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Moss Rose

Posted by martinteller on August 30, 2014

In turn-of-the-century London, a young woman named Daisy Arrow (Margo Woode) has been murdered in her room.  Conspicuously sitting at her bedside is a Bible with a moss rose pressed between the pages.  Daisy’s friend and fellow chorus girl Belle Adair (Peggy Cummins) saw a man leave the room just before she discovered the body.  She tracks him down and finds out that he’s Michael Drego (Victor Mature), a wealthy man engaged to Audrey Ashton (Patricia Medina).  Belle blackmails Michael, threatening to reveal all she knows to Police Inspector Clinner (Vincent Price) — an amateur horticulturalist who takes special interest in this case and its unusual flora.  But what she wants isn’t money.  She wants to spend two weeks at the lavish Drego estate in the country, enjoying the pampered, luxurious life.  Secrets abound in the mansion populated by Belle, Audrey, Michael and Michael’s brassy mother Lady Margaret (Ethel Barrymore).

This film is tonally out of sync with itself, and never quite recovers from the shift from the seedy London murder mystery of the first half to the gothic romantic melodrama of the second half.  It’s clear that Belle thinks Michael is the killer (even if we know better) but what isn’t clear is at what point she stopped thinking so, or else stopped caring.  She turns from an intriguing character to a confusing one.  The romance just doesn’t work that well, and ultimately neither does the murder mystery.  The reveal is entirely predictable from fairly early on in the film, to the point where you think it has to be some sly misdirection… “this is who they want me to think did it.”

But if the story isn’t particularly satisfying, there is at least some stellar photography from Joe MacDonald.  He’s got some fine noir credits under his belt, including Pickup on South Street, but may be most notable as the cinematographer on My Darling Clementine.  His work here — particularly in the London scenes — is beautifully gothic and gloomy.  The performances are generally pretty good, too.  I always associate Peggy Cummins with the Annie Oakley-esque femme fatale she plays in Gun Crazy, so it was a bit of a shock to hear her talk in a British accent.  I had apparently forgotten her role in Night of the Demon and the fact that she’s a UK native.  Still, her cockney accent feels rather forced and it’s only when she puts on upper-crust airs in the second half of the film that she sounds natural.  Regardless of the voice work, it’s a solid performance, though certainly not as memorable as “Annie Laurie Starr”.  Mature, fortunately, doesn’t attempt an accent, which is explained away by having his character grow up in Canada.  He doesn’t get a whole lot to do here, and isn’t good at pulling off the darkness we’re supposed to think he has in him.  However, Barrymore shines, commanding the screen whenever she’s around, and Price is fun as always.

Despite the cast and some occasionally strong atmosphere, this is a somewhat ho-hum affair that fizzles out after some early promise.  Rating: Fair (65)


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