Vintage Movies: “The Green Man”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’30s through the ’70s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

The Green Man (1956, 80 minutes)

Harry Hawkins, a man with as many aliases as there are English seaside towns (he goes by “Mr. Margate” and “Mr. Ramsgate” here) has an unusual occupation. He’s a paid assassin who only accepts assignments to terminate larger-than-life characters; as he sees it, “those overblown balloons crying out to be popped.” The genteel manner of Hawkins (played by a craggy-faced Alastair Sim) makes him unthinkable as a suspect in such foul play.

He takes pains to kill his victims in an artistically creative fashion: a ceremonial kick by a Latin American dictator of a soccer ball with a bomb inside, a lethal charge placed under the gavel of a windbag tycoon. Hawkins’ latest assignment, from a certain Middle Eastern nation, is to eliminate Sir Gregory Upshott (Raymond Huntley), a British cabinet minister. Sir Gregory’s personal secretary has let slip that her boss will be dallying with Joan (Eileen Moore), a girl from the typing pool, this weekend at The Green Man hotel in New Cliff. Hawkins plans to fulfill his contract at the resort with explosives neatly placed inside a radio.

“When fate takes a hand, she sometimes chooses the meanest of instruments,” laments Hawkins as narrator. Enter the perpetual thorn in his side, William Blake (George Cole), a neophyte vacuum-cleaner salesman, burning not so bright. And yet, not so clueless as to ignore Hawkins’ girlfriend, stuffed inside a piano to keep her silent.

The newly engaged Ann Vincent (Jill Adams) wanders in on Blake as he’s preparing to demonstrate “the little wizard of the carpet” in her living room. They are shocked to find fresh blood on the rug, suspect a murder has been committed and hide under the bed upstairs when they hear someone at the front door.

“Ann, who is this fellow and what are you doing with him under the bed?” blusters Reginald (Colin Gordon), Ann’s pretentious fiancé, home from his job as a BBC newsreader. “I came here to demonstrate a vacuum cleaner,” explains Blake. “Under the bed?” shouts Reginald, blowing a gasket. “Well, we do have attachments for that,” Blake retorts, limply. “By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you if I didn’t have to read the nine o’clock news,” spouts Reginald, stomping off.

Blake and Ann drive straight to The Green Man to warn Sir Gregory of impending doom, arriving just as Charlie Boughtflower (a paranoid philanderer played by Terry-Thomas) is checking in. Sir Gregory and Joan are about to order from The Green Man’s limited dinner menu. “I ask you, is this the only country in the world that would attempt to start the gastric juices flowing with the repellant words ‘chopped toad?'” sighs Sir Gregory. Just before the bottom falls out of their romantic little weekend, a nervous Joan places her dinner order: “I’ll have the chopped toad.”