"Pursued by the
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
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 Germans 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
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"
Released 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.
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
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.
Soon after, Michael Rennie as Albers arrives on the island and strikes up a friendship 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.
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.
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 role 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 Lawyer
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
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
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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