Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is in the States, which means a few more, wetter paces.
"I didn't see them. I don't see things nowadays."—Phil Hammond
Playwright Phil Hannon (Van Johnson, Brigadoon) can point out the London landmarks visible from his balcony to Jean (Vera Miles, Psycho), his visitor from the States, from memory. Hannon can also enjoy a pint at the pub—if that's the word, since he's not enjoying much of anything—without anyone realizing he's blind.
When Hannon overhears a sinister-sounding conversation—interrupted by a noisy pinball machine—his memory provides a good recap for the police, but they're sure that there's something perfectly rational and non-sinister in the gaps. Since he's becoming his old self again and eager to find out what he heard, Jean and friend Bob (Cecil Parker, A Man Could Get Killed) help Hannon investigate.
Nothing about 23 Paces to Baker Street is surprising, but it is a well-executed movie. First off, viewers rarely see the bad guys, except in shadow. The expected sonic clues—such as a man's wheezy voice—are there, but a perfume scent leads—and misleads—Hannon on his hunt. A scene in a bombed-out building takes advantage of the post-World War II setting. The final confrontation with a killer might be a predictable movie staple, but it's done creatively, and Van Johnson's expressions—giving away Hannon's fright underneath the surface—add to the tension.
The story comes from a novel by Philip MacDonald, and it looks like he gave director Henry Hathaway (True Grit) plenty to work with.
Fox's limited release of 23 Paces to Baker Street isn't so good, though. The opening pan of the London skyline shows the fading, grain, and flecks of the weathered transfer, and the Cinemascope often feels dingy. It looks like Fox used the cropped TV print, losing part of the picture. As with other on-demand releases, it may not work on some players.
I tend to forgive a lot on small batch releases, but I still believe that 23 Paces to Baker Street, while not a classic, was worth better treatment. I wouldn't buy this disc, but I suggest keeping an eye out for it in the movie channel listings if your interest is piqued.
The film is acquitted, but the DVD is guilty.
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