William Hartnell is no doubt best known today for portraying the irascible first incarnation of The Doctor during the first three years of Doctor Who’s 50+ year history. Seventeen years prior to originating the science fiction role he immortalized, however, Hartnell starred in the noir-ish, British gangster picture, Appointment with Crime (1946), as the vicious thief, Leo Martin. A far cry from Hartnell’s cranky yet lovable and grandfatherly Doctor, Leo Martin is best described by another character late in the film as “the filthiest apology for a rat that ever crawled out of a sewer.”
I admit I found the appeal of Appointment with Crime rooted entirely in the casting of William Hartnell alongside The Pink Panther series’ Herbert Lom prior to screening the film. And neither Hartnell nor Lom disappointed! Fortunately, apart from the stellar performances, Appointment with Crime’s a solid gangster film all around with plenty of narrative ins and outs that keep you struggling to ally yourself with any single character along the way. Add in a sprinkling of Germen expressionist and avant garde visuals early on in the film during a flashback and you’ve got yourself a winning little picture!
The film opens with Leo being arrested for a robbery gone wrong, which results in him not only being seriously injured, but being abandoned by the men who put him up to the crime in the process. We see him quickly rushed into surgery and then jail in the most visually dynamic sequence of the film characterized by an expressionistic flashback and a sort of montage that find all the shots of the montage on screen at once, like a cinematic collage. It’s fascinating stuff! Once released from jail, Leo sets out to exact revenge upon his former cohorts, directing his ire all the way up the chain of command to the big boss. The only things standing in his way are a Canadian police officer and the conscience of the woman Leo loves.
Though a strong film all around, I’m still most enamored with the performance of William Hartnell here. What can I say? I’m a Whovian, so that reaction was, I think, inevitable. It’s terrific to see Hartnell play such a vengeful, hard-ass, garbage human being as Leo Martin. Sure, our allegiance as viewers teeters back and forth between Leo and the police officer/Leo’s girlfriend, Carol. But the film pulling us in a hundred different directions doesn’t change the fact that Leo is a murderous, thieving sociopath—the sort of guy you don’t ever want to cross!
Appointment with Crime arrives on Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films on June 21, 2016. Though totally lacking in special features as most Olive releases are—preferring to let the films speak for themselves I suppose—the transfer on the Appointment with Crime Blu-ray is quite nice. Apart from some standard wear and tear on the source materials due to their age, I spotted no major flaws in the visual transfer here. A bit of speckling and some minor scratching, sure, but that’s to be expected of a 1946 feature.