiority of certain groups -- with Germany and Great Britain being the chief proponents." Novice Bennett feels they may have the wrong idea but thinks they really won't make any difference, while Randall's experience confirms his opinion that they're helping the Nazis, "and there certainly were enough of them in Europe to make a very big difference." Both submit their stories but Home Security demands that The Gazette pull Randall's harsh and accusatory tirade, so Bennett gets the by-line with her ineffectual interpretation of the group's intentions.
Randall sets out to investigate why Home Security put the kibosh on his article planning to write an exposé, but London is now under attack. Film editors Reginald Beck and Vera Campbell do a wonderful job here, effectively blending stock military and news footage with outdoor scenes of the actors in the streets during the Blitz and in the underground shelters after the bombings. Immediately following this first strike, Randall discovers a People for Peace pamphlet that leads him to their headquarters and a man named Trapes, sincere about the cause but unaware that he's being duped and that his organization has been infiltrated by the Nazis who use rumor, panic, and agitators to brainwash the nation into believing it's pointless to resist or retaliate.
The rest of the story of the Unpublished Story will remain unpublished here so as not to spoil the suspense and intrigue of this terrific wartime thriller, but it closes with an exciting confrontation at Victoria Station where Randall "Frisbees" his safety pith helmet to disarm a Nazi agent (shades of Oddjob in Goldfinger!), and concludes with the expected, uplifting narration of a front-page editorial beginning with: "The Germans attack us because they consider us 'the heart'. Very well, 'this heart' will continue to beat. There are loved ones to avenge, and our hopes and pursuits to fight for..."
The film's pace is unstoppable; the script by Patrick Kirwan and Lesley Storm based on a story by Anthony Havelock-Allan is intelligent, well-written, and unique in its approach to the subject matter; and the acting is of the usual high caliber that devotees of even the lowest-budgeted British quickies have come to expect in which the smallest roles are perfectly cast.
Richard Greene, who is excellent here, appeared in dozens of costume epics throughout the 1940s and '50s, starring in B-flicks but usually playing second banana to the likes of Cornell Wilde in major productions such as Otto Preminger's Forever Amber in 1947. I first knew him as Robin Hood in the TV series that ran from 1955 to 1960, and other horror fans may remember him in the "Wish You Were Here" episode of Freddie Francis's EC Comics-style anthology Tales from the Crypt (1972), a horrifyingly gruesome take on "The Monkey's Paw" in which he suffered a fate literally worse than death. He's the British equivalent of Robert Cummings, a handsome, dashing, and dedicated actor who rarely got the recognition he deserved, and his role in Unpublished Story is similar to Cummings's character in Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur made the same year.
Valerie Hobson is probably best known as Colin Clive's wife in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Henry Hull's distaff side in Werewolf of London. She does play a fashion writer here with "Clothes by Rahvis," but some of her costumes look so outré they could have been leftovers from either of those two earlier films. She had a lead role opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in Raoul Walsh's Jump for Glory in 1937, and while she gives a fine performance here, she wasn't really recognized until toward the end of her career in Kind Hearts and Cornets (1949) and The Rocking Horse Winner (1950).
The film was directed by Harold French who helmed two other British propaganda films in 1942, The Day Will Dawn and Secret Mission, and several others throughout the war, along with some light comedies. The cinematography is by Bernard Knowles, who worked with Alfred Hitchcock on five films in the 1930s including The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, and Sabotage, and the original Gaslight directed by Thorold Dickinson and released in the United States as Angel Street.
Unpublished Story was Carmen Dillon's first film as production designer, and while his talent is evident on this small-budgeted programmer, he hit his stride as art director in 1948, winning an Academy Award in that category for Laurence Olivier's Hamlet and earned six other nominations, including his work on Ronald Neame's The Chalk Garden (1964), two for Joseph Losey's Accident (1967), and The Go-Between in 1970.
There was obviously a lot of future talent involved in this little film and while no remastering was done, the print has a more than decent look, though the visual contributions of Knowles and Dillon suffer with dull blacks and loss of crisp detail. There are only two noticeably bad back-projection shots, the same backdrop being used midway and at the end of the film, where the upper portions of the actors are haloed in white against a long-shot of the city, while everything else is normal from the knees down on the actual set. The sound is 2.0 Dolby Digital enhanced, and I didn't miss any relevant plot developments, but some snappy newsroom patter was unintelligible and subtitles would have helped to understand some of the fast-talking British dialogue. A few scenes end rather abruptly, which may account for the 80-minute running time displayed on my DVD player versus the 91 minutes listed on the box. Koch Vision's packaging is attractive enough to draw attention, advertising it as part of their "British Cinema Collection," but the DVD itself is the barest of bones without even a trailer. I'd like to know what other films are available or forthcoming in this collection.
All claims about Unpublished Story being a typical B-movie are refuted and dismissed. Case closed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1942
MPAA Rating: Not Rated