The October Man — A Good 1947 British Mystery Classic

The October Man, a 1947 British film starring John Mills and Joan Greenwood, fits the bill for tense psycho-drama and mystery. If it seems to throw a large Hitchcockian shadow, it’s because Roy Ward Baker, Alfred’s former assistant, cuts his directorial teeth in this classic black and white.

Having suffered a head injury in a disastrous bus crash, Jim Ackland (John Mills), has spent an unspecified length of time in a psychiatric hospital, and is being dismissed. Dr. Martin (Felix Aylmer) warns Jim he must be emotionally on guard, for he is being sent back into a loud, fractious world after a long period of order and quiet. Ackland is also still dealing with despondency and guilt over the death of a child who was in his care at the time of the crash. He feels if he had done things differently, she would still be alive, and blames himself for her death. He has periods of memory loss and has twice attempted suicide. Dr. Martin also cautions him about making any important life decisions — like marriage — for at least a year, until he can determine if he is capable of sound judgment.

He moves into a boarding house where he openly fills out the register with the name of the hospital as his former residence. The varied tenants speculate about him after he rebuffs their attempts at drawing him into their small social circle. He tries to soften the rejection by explaining he has been ill and needs rest.

The main tenants are comprised of an obnoxious, pushy old gossip in the form of Mrs. Vinton (Joyce Carey); the shy but eager to please house manager, Miss Selby (Catherine Lacey); the sympathetic Mr. Pope (George Benson), who tries to be the voice of reason; Molly Newman (Kay Walsh), a confused and down on her luck model who is behind on her rent, and has a hopeless affair with a married man; and Mr. Peachy (Edward Chapman), a short, rotund man whom the gossips say is wealthy, but for some reason prefers living at the old boarding house.

A few months go by, and Jim meets the sister of a business colleague, Harry Cardin (Patrick Holt). He feels an immediate attraction for Jenny Cardin (Joan Greenwood), who encourages him as he struggles to plant his feet and his mind more firmly on solid ground. Happiness seems within his grasp until a woman from his boarding house is found strangled on the local common. All evidence points to Ackland, whose confusion and lack of an alibi causes him to doubt his own innocence.

In the end, it is Jenny Cardin who will not allow Ackland to go down that road of self-destruction; who gives him the courage to face his demons and elude the police while running a race to the death with the real killer,

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