The Crimes of Stephen Hawke (1936)

Article #1350 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-24-2004
Posting Date: 4-23-2005
Directed by George King
Featuring Tod Slaughter, Marjorie Taylor, D.J. Williams

A series of brutal murders is being committed by a criminal known as The Spinebreaker, who is in reality a moneylender intent on making sure his daughter marries the right man.

It was only yesterday that I mentioned Eric Portman’s performance as one of the better things in the arty, pretentious CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS, and by coincidence, here he is again today, only in a movie that is the polar opposite of anything arty and pretentious. This is a Tod Slaughter film, and it’s pure, unadulterated barnstorming mellerdrammer. I’ve seen several of Tod’s movies so far, and up to this point, I would have found it hard to choose between them. That changes with this movie. Tod plays a moneylender (who really enjoys throwing women and children out of their homes and into the street) who moonlights as a serial killer; he has extra-powerful hands with which he can snap a man’s spine. Yet, somehow, this amoral fiend becomes the “hero” of the movie, as he ends up putting himself in peril in order to save his daughter (the one true love of his life) from being forced into marriage with a man she loathes. I even found myself almost cheering as he makes his stand near the end of the movie, and when he makes his final revelation to his daughter, a tear almost came to my eye. Yet, the movie never once denies its stagey origins, with its creaky direction, hammy acting, and hilariously campy dialogue. It even has a framing story about a radio broadcast, which eventually introduces Tod Slaughter as himself talking about his new old melodrama, and ends with an actually very amusing punch line. Really, there’s something rather deliciously perverse and almost subversive about the whole movie.

Never seen a Tod Slaughter movie? This is the one I’d recommend you try. Quite frankly, I’ve seen this sort of thing many times before without ever having seen anything quite like it. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself.

(Talk about arty and pretentious; quoting Walt Whitman while reviewing a Tod Slaughter movie?)

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