Judge Clark Douglas leaves wilted brussel sprouts at the scene of his crimes.
Bibles! Roses! Romance! Murder!
Marjorie Bowen is a writer who is largely forgotten about and/or overlooked these days, but once upon a time she was one of the world's most prolific novelists. Bowen unleashed over 150 novels over the course of her career, many of them spine-tingling horror/thrillers. In order to mask the pace at which she was writing, Bowen adopted several different pen names over the years: George R. Preedy, John Winch, Robert Paye, Margaret Campbell and Joseph Shearing. Rather than merely rotating through these names at random, she used them for specific purposes. Under her "Joseph Shearing" pseudonym, she penned a variety of gothic romances and a handful of more traditional crime novels. One of the latter entries was The Crime of Laura Saureille, which was eventually turned into a feature film bearing the more enigmatic title Moss Rose.
Though we're dealing with a murder mystery, this particular tale is notable for being more tonally diverse and less aggressively hard-boiled than many genre pictures of the era. The film tells the story of Belle Adair (Peggy Cummins, Gun Crazy), an ordinary showgirl whose life is thrown into chaos when one of her close friends is murdered. As luck would have it, Belle happened to witness a well-to-do man named Michael Drego (Victor Mature, Kiss of Death) leaving the scene of the crime. In a crazy bid to temporarily escape her ordinary life, Belle determines that she's going to blackmail the potential criminal. Rather than demanding money, she insists that Michael invite her to his lavish home and permit her to live as royalty for a couple of weeks. He reluctantly agrees, and soon Belle finds herself developing relationships with Michael's chilly fiancee Audrey (Patricia Medina, Mr. Arkadin) and his kindly mother Lady Margaret (Ethel Barrymore, The Paradine Case).
The film wobbles back and forth between a lurid crime thriller and an extraordinarily soapy romance, which actually works surprisingly well. Neither side of the story is especially remarkable on its own, but the juxtaposition of the two genres permits Moss Rose to feel distinctive. It's especially fun when the dialogue takes on a melodramatic quality during some of the film's grittier scenes. For instance, when the showgirl is killed early on, the murderer leaves behind a Bible and a moss rose. Cue the police detective played by Vincent Price (The Raven): "She never had much use for either, poor dear. A pity. Both bring us such blessings."
Moss Rose was a flop at the box office, and 20th Century Fox head honcho Daryl Zanuck claimed that the quality of the finished film was well below the quality of the original script. I certainly hadn't even heard of it before this DVD release from Fox's Cinema Archive collection, but hopefully it'll find a small, appreciative audience now that it's available on home video. It's hardly a classic, but the tale is engaging all the way through, features solid work from its entire cast (especially Cummins, who makes up for her shaky Cockney accent with a radiant performance) and offers an appropriately bonkers ending that still manages to make sense within the context of the story. I dug it, and now I'm quite curious to check out some of Ms. Bowen's writing.
Moss Rose has received a competent DVD transfer, with relatively minimal scratches and flecks throughout. The image looks a bit soft at times, but it's not bad given that Fox doesn't really put much restoration work into these Cinema Archive releases. The Dolby 1.0 Mono track is sufficient as well, delivering a stirring Alfred Newman score with clarity. No supplements are included.
Don't expect much more than a decent little romance/thriller hybrid, but Moss Rose is worth spending 81 minutes with. Check it out.
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