There’s been a murder!
Yes, indeed. It would seem that during the 1940s and the 1950s, people were just dropping left and right. Mysterious murders were just a part of everyday life and you can be sure that every murder would bring with it an effort would be made to frame an innocent man. The 1947 British noir, The Mysterious Mr. Nicholson, opens with Peggy Dundas (Lesley Osmond) stumbling across a dead body. The body belongs to a man who was planning on changing his will and disinheriting his nephew. It seems like the nephew should be the obvious suspect, right?
Except …. the dead man has a letter pinned to his chest! And the letter is signed by VLS, a notorious cat burglar who, in the days before World War II, was famous for robbing the French and then sending the authorities taunting letters. So, obviously, VLS must be back and he must now be a murderer!
Except …. why would you kill a man and then leave behind a note letting everyone know that you did it? That makes no sense at all. Especially since VLS is actually a man named Mr. Nicholson (Anthony Hulme) and this mysterious Mr. Nicholson not only helped the British defeat the Germans but he also has a solid alibi for where he was on the night of the murder. Obviously, VLS is innocent!
Except …. Peggy says that she saw a man who looked exactly like Mr. Nicholson at the scene of the crime!
Could the Mysterious Mr. Nicholson have a look-alike? Yes, actually, he does. We learn this very early in the film so it doesn’t count as a spoiler. The murderer is man named Raeburn (also played by Anthony Hulme). Raeburn just happens to look exactly like Mr. Nicholson and he figured he would use that resemblance to his advantage by framing Nicholson for the crime!
So now, Nicholson has to not only prove his innocence but also track down the man who looks exactly like him!
That’s a lot of plot for a low-budget, 78 minute film. What’s odd is that, even with all of that scheming and the short running time, The Mysterious Mr. Nicholson still has some odd moments of blatant padding. In the middle of the film, all of the action comes to a halt so that we can watch a lengthy dog act. This is followed by a musical interlude. Why? Who knows? Neither adds much to the plot.
Anyway, I was actually kind of hoping that The Mysterious Mr. Nicholson would turn out to be one of those really fun, old movies that you just happen to stumble across on Prime or on TCM late at night. But it’s actually pretty boring. There’s only a handful of locations in the film, which gives the whole thing a stagey feel and, though short, the movie often seems to drag. Another huge problem is that Hulme plays Nicholson and Raeburn the exact same way, so it’s often difficult to keep track of which is which. I was hoping for at least some split photography so Hulme could act opposite himself but we don’t even get that. Instead, Nicholson and Raeburn are rarely on screen at the same time and, whenever they are, it’s obvious that a stand-in was used for the other man.
From a historical point of view, the film is interesting in that it was obviously made while London was still rebuilding from World War II. The few location shots reveal a city that’s in the process of being recreated. Nicholson is presented as being someone who was basically reformed as a result of fighting on the side of the good guys during World War II. As one Scotland Yard inspector explains it, Nicholson may have been a criminal before the war but, once the war started, he remembered that was British first and he did what had to be done to help defeat Germany. It’s a nice touch.
The historical aspect aside, The Mysterious Mr. Nicholson is pretty forgettable. When it comes to British noirs, I’ll take The Criminal.