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  Man Upstairs, The Doesn't Get Out Much
Year: 1958
Director: Don Chaffey
Stars: Richard Attenborough, Bernard Lee, Donald Houston, Dorothy Alison, Virginia Maskell, Kenneth Griffith, Patricia Jessel, Alfred Burke, Charles Houston, Maureen Connell, Amy Dalby, Walter Hudd, Patrick Jordan, Graham Stewart, Victor Brooks, Edward Judd
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The man known to his fellow lodgers as John Wilson (Richard Attenborough) is having a nightmare, jerking and shouting in bed until he wakes himself up with a jolt. The room on the top floor which he has taken is freezing cold, so unable to sleep he tries to light the gas fire, but has trouble getting it working, agitating him and forcing him to seek assistance, knocking on the door of artist Nicholas (Charles Houston) who has been spending the night with his model (Maureen Connell), and does not wish to be disturbed so tells the anxious man where to go. This has woken Mr Pollen (Kenneth Griffith), something of a busybody who attempts to intervene, but ends up on the floor with broken glasses for his trouble. For this mystery man can be violent...

A siege melodrama in the style of the French Le Jour Se Leve, or the Hollywood Fourteen Hours, this took elements from both but endeavoured mightily to be its own thing by making its theme the treatment of the mentally ill in society. This was at a time when the afflicted were still being locked away for their own good, so they were told, and could spend years institutionalised and misunderstood by the wider public who simply wanted them out of the way where they would not have to encounter them. Ironically, one of the cast, Virginia Maskell who played Attenborough's late to the party fiancée, would suffer terribly from depression in her last few years and took her life ten years after appearing in this, aged only thirty-one. Not well remembered now, she did well here.

In fact, this was a very accomplished cast, some more recognisable than others but almost all someone you would see if you watched enough old British movies or television. An ensemble was what it was, allowing the limelight, as stark as the searchlight the police shine through the title character's window, to move from Attenborough and onto other, just as adept, performers. Bernard Lee made a good account of himself as the police inspector who showed up as the situation grew more dire, one of his officers who had been called by the slightly injured Pollen having been attacked by the man in the upper room. The Inspector only regards Attenborough as a thug, an example of the slackening respect the populace have for the law, but mental health worker Donald Houston is on hand to plead the unfortunate's case.

This was very well-photographed in Brit noir style by Gerald Gibbs, though perhaps it did not quite slot into that assignation, more closely aligned with the then-popular kitchen sink dramas as this was like a thriller variant on those. It focused on the mixture of characters, especially the lodgers who gripe and carp while this small crisis unfolds upstairs - the man has a gun, as it turns out - in much the same manner as a television crime show would, not something pacey and punchy like the American imports, more the sort that would be seen in the upcoming Z Cars or later Juliet Bravo. You know the type of affair, something as realistic as possible, and while this was not based on a real event it did hold an air of gritty authenticity that made you believe it could have been. Taking place in real time was a novelty, but it didn't feel it, it made the story more immediate and was vividly handled by director Don Chaffey who corralled his ensemble while making sure the tension did not slacken. It had a B-movie texture, but a B-movie that could have stolen the thunder of the A picture it supported.

[The Man Upstairs is released on Blu-ray by Network as part of The British Film. It has an image gallery and subtitles as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Don Chaffey  (1917 - 1990)

British director best known for directing fantasy favourites Jason and the Argonauts and One Million Years B.C, both of which featured groundbreaking Ray Harryhausen effects. Chaffey also directed Hammer's Viking Queen, but much of his work was in television, both in the UK (The Prisoner, Man In a Suitcase) and, later, the US (Charlie's Angels, CHiPs, Airwolf). Also made kids' favourites Greyfriars Bobby and Pete's Dragon for Disney.

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