Floral Foul Play – Rediscovering ‘Moss Rose’ (US 1947 – 81 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - May 18, 2015
Floral Foul Play – Rediscovering ‘Moss Rose’ (US 1947 – 81 mins)

The rather obscure and quietly engaging little thriller ‘Moss Rose’ was another one of those popular and largely studio-bound 1940’s chillers that Twentieth Century Fox was adept at producing. Like much of their other output that included ‘I Wake up Screaming’ (’41) and ‘The Lodger’ (’44), these movies benefited from having brief build-ups and a less than 90 minute running time.

Here the setting is Victorian London, and after witnessing him leaving her friend Daisy’s home shortly before discovering her dead body, chorus girl Belle Adair (Peggy Cummins) blackmails the wealthy gentleman; Michael Drego (Victor Mature) into allowing her into his stately home so she can have a taste of the good life. However it’s not long before Belle’s new privileged life is interrupted when Police Inspector Clinner (Vincent Price) calls at the estate one day with questions about the murder. The inspector is a keen horticulturalist and thinks there is a link to the murderer with a moss rose that was found in a Bible near Daisy’s body.

While it may not be groundbreaking and it does change gear somewhat, ‘Moss Rose’ is still highly watchable. It has all the usual elements of a gothic chiller, such as the imposing mansion, a shady hero, and the fact that just about every other character seems to be tormented one way or another. All of the performances here are solid with the lovely Peggy Cummins doing a serviceable cockney accent in the first half before her deliberate character change later on. Victor Mature makes a worthy leading man and does a pretty good job as a suspicious English gentleman (although he doesn’t try an accent here). Acting royalty Ethel Barrymore steals her scenes as Mature’s bossy mother Lady Margaret, and Vincent Price is enjoyable as always as a Scotland Yard Inspector. Beautiful Margo Woode has the small role of Cummins’ doomed girlfriend Daisy.

Director Gregory Ratoff had earlier made the popular love story ‘Intermezzo’ (’39) starring Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman. Also an actor, Ratoff can be seen in such classics as ‘All about Eve’ (’50) and ‘Sabrina’ (’54), though sadly he died from leukemia in 1960 at just 38 years old. One of the movie’s strong points was the moody photography by Joe MacDonald, who was the talented cinematographer on the previous year’s iconic western ‘My Darling Clementine’ (’46). Niven Busch adapted the screenplay which was based on the 1941 novel “The Crime of Laura Sarelle” by British author Marjorie Bowen (writing under the pseudonym Joseph Shearing).

Part murder-mystery, part romantic drama, ‘Moss Rose’ is an atmospheric and distracting thriller, even if the mystery element is not that difficult to solve. I think it’s a cosy delight and with the adorable Peggy Cummins in a rare lead role, one that’s shouting out for rediscovery.

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