Post-War British Cinema: Man on the Run and The Intruder

April 17, 2020

Post-war British cinema was rife with ex-Services characters keeping a watchful eye for the authorities. Some were fake Majors fleeing their creditors in a “borrowed” Lea Francis, while others might receive an ominous message slipped under the door of their bed-sitter; ‘Call BAYswater 4754 at 8 tonight – or else. Nigel Patrick in Silent Dust was one of the most caddish figures in any film, while Trevor Howard in They Made Me a Fugitive was the officer adrift in post-war England.

Peter Burden of Man on the Run and “Ginger” Edwards in The Intruder represents a third category – the once-loyal soldier who feels betrayed by the authorities. The former starred Derek Farr, an actor whose quiet incisiveness benefited countless films – especially when he was asked to convey a sense that his character’s mask was on the verge of cracking. Here  “Brown” is always on his guard for anyone who might recognise their former Sergeant.

The Monthly Film Bulletin grumbled about the picture’s ‘sentimentality, but did praise the ‘authentic setting in Soho’. The district is populated by the likes of Edward Underdown’s “ Slim” Elfey and a further attraction is the supporting cast, which includes Edward Chapman, Valentine Dyall, and two future stars. Laurence Harvey was an ABPC contract artist, and although at 21 he was ridiculously young to play a Detective-Sergeant, his soignée image was already crystalising. Early in the picture, we encounter Kenneth More’s blackmailer Corporal Newman – an early sighting of the actor’s gift for depicting insouciant menace.

Four years later, The Intruder opens with Edwards burgling a London townhouse that, unknown to him, belongs to his former C.O. Colonel “Wolf” Merton (Jack Hawkins), who is appalled to see one of his best troopers – one who saved the lives of the entire squadron – reduced to such a state. We encounter Chapman as Ginger’s sanctimonious bully of an uncle, George Cole as Summers, promoted from the ranks, and Dennis Price as the snide adjutant who insists on using the title “Captain” in civilian life.  

The Intruder also features some wonderful comic relief in the forms of Dora Bryan, Arthur Howard, and Richard Wattis. Above all, the film showcases the talents of  Michael Medwin who, in the 1950s,  was too often cast as a “wide-boy” or “young chap who says ‘gosh!’”. He once stated ‘I’ve never been ambitious. Being a character actor in a high-risk business can be difficult, so it was a joy to be employed. I had no Everest to climb’.

Yet the review in The Guardian of 17th October 1953 highlighted Medwin as one of the ‘chief blessings’ of ‘an admirable cast. Hawkins may have been top-billed, but it is Edwards who dominates The Intruder, challenging his old Colonel not to abandon him. The Intruder remains an unsung gem of 1950s British cinema – and a tribute to one of its most valued actors.

Film Historian Andrew Roberts MA PhD FRSA

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