Black Limelight

Last updated

Black Limelight is a 1936 play by Gordon Sherry that in 1938 became a British crime film directed by Paul L. Stein and starring Joan Marion and Raymond Massey. [1]

Contents

Plot

"It concerns itself with the murder of a vulgar young woman [Lily]. Suspicion rests on refined young married Peter, who has disappeared, and is known to have spent week-ends with the young woman in question, apparently with the full knowledge of his charming wife [Mary]. She, on hearing of the murder, does everything in her power to screen her spouse. There are, of course, police and detectives on the track, but while they are seemingly very active, they rarely turn up at psychological moments. Peter therefore easily gains access to his home, despite the fact that no one could mistake him, in his unhappy condition, as other than one fleeing from justice. Did he commit the murder?" [2]

Production

Sherry's play was an early serial-killer drama ("the monster's homicidal mania leaps up at the time of the full moon," [3] noted Time magazine) and was originally intended to be premiered in London. In the event it opened at Broadway's Mansfield Theatre on 9 November 1936, [4] with a London production only appearing in mid-April the following year. A preview week at the small Q Theatre was immediately followed by a West End transfer to the St James' Theatre on the 22nd, the production running in all for 414 performances. [5] The text used in London was somewhat revised; among other adjustments, the heroine's name was changed from Naomi to Mary.

Margaret Rawlings scored a huge success doubling two roles - protective wife Mary and, in an Act II flashback, murdered mistress Lily - which on Broadway had been played by separate actresses, Winifred Lenihan and Kate Warriner. The doubling arrangement was Sherry's preferred mode, in order to suggest "that Peter fell in love again with the very qualities which attracted him to his wife." [6] Similarly, in the Daily Mirror Godfrey Winn welcomed "the most thrilling show I have seen for ages" and suggested that "Every woman should go to hear Margaret Rawlings' soliloquy on marriage." [7]

Adaptations

Television

Fifteen years later Rawlings and John Robinson repeated their stage roles of Mary and Peter Charrington in a BBC Sunday Night Theatre presentation transmitted on 1 June 1952. Another British TV production, an Armchair Theatre instalment screened on 30 September 1956, retained Robinson but cast Rosalie Crutchley as Mary. Renée Asherson and Nigel Stock played the leads in yet another TV version, shown in the BBC Sunday-Night Play strand on 14 January 1962. An Australian TV production, starring Bruce Beeby and Patricia Kennedy, was transmitted on 15 July 1959, and - like all three British versions - is presumed lost. [8]

Film

The film version was made by the Associated British Picture Corporation at ABPC's Elstree facility, with Sherry's play adapted by screenwriters Dudley Leslie and Walter Summers. The completed film was reviewed by Variety in June 1938 ("Script follows closely the stage version, except that the culprit is indicated too early") [9] and by Britain's Monthly Film Bulletin in July. As well as calling Black Limelight "an interesting example of its type," the MFB critic pointed out that Joan Marion's performance "is so convincingly restrained that a film which begins as just another murder thriller almost ends up as a social document." [10] The film's UK general release followed on 9 January 1939 and its New York opening in June. "Although as a murder mystery Black Limelight betrays its hand rather pointedly early in the game," noted the New York Times, "it has a certain documentary interest as a study of what happens to people mixed up in a big murder case in England ... This being a British film, Scotland Yard is made out to be quite stupid, instead of omniscient, as in our politer productions." [11] In Britain the film was reissued in 1942 as a second feature, [12] while in the US it was later screened under the alternative title Footsteps in the Sand. Alexander B. Cust is shown watching this in the 1992 David Suchet Poirot adventure "The A.B.C. Murders", set in 1936, but the film wasn't made till 1939.

Cast

Related Research Articles

Robert Donat British actor

Friedrich Robert Donat was an English film and stage actor. He is best remembered for his roles in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps (1935) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), winning for the latter the Academy Award for Best Actor.

John Robinson (English actor) English actor (1908-1979)

John Robinson was an English actor, who was particularly active in the theatre. Mostly cast in minor and supporting roles in film and television, he is best remembered for being the second actor to play the famous television science-fiction role of Professor Bernard Quatermass, in the 1955 BBC Television serial Quatermass II.

Googie Withers

Georgette Lizette Withers, CBE, AO, known professionally as Googie Withers, was an English entertainer who was a dancer and actress with a lengthy career spanning some nine decades in theatre, film, and television. She was a well-known actress and star of British films during the Second World War and postwar years.

Marius Goring English actor

Marius Re Goring, was an English stage and screen actor. He is best remembered for the four films he made with Powell & Pressburger, particularly as Conductor 71 in A Matter of Life and Death and as Julian Craster in The Red Shoes, and also for the title role in the long-running TV drama series, The Expert. He regularly performed French and German roles.

Phyllis Calvert British actress (1915-2002)

Phyllis Hannah Murray-Hill, known professionally as Phyllis Calvert, was an English film, stage and television actress. She was one of the leading stars of the Gainsborough melodramas of the 1940s such as The Man in Grey (1943) and was one of the most popular movie stars in Britain in the 1940s. She continued acting until some 50 years later.

Rodney Ackland

Rodney Ackland was an English playwright, actor, theatre director and screenwriter.

Rene Ray, Countess of Midleton

Rene Ray, Countess of Midleton was a British stage and screen actress of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s and also a novelist.

Marian Marsh

Violet Ethelred Krauth, better known by the stage name Marian Marsh, was a Trinidad-born American film actress and later an environmentalist.

Edward Chapman (actor)

Edward Chapman was an English actor who starred in many films and television programmes, but is chiefly remembered as "Mr.Thomas Grimsdale", the officious superior and comic foil to Norman Wisdom's character of Pitkin in many of his films from the late 1950s and 1960s.

Robert Adams (actor)

Robert Adams (1906–1965) was a British Guyanese actor of stage and screen. He was the founder and director of the Negro Repertory Arts Theatre, one of the first professional black theatre companies in Britain, and became Britain's first black television actor when he appeared in Theatre Parade: Scenes From Hassan on BBC TV in 1937. He was also the first Black actor to play a Shakespearian role on television, in 1947.

Nora Swinburne

Leonora Mary Johnson, known professionally as Nora Swinburne, was an English actress. She is best known for her appearances in many British films.

Margaret Rawlings

Margaret Rawlings, Lady Barlow was an English stage actress, born in Osaka, Japan, daughter of the Rev. George William Rawlings and his wife Lilian Rawlings.

Premiere is a 1938 British musical mystery film directed by Walter Summers and starring John Lodge, Judy Kelly, Joan Marion, Hugh Williams. In Paris a leading theatre impresario is murdered on opening night, shortly after replacing his leading lady. A police Inspector in the audience takes over the investigation.

Jenny Laird

Phyllis Edith M. Blythe, known professionally as Jenny Laird, was a British stage, film and television actress. Born in Manchester, Laird and her parents moved to the south, and she was educated at Maidstone grammar school and London University. She worked briefly as an advertising copywriter while studying acting with teachers such as the Central School's legendary Elsie Fogerty and in 1937 she made her repertory debut at the Brixton Theatre in A Bill of Divorcement.

Athole Stewart

Athole Chalmers Stewart was a British stage and latterly film actor, often in authoritarian or aristocratic roles.

Robert Rendel

Robert Rendel was a British actor of stage, screen, television and radio. His stage work included roles in the original Broadway productions of Somerset Maugham's The Circle in 1921, and Arnold Ridley's The Ghost Train in 1926. In 1935 he played the Duke of Marlborough in Norman Ginsbury's Viceroy Sarah. On film, he played Sherlock Holmes in the original sound version of The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1932.

Betty Ann Davies

Betty Ann Davies was a British stage and film actress active from the 1920s to the 1950s. She died in 1955 aged 44 following an operation. Davies made her first stage appearance at the Palladium in a revue in 1924. The following year she joined Cochran's Young Ladies in revues such as One Dam Thing After Another and This Year of Grace. Davies enjoyed a long and distinguished West End career which included The Good Companions 1934, Morning Star 1942, and Blithe Spirit 1943. Her outstanding stage triumph was in the role of Blanche du Bois, which she took over from Vivien Leigh, in the original West End production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Davies appeared in 38 films, and was active in TV at the time of her death. She left one son, Brook Blackford.

Joan Marion

Joan Marion was an Australian-born stage, film and television actress. Her family moved to Britain when she was three, and at eighteen she attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), where she adopted the name Joan Marion. Subsequently, a busy stage star, she made the record books in 1934, when she appeared in two West End shows simultaneously, Men in White with Ralph Richardson and Without Witness. She also famously turned down Jack Warner and a Hollywood career, describing him as "a horrid little man." Marion continued in the theatre and British films until her marriage to wine expert Louis Everette de Rouet. With the birth of her daughter she spent many years travelling the world with her family.

Black Limelight is a stage play by Gordon Sherry, which has been adapted for television at least four times. However, at least three of these adaptations are now lost.

Edana Romney

Edana Romney was a South African actress, writer, and television presenter, based in London and later in Southern California.

References

  1. BFI.org
  2. Walter D. Beckett, review in Catholic Herald 23 April 1937
  3. 'The Theatre: New Plays in Manhattan', Time 23 November 1936
  4. http://ibdb.com/production.php?id=12162
  5. J.P. Wearing, The London Stage, 1930–1939: A Calendar of Plays and Players, Scarecrow Press 1990
  6. Gordon Sherry, 'Production Notes', Black Limelight: A Play in Three Acts, Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd 1939
  7. advertising card, op cit
  8. http://www.lostshows.com/
  9. review by 'Jolo', Variety 29 June 1938
  10. Monthly Film Bulletin vol 5 no 55, 31 July 1938
  11. 'BRC', 'At the Globe', New York Times 26 June 1939
  12. Steve Chibnall and Brian McFarlane, The British 'B' Film, BFI/Palgrave Macmillan 2009