|Moss Rose (1947)
Run time: 82 min
Genres: Mystery | Thriller
Director: Gregory Ratoff
Writers: Niven Busch, Jules Furthman
Stars: Peggy Cummins, Victor Mature, Ethel Barrymore
A blackmailing chorus girl trying to solve the mystery of a friend’s murder finds she may be the next victim. A very well-played Victorian mystery drama. (This film was originally programmed for March 11, 2013, but the print was unavailable.)
Release Date: 30 May 1947 (USA)
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Gabrille Margaret Long, writing under the names of Majorie Bowen and Joseph Shearing wrote many fascinating novels based upon actual murder cases using her own interpretations as to what actually happened and who was really guilty. This novel and film "Moss Rose" is based upon an 1873 murder of a prostitute named Buswell, which was never solved. Other Shearing novels turned into films around this time are "Blanche Fury" and "Mark of Cain ("Airing in a Closed Carriage" based upon the Maybrick case).
Shearings novels are very hard to adapt and the film "Moss Rose" differs very much from the novel. So much so, that outgside of the basic idea it is almost a complete revision of the novel. Nevertheless, this film is very well produced with the sets and costumes capturing the late Victorian ambiance and a outstanding performance from England’s Peggy Cummins. She captures the spunky cockney persona of "Belle Adair", while showing the vulnerability of a young woman alone in the world and making her way during an era of very closely defined social classes. Even when she is blackmailing a aristocratic family, she is still likable.
All in all, very well done and well worth watching.
It’s that smudge of fog called London under the reign of Victoria. When a music-hall dancer is murdered, a moss rose marks the page of a Bible next to her body. Luckily, another chorus girl (Peggy Cummins) saw a gentleman (Victor Mature) leaving the lodgings. She approaches him directly, saying she’ll go to the police if he doesn’t meet her demands, but he brushes her off contemptuously. When he learns she’s dead serious, he tries to buy her off with a thick wad of pound notes. But it’s not money she’s after; all she wants is two weeks at his country estate, living the life of a `lady.’
And here Moss Rose, which has taken its time working up a head of steam, branches off onto a new siding. The estate contains not only Mature, his fiancée (Patricia Medina) and his formidable old dowager mother (Ethel Barrymore), but also a greenhouse where out-of-season moss roses bloom.
Apart from a few Eliza-Doolittle faux pas, the classes do not clash. Barrymore, in fact, extends Cummins a matey welcome; even Medina tries to put aside her understandable jealousy. The only apple of discord falls when Cummins strays innocently into Mature’s boyhood rooms, which Barrymore preserves as a secret shrine.
Cummins finds the pastoral scene (`You’d expect to see a calendar pasted under it!’ she exclaims) lives up to all her expectations. Thrown together, Mature has thawed markedly towards Cummins, and she towards him. But their idyll comes under siege with the arrival from London of bumbling Scotland Yard detective and amateur horticulturist Vincent Price, still investigating that pesky homicide. Soon there’s another murder, another Bible, and another moss rose….
An old-dark-house costume drama akin to My Name Is Julia Ross or The Spiral Staircase, Moss Rose finds its strength in its actors rather than its direction (by Gregory Ratoff). While Mature stays four-square and Price unctuously fey, Barrymore predictably grande-dames it to the hilt. Cummins is lovely and quite good as a Cockney diamond-in-the-rough, but leaves nothing like the impression she would two years later as Annie Laurie Starr in Gun Crazy. An air of the contrived lingers after Moss Rose, more faded than pungent, but it’s cozy and reassuring, too.
Moss Rose is directed by Gregory Ratoff and adapted to screenplay by Niven Busch, Jules Furthman and Tom Reed from the novel The Crime of Laura Saurelle written by Joseph Shearing. It stars Peggy Cummins, Victor Mature, Ethel Barrymore, Vincent Price, Margo Woode, George Zucco, Patricia Medina and Rhys Williams. Music is by David Buttolph and cinematography by Joseph MacDonald.
Somebody is killing Michael Drego's (Mature) lovers and leaving behind a bible and a compressed dried moss rose. When her dancer friend is one of the victims, Belle Adair (Cummins) thinks she knows who the killer is and sets about blackmailing him for an unusual request…
British set Gothic noir pulsing with maternal pangs and whodunit shenanigans, Moss Rose has much to recommend to the like minded adult. Lets not beat around the bush, though, motivations of the principal players are decidedly weak and the police fare little better in the brain department.
However, once one settles into the atmosphere brought out by MacDonald's (Niagra/Pickup On South Street) beautiful photography – and got tuned into Cummins' brash London accent – then it can sustain interest. It's more successful as a mood piece when out on the London streets than it is at the Drego mansion, though the period design of costuming and sets is most appealing.
Mature often came in for some stick for his acting, but I have sometimes thought much of it was unfair. Here though he is not quite right for the role, it feels like what it is, a name on the poster to draw the punters in. But his performance still works on sombre terms, besides which, Cummins and the wonderful Barrymore pretty much dominate proceedings anyway.
Price fans should note that he isn't in it much, and even then it's late in the picture, but he's suitably stylish and you can't help thinking he probably should have had the Michael Drego role instead! Meanwhile Ratoff (Black Magic) directs without fuss and histrionic filler.
An enjoyable ride with visual treats along the way, with a finale to nudge you to the edge of your seat. 7/10
It's amazing the degree of professionalism Hollywood reached in those early decades. The foggy London street scenes are superb, the mansion interiors impeccable, the costumes perfect, the women hairstyles… (are there hairdressers nowadays able to duplicate those Victorian hairstyles?). And of course the acting impeccable. Peggy Cummins off camera voice at the beginning, explaining the situation reveals a child speaking, such is her Betty Boopish voice.
Eventually she appears and throughout the whole film mesmerizes us with her blond Lolita looks and startling acting ability. Precisely with all that Hollywood professionalism it's difficult to understand why, a cockney like Cummins character, that speaks like a regular Eliza Doolittle, all of a sudden loses her typical speaking mode and starts, very naturally, to speak in a normal intercontinental English.
It took Eliza many months of extremely harsh study to get rid of her cockney intonation, but this character does it in a jiffy (without the help of a professor Higgins!!), and nobody questions that miraculous change! The movie is entertaining and very predictable; the end is rushed in, ruining everything previously done, but I imagine it was part of fitting the story within a certain length of time.
I saw "Gun Crazy" before, where I "discovered" Peggy Cummins and found her (in a totally different rol) quite a trouvaille! sort of a Veronica Lake (as petite as her) and unusual, like a Gloria Graham. Lovely with her round mouth, sting lipped childish appeal (and voice!). Nice, cozy movie to watch (we are so familiar with the formula!) when it's raining and dark outside.