Passages In Time

I watched films.

Corridor Of Mirrors (1948), as we all know, featured young Christopher Lee’s first screen appearance as a hanger-on in the night-club scene. But there should be as much attention given to Thora Hird as the voluble visitor to Madame Tussauds a few minutes earlier, since she actually said some lines.

We start in the post-war present, when Myfanwy Conway has been living happily married in Wales with her husband and 3 kids. It is established later that most of the action of the story was in 1938, and Myfanwy states that it happened “7 years ago”. However no details of the War and its aftermath are indicated at all.

Myfanwy has recently been disturbed by menacing letters and she gets a telegram calling her for a meeting at Madame Tussauds, near the dummy of old Paul Mangin. This brings on her reverie that is the flashback giving most of the narrative.

MYFANWY: You feel above the cut-throats and the murderers surrounding you, don’t you. I know that look so well… that look of utter boredom. You had it the first time I saw you, I wanted to know all about you.

7 years earlier, the younger unmarried Myfanwy was a fashionable lady about town, cruising around the night-clubs and waltzing with mysterious brooding old fellows who give gentlemanly lifts home for drinks in their townhouses pervaded by mysterious intensity.

Soon she was a regular visitor to his lair, becoming fascinated by the corridor of mirrors, each in front of a chamber containing a dummy in an elaborate outfit. She loves to dress up in Paul’s fancy dress collection and was soon coming under his spell (“becoming someone entirely different”), influenced by his dominating personality even though of course he would never resort to any physical coercion.

But after she encountered the strange figure of Veronica lurking below stairs in the house, and heard an alternative history of what’s been going on, she confronted Paul.

This lead to his great reveal of his secret: recovering in Italy during the Great War, he became fascinated by the painting of a lady from hundreds of years ago, overlooking his bed… he feels he knew her in an old life together, and now a “miracle” has meant they can live together again.

When we first met him, Paul himself had been reduced to a dummy in a collection of executed murderers, so we know how the story will play out, at least in the official record. But there is a twisty resolution to it all, and perhaps Myfanwy could have done better for himself with Paul rather than the smug older man Conway she actually married, who doesn’t seem to realise how lucky he was. Paul could put on a great “Venetian Carnival” for her, and seems to have been financing the entire Costume & Interior Design community of 1930s London with his preposterous self-indulgence.

It was all based on a novel, and there was an edition with a dust jacket image from the film.

Moving on a few years, let’s go a few rungs down the social scale and enter a slightly grittier London, where no one gets a hansom cab through deserted midnight streets. The realm of The Long Dark Hall (1951), which is also contained mostly in a long flashback. A young British reporter is giving a juicy story about a miscarriage of justice to an American author who needs it to boost up his new book of true-crime tales.

The story was a few years earlier, when a serial killer was stalking and attacking chorus girls coming home from the theatre.

One of his victims was Rose Mallory, who was hanging out with girlfriends in Joe’s Club and decided to not bother seeing her older boyfriend Arthur Groome on that night.

The creepy stranger (who is only named as “The Man” in the credits) follows her home and stabs her.

Meanwhile Groome had been fidgeting and worrying in a restaurant nearby.

When he found out he’d missed Rose at the Club, he went to her flat and found her dead. Sickened, he didn’t raise the alarm, but instead travelled back to Richmond… to his wife and kids, and to destroy his bloodstained jacket.

Meanwhile Scotland Yard made rapid progress on the case, and soon had enough to bring Arthur in for questioning and then charge him.

The opening speech at his trial by the prosecuting counsel was a profound meditation on the principles of British criminal justice in the era of capital punishment.

COUNSEL: Before we proceed with the testimony of the witnesses, I should like to clear the minds of the jury on a point about which there has commonly been a misunderstanding. One hears it argued that there is some essential weakness in circumstantial evidence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, under certain conditions circumstantial evidence is the best evidence of all. Few murders are committed in public. As a rule, there are only 2 people present: the killer and the victim. The killer has his own reasons for concealing the truth. The victim does not survive to tell it. Circumstantial evidence is thus the only means of bringing such criminals to justice. By law, custom, and reason, you need have no misgivings whatever about accepting evidence of that nature.

As was indicated right at the start, the jury did their duty to the King and returned a Guilty verdict, but as with the case of Paul Mangin there were further complications later. In this case we know who the real baddie is, and he couldn’t keep away from it all. He even pursued Groome’s wife in to their home.

This tale was also based on a book: A Case To Answer by Edgar Lustgarten.

After all the parallels and symmetries between these films, there is one further connection only visible outside them: “The Man” was played by Anthony Dawson, who supplied the white cat-stroking hands of Blofeld in the early Bond films… and Paul Mangin had a white cat roaming about in his mansion, an object of fascination for Myfanwy.

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