Although primarily a war film, Wilfred Lawson's performance of murderous insanity launches the film into a horror movie genre all its own.
The Missing Link Proudly Presents

"Pursued by the Nazis,
he had only one hope to escape!"

(1941/Welwyn Studios/Associated British Picture Corp.) 78mins. BW. UK.
Credits: Dir: Lawrence Huntington; Prod: John Argyle; Sc: John Reinhart; Adapted: John Argyle; Ph: Walter Harvey; Exterior Ph: Ronald Anscombe; Ed: Flora Newton; Prod. Manager: H.G. Inglis; Sets: Charles Gilbert; Sound Engineer: H. Benson; Sound Recordist: Albert Ross; Mus: Eddie Benson. From a story by John Reinhart.
Cast: Wilfred Lawson (Rolfe Kristan), Michael Rennie (Anthony Hale), Morland Graham (Herr Kleber), George Woodbridge (Rudolf Jurgens), Movita (Marie Durand), Edward Sinclair (Fletcher), Richard George (Captain Borkmann), Charles Rolfe (Albers), John Longden (Commandant), H. Victor Weske (Peters).
Uncredited Cast: Olive Sloane, Davina Craig, Noel Dainton, Rita Grant, Eric Clavering, Joe Welch, Charles Minor, Kieran Tunney, Robert Cameron, Sam Lee, Daley Cooper.

During the early Nineteen Forties, the British cinema was changed forever as one of the consequences of the Second World War. Many actors had either enlisted or gone to Hollywood to further their careers. Those who hadn't returned to their homeland during its darkest hours never quite recaptured the esteem and affection once held by the British cinema-going public. It was also a time of transition where matinee idols of the Thirties were being replaced by a new breed of actors. Displays of youth, courage and determination mirrored the same qualities that would be needed to combat the current German threat.
By the time Tower of Terror was in production, Britain had already paraded a string of topical flag-waving propaganda films, depicting the Movita & Wilfred Lawson in Tower of TerrorGermans as undercover fifth-columnists, villainous agents and Nazi spies. Night Train To Munich in 1940 featured Rex Harrison and Margaret Lockwood continually outwitting Paul Heinreid as the Gestapo leader; For Freedom produced the same year was made as a semi-documentary detailing the victorious British sea battle over the enemy; 49th. Parallel in 1941 was another propaganda piece involving six German U-boat survivors attempting to escape into then-neutral America led by Nazi leader Eric Portman; Freedom Radio featured Clive Brook as Dr. Karl Roder, an Austrian who opposes Nazism, and launches an undercover radio station denouncing the Nazis' and sabotaging Hitler's speeches.
Output would steadily increase as the decade marched on, culminating in some of the most revered productions of the British film industry. Noel Coward and David Lean's In Which We Serve from 1943 brought home the true grim reality of the war, becoming the country's top money-spinner of that year, and also introducing a stellar cast of actors that were to come to the forefront of the industry.

Comedy of course was a staple ingredient to combine laughs with topicality, serving a much-needed tonic to cinema audiences already ravaged by the war. Arthur Askey, Will Hay, The Crazy Gang and George Formby all starred in amusing propaganda pieces designed to portray the enemy as bull-headed, half-witted brutes, who by the end of the story would inevitably be defeated and disgraced with their trousers around their ankles. Few films however used the suitably dramatic setting of a lighthouse. The Seventh Survivor from 1941 featured a German agent holding Allied secrets on board a ship that is torpedoed, and along with six other survivors, reach a lighthouse where the Captain of a sunken U-boat takes charge. Thunder Rock in 1942 featured Michael Redgrave as author David Charleston, who despairs of the world and takes a job as the keeper of an isolated lighthouse.
Two comedies also surfaced; wartime favourite Arthur Askey appeared in Back Room Boy in which a ring of Nazi spies up to their nefarious tricks are kidnapping shipwrecked girls from the lighthouse. The Phantom Light, however, was made almost a decade earlier in 1934 and featured Gordon Harker as the new keeper of a lighthouse off the North Wales coast in a tale of shipwreckers that lure vessels onto the rocks.

"Tower of Terror spills over into the realms
of the horror genre"

Wilfred Lawson in Tower of TerrorReleased as part of 'The War Film Collection', the Tower of Terror spills over into the realms of horror genre, if only for the gloriously over-the-top performance given by actor Wilfred Lawson.
Three miles off the German coast in the North Sea lies the Westrrode lighthouse. Its keeper Rolfe Kristan (Lawson) is a troubled sea salt sporting a hooked hand. His assistant has just resigned from his post and explains to the harbourmaster Herr Kleber (Morland Graham) how Kristan's silence and disagreeable attitude is intolerable and accuses the man of being mad. video clip
Eighteen years ago, Kristan had being a chief engineer on a coastal steamer and the boiler had exploded, ripping off the lower portion of his arm. Subsequently, Kristan was commissioned the job as a lighthouse keeper. It is also said that something snapped in him when his wife was drowned only two years later in a boating accident. Her body was never found...
In walks Michael Rennie into the harbour tavern, and overhears Herr Kleber offering the assistant lighthouse post to Albers (Charles Rolfe), until a permanent replacement can be found. Once Albers leaves the inn, Michael Rennie coshes Albers and assumes his identity. Suddenly, he sees a young girl escape from the back of a van pursued by a German officer. Desperate, she jumps into the sea to evade capture, and Kristan is there under darkness to haul her into his boat and makes for the Westerrode lighthouse. When the girl comes to, she is greeted by the smirking face of Kristan, who sees the girl as his lost wife Marte back from the grave. Marte... Marte... you've come back to me", evidently the rantings of a madman. video clip
Soon after, Michael Rennie as Albers arrives on the island and strikes up a friendshipMichael Rennie in Tower of Terror with the girl, Marie Durand (Movita), an escapee from a concentration camp. During nightwatch, "Albers" makes for the boat and returns to the mainland for a rendezvous with a British agent who hands over a set of top-secret photographs, with the promise of a boat coming at midnight tomorrow to take him back to old Blighty. However, the harbour is crawling with the Gestapo; Rennie's contact is shot and after an exchange of bullets, Rennie makes it back to the lighthouse.
The following day, the island is visited by Officer Rudolf Jurgens (George Woodbridge), who is looking for the escaped spy, and the body of a young woman. They leave satisfied with their excuses but later that day, Kristan comes across Rennie's secret photographs and a bruising fight ensues with Kristan trying to rip Rennie's face open with his prosthetic claw. With the help of Marie, Kristan is overcome and is chained up in the cellar. With a moment to spare they both come clean with each other. Marie Durand had been in a concentration camp for three months charged with spying for the French, whereas Rennie confesses to being British agent Anthony Hale.
The fun is still not over however when Kristan breaks his chains, catches up with Michael Rennie and knocks him out flat.
Now completely unhinged, Kristan reveals to Marie that he killed his own wife because he couldn't bear anyone else to love her, and she lies buried under the flower bed. "Now you can go back there" he cackles and gives her a shove. video clip Rennie eventually regains conciousness and signals to the approaching ship to come to the island. The signal has also been seen by a German vessel who fires several missiles towards the island. Anthony rescues Marie before the lighthouse is blown to smithereens, leaving Kristan leering at the rotten skeleton of his dead wife, before he is killed by the falling masonery, joining his beloved Marte in eternity.

"...the wild-eyed, unbridled lunatic was a particular
speciality of the house"

Welwyn Studios in Hertfordshire was one of the few premises that wasn't requisitioned during the War. It had been a hive of activity during the 1930's, with producing companies leasing their three-stage facilities, giving rise to a great many "quota-quickies" that were made there. Additionally, Welwyn was used as an overspill when the productive Elstree Studios could not accomodate any further companies. The premises had also played host to several horror productions; Bela Lugosi filmed Dark Eyes of London there in 1939 for John Argyle's company; The Door With Seven Locks for Rialto featured Leslie Banks as Dr. Manetta, a descendent of the Spanish Inquisitors in a performance that echoed his superb Count Zaroff in The Most Dangerous Game. In 1942, John Argyle again featured Wilfred Lawson in another unhinged portrayal, that of odd-job man Jim Sturrock in The Night Has Eyes.

Wilfred Lawson began his career as a stage actor during the late teens, and only entered films with the popularity of sound in 1931 with East Lynne on the Western Front. Despite reported bouts of alcoholism which made him difficult to work with, this didn't effect his career, and like fellow barnstormer Robert Newton, it seems to have not deterred production companies from casting him in several plump roles, continuing until his death from a heart attack in 1966. Perhaps his most prominant role was that of Alfred Dolittle, Eliza's unrefined father in Pygmalion, a highly successful screen treatment of George Bernard Shaw's play directed by Anthony Asquith in 1938. In Pastor Hall 1940, Wilfred stars as Niemoller, a German village clergyman who denounces the new Nazi regime in 1934, a tragic drama that revealed Lawson's broad acting range. That same year he also took the title part in The Great Mr. Handel, a biopic on the 18th century composer, a prestige picture filmed in Technicolor. More often than not however, Wilfred Lawson would often be cast in menacing parts, portraying the wild-eyed unbridled lunatic was a particular speciality of the house. His role in Tower of Terror at times echoes his performance in The Terror 1938, which again allows Lawson to gradually build up a head of steam until the resolution of the plot permits him to give them the works.

Michael Rennie (1909-1971) will forever be remembered to genre enthusiasts for walking down the gangplank from his spacecraft as 'Klaatu' in The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951, one of the most memorable fables in science-fiction cinema and made before the plethora of monsters-from-outer-space treatments would pervade cinema screens through the remainder of that decade. Before his emigration to Hollywood, Michael Rennie was regarded as one of Britain's brightest stars, who had begun by supplementing his income as a salesman with frequent film extra and stand-in work until making acting a full-time profession following military service. Tower of Terror was one of seven films Rennie appeared in during 1941 until he resumed his career when returning to civilian life in 1945.

Amongst the supporting cast, we also get to see a young George Woodbridge (1907-1973) as the bullish Officer Rudolf Jurgens, in a George Woodbridge in Tower of Terrorrole Anton Diffring would later become more suited to portraying than Devonshire-born George. George of course, would later became familiar as the jovial innkeeper or an affable figure of authority, and began his association with brief appearances in horror films for Hammer, beginning with Dracula in 1958.
Also present is Morland Graham (1891-1949) as the Harbourmaster. This Scottish character actor of stage and later screen can also be seen as 'Sea Morland Graham in Tower of TerrorLawyer Sidney', a member of Charles Laughton's looting gang in Jamaica Inn, directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1939; and also as a fifth-columnist posing as a kindly Doctor in Arthur Askey's The Ghost Train in 1941.
John Longden (1900-1971) had appeared in several key Hitchcock films before the great director relocated to Hollywood. By the Forties, Longden had been reduced to small supporting roles and appears only briefly in Tower of Terror as a Commandant.
Elsewhere, character actress Olive Sloane gets a look-in as a flower-seller, seen gossiping to another busy actress of British films, Davina Craig, whose most likely to be seen as slow-witted housemaids in films of this period.

Lawrence Huntington (1900-1968), a serviceable director at best whose career was confined to Britain, helmed many modest crime thrillers throughout the Forties and Fifties before concentrating his efforts towards making half-hour films for television. Other interesting credits of Huntington's is Wanted For Murder 1946, starring Eric Portman as Victor, a mentally unstable descendent of a public hangman who has a penchant for strangling young women. His last directed film was The Vulture in 1966, a ludicrous story featuring Akim Tamiroff as a nuclear scientist who avenges the premature burial of his ancestor by transforming himself into a giant vulture!
And in his final work for the cinema, Lawrence contributed the screenplay for The Oblong Box in the last year of his life, a strange tale of one of two brothers who is disfigured and comes back to life with the aid of an African drug.
Lawrence Huntington also frequently wrote screenplays, and it can be assumed that he worked closely with producer John Argyle, albeit uncredited, on the screen adaptation for Tower of Terror.

To the film's detriment, a lot of the action takes place at night, and several key scenes are difficult to view. Although this gives an appropriate shadowy atmosphere to the interior of the lighthouse, there are times when the screen is immersed into pitch darkness.
If there is one thing that is apparent, the inclusion of Wilfred Lawson was certain to liven proceedings (possibly off-screen as well as on), but this remains primarily a war film and it is Lawson's performance that drags the story just over the line into a memorable, lurid murder melodrama.

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