5 JUNE 1964, Page 17

More Angry Men

Man in the Middle.



Seance on

a Wet Afternoon. (Odeon, Haymarket.) (Both 'A' certificate.) TRIAL films follow a . well-established pattern: as with Westerns and musicals, we know the form. There were others before it, but to me the classic was Twelve Angry Men; and others have followed the liberal line in trying to persuade us that it matters who's condemned, that justice is as individual as it's impartial, that you can't shrug off an accused man by relegating him to a class of nasty people. Seeing a trial film is like watching one of those chained-up buskers unknotting themselves from impossible-looking fetters: everything is weighted against the accused, his defence seems laughable, the court is hostile, witnesses vanish or die, and the repeated, defeated-sounding words 'no questions' arouse sly smiles from the smug, histrionic, well- laundered prosecution. Then, the coup de thecitre (that's the only phrase for it, the possibilities of a trial being, after all, almost as theatrical as they are cinematic): knife or nut-case is un- earthed, justice follows, and the defence, far from crowing, walks soberly away.

Man in the Middle (director: Guy Hamilton) follows• the pattern rather too predictably, but on the whole is likeable, robust, and excellently acted. And, of course, on the side of the angels. Two rather off-beat angels are Robert Mitchum and Trevor Howard, Mr. Howard, in particular, putting on one of those performances that don't look like performances and getting splendidly away with it. Place and time are India at the end of the war, when Anglo-American amity demands that a lunatic American racialist shall hang for the murder of a British sergeant. In a war where millions have died the neck of a man as loathsome might hardly seem worth the saving, but the film persuades us that justice alone is what counts and even keeps up suspense and a pleasurable degree of semi-surprise.

For his Seance on a Wet Afternoon Bryan Forbes has delved into a ragbag of theatrical and cinematic scraps and turned up all the trappings, but none of the effect, of the serious psycho- logical spine-chiller. In one of those psychic tangles that involve an elaborate ritual of make- believe and reassurance, a gruesome couple bats sub-Pinter dialogue ('Have you put in the extra- strong bulb? The ISO watt one?') around one of those dark, cluttered film houses where '0 For the Wings of a Dove' plays endlessly on an ancient gramophone. The wife is a medium getting messages across from one Arthur, who tells her first to kidnap (`borrow'), then to murder ('send to him'), a small girl, the original object being to persuade the world of a large truth with a small lie—i.e. to 'discover' the lost child and ransom money and thus impress everyone with the powers of spiritualism. Kim Stanley (once The Goddess) is the wife, Richard Attenborough, got up to look like a cross between the Caretaker and one of Cocteau's infernal messengers on motor-bikes in Orpheus. the husband, and Arthur, their obsession, is a long-dead son who turns out never to have existed, thus irresistibly recalling that other nutty trio in the play I heard an Italian lady lecturer recently refer to as Chi ha paten della Voolf?