Entry updated 16 May 2022. Tagged: Film.
UK film (1949). Hammer Film Productions. Directed by Godfrey Grayson. Written by Elizabeth Baron and Ambrose Grayson, based on a story by Ambrose Grayson. Cast includes Sebastian Cabot, Jean Lodge, James Raglan, Don Stannard and Bruce Walker. 67 minutes. Black and white.
Dick Barton – Special Agent was an extremely popular BBC Radio show that ran 1946-1951, with 10 serialized stories running over 711 15-minute episodes (plus a Christmas special). It featured the adventures of former Commando, Captain Richard "Dick" Barton (voiced by Noel Johnson until 1949), a British special agent, and his assistants Jock Anderson and Snowy White. Arguably Barton was a proto-James Bond (see Ian Fleming), but without the Sex (the main audience seems to have been schoolboys); the series also had a memorable theme tune, Charles Williams's "Devil's Gallop". Hammer Film Productions released three films (not using the radio series' voice actors): Dick Barton: Special Agent (1948); Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949) and Dick Barton at Bay (1950). Dick Barton Strikes Back was the third made, but second released. The early death of Stannard, who played Barton on screen, then ended the film franchise. There were subsequent revivals for radio, Television and the Theatre, some in the present century.
In Dick Barton Strikes Back, Barton (Stannard) and Snowy (Walker) go to the airport to meet a British spy just returned from Prague; they agree to hold the debriefing later at a night club – but before departing the spy identifies a fellow passenger, Fouracada (Cabot), as being very dangerous; adding "the atomic bomb is child's play compared to this". Arriving at the night club Barton and Snowy notice Fouracada at the bar, so Barton investigates, discovering the spy's corpse in a back room. He and Snowy are promptly captured, tied up and – after Fouracada tells them he is off to the north of England – left in a room with an open gas tap at one end and a lit flame on the other. Only mildly inconvenienced by their bonds, they clamber out the window seconds before the explosion.
Shortly after, Barton is ordered to the northern English village of High Glen, as "a Disaster of the first magnitude has occurred" and "the safety of the nation, possibly the entire world, depends on your success". Arriving at the deserted High Glen, Barton looks around and comments "an entire village obliterated; every living thing killed in a matter of minutes, and not a person left to tell us how it happened". "Cor, lumme, it ain't 'alf quiet," adds Snowy. Autopsies show that the brains of the victims have been "shrivelled ... dehydrated, as it were". Barton and Snowy stay with a local aristocrat, Lord Armadale (Raglan) – naturally, Snowy joins the servants. Tina (Lodge), the Lord's Hungarian secretary, is clearly distressed by the catastrophe but behaves suspiciously; later, she disappears just before another village is wiped out.
Barton notices both villages held a fair the day before their disasters, so the pair visit its current location – and are promptly captured by Fouracada. He explains his country has "perfected an apparatus that can create and transmit one million frequencies a second": combined with the fairground's generator and a "magnetic tuning fork" it unleashes lethal sonic vibrations (see Inventions; Weapons). Fouracada continues, saying tonight, using "a giant tuning fork" he will destroy an entire City ... Barton: "Of course, you're quite mad." Fortunately for Barton, Tina regrets her complicity in the deaths, so frees the pair. Barton then notices a nearby tower (the location is Blackpool), realizing this is the "giant tuning fork".
We hear a speech broadcast to the fairground workers by "the leader, the man who has organized our entire movement", who says: "We are after world domination for the country we represent." (see Politics): England will be wiped out, then the cities of Europe and America. Barton is captured again when Lord Armadale reveals himself to be in charge of operations: "It's no longer possible to live like a gentleman by fair means; as far as I'm concerned this country has already gone to the dogs. All I care about is that I'm paid." As Armadale goes to set off the device, Fouracada locks Barton and Snowy in a convenient serpentarium, then frees the supposedly venomous snakes (though even the vivarium label of one says "Imperial Boa"). They are saved again by Tina, who is killed by Fouracada, whose gun then fortuitously jams; Barton's punch means he falls among the snakes. Rushing to the top of the tower, Barton – despite being shot in the shoulder – confronts Lord Armadale, who foolishly backs off without looking where he's going, falling to his death. Barton and Snowy then go for a pint of bitter.
Though the best of the three Barton films, Dick Barton Strikes Back is not particularly good and – save for Cabot – has flat performances; most of the enjoyment comes from the Clichés of plot and dialogue. Part of the fun of this film subgenre is how a Villain devises absurd means of disposing of the Hero and the latter then ingeniously frees themself: Fouracada holds his end up, but Barton's escapes are insipid. Though Fouracada's country remains unnamed, there are references to Hungary and what was then Czechoslovakia, with the fairground workers being stereotypically Romany; there is an unsettlingly long pan of them as their leader speaks of conquering the world. Given that only a few years had passed since World War Two, this is at best insensitive (see Paranoia; Race in SF).
The last-released film, Dick Barton at Bay (1950), was based on one of the radio episodes and also had sf elements: a British Scientist invents a Ray to disintegrate aircraft, but he and his daughter are kidnapped by a Russian spy (see Cold War), who uses the daughter to blackmail him into revealing how the device works. This time the villain falls from the top of a lighthouse. [SP]
- E S Turner. Boys Will Be Boys: The Story of Sweeney Todd, Deadwood Dick, Sexton Blake, Billy Bunter, Dick Barton, et al (London: Michael Joseph, 1948) [nonfiction: also revised editions 1957 and 1975: hb/James Broom Lynne]
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