Tiger in the Smoke

This weekend the Margery Allingham Society arranged a screening of the 1956 film of Allingham’s 1952 novel The Tiger in the Smoke. The book was the 14th to feature her aristocratic sleuth Albert Campion but for the film, his character was written out. Indeed, like many of the Campion novels, the pace of the action is more in keeping with the thriller genre than the more genteel, cerebral approach of the typical Golden Age detective novel. As such, the film works as a crime thriller without the distraction of the portrayal of a series detective which can dog transitions from book to screen.

The screening took place at St Mary Abchurch in the City of London, the unusual venue having been selected because its interior was used as the location for one of the key confrontations with the eponymous Tiger character. I must confess to a certain frisson of excitement at the crucial scene as the surroundings in which we were seated were suddenly on screen. It was but a small imaginative step to picture the principals acting out their roles in the pews just in front of my own seat.

The film was certainly atmospheric with its representation of a pre-Clean Air Act London, fogbound in a classic pea-souper through which the action was as often obscured as revealed in the black and white of the period. That immediately post-war world must indeed have felt monochrome so that colour images would seem out of place.

Margery Allingham was apparently unhappy with the film but apart from the excision of her beloved Campion the plot stuck very closely to her original so it is hard to see to what she objected.

Part of the fun of movies of this vintage is spotting youthful early appearances of stars more familiar in their middle age. The romantic lead was played by Donald Sinden and there were cameos by the likes of Dandy Nicols which were a delight to spot.

I found the whole experience gripping and I am not ordinarily a fan of big screen adaptations. The pace was taut and the characterisation was both true to the novel and convincing in its own right. It’s screening is a fitting part of the events being put on by the Margery Allingham Society to mark the fiftieth anniversary of her death.

For more information about the Society and its activities go to their website:

http://www.margeryallingham.org.uk

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