Victorian London, murder, illicit relationships, blackmail – Footsteps in the Fog (1955) has all the ingredients of a classic turn of the century potboiler. It’s the kind of lush, polished production that’s beautiful to look at, yet you know it conceals a bitter little heart that’s hard as a diamond. British cinema always had the knack of capturing the spirit of gothic tales, and this would reach its zenith a year or two later when Hammer really hit their stride.
In fact, Footsteps in the Fog opens almost like a Hammer production, with a clergyman solemnly intoning over a fresh grave in a rain drenched cemetery. Stephen Lowry (Stewart Granger) has just become a widower and his wife is being laid to rest. As his friends drop the pale, grief-stricken figure off at the sombre gates of his home, we see him make his lonely way up the drive and on into the empty house. As he pauses on the threshold of the drawing room, the camera remains focused on the back of this dejected man who stands gazing at the portrait of his dead wife above the fireplace. The shot now switches to a close-up of Lowry’s face as a slow smirk spreads across his features. Thus we learn of the two faced nature of the protagonist, a man that we soon discover has poisoned his wife for her money. This dark secret is also uncovered by the young maid, Lily Watkins (Jean Simmons), who has been harbouring a passion for her employer. Rather than being horrified or repulsed by the knowledge, Lily sees in it the opportunity to blackmail her way, first into the position of housekeeper, and then (she hopes) into her master’s heart. But nothing is ever that simple; Lowry is in love with the wealthy sweetheart of a young barrister and regards Lily as an irksome obstacle in the way of his future advancement. The question is how he will deal with Lily, and what his real feelings towards her are. The plot takes numerous twists and turns before reaching a conclusion that manages to be bleak, ambiguous and satisfying all at the same time.
The plot of Footsteps in the Fog is an engaging and absorbing one, but the film’s real strength lies in the performances of the two leads. Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons were a married couple at the time and they were able to bring some real chemistry to their more intimate scenes together. Granger was an old hand at playing in these kinds of period pieces, and seemed to effortlessly make a frankly despicable character charming – one who I caught myself rooting for at times despite his loathsome actions. However, good as Granger is, the real star of the show is Jean Simmons. It is her Lily Watkins that’s the driving force behind the story with her beguiling mix of trusting devotion and ruthless amorality. With a tight, solid plot and classy lead performances any director should be on fairly safe ground. Arthur Lubin was mainly a journeyman director, with a string of Abbott and Costello and Francis the Talking Mule pictures behind him, but he does a good enough job and uses some nice low angle shots to help generate suspense and atmosphere. The movie is neatly paced (coming in at under an hour and a half) and really only lags in a few scenes – mainly those with Belinda Lee.
Footsteps in the Fog has been out on DVD in the UK for a bit over a year now as a Sony release exclusive to MovieMail. The film is presented anamorphically at 1.78:1 and the transfer is generally a good one with nice colours and really only suffers in one short segment. A little after the twenty minute mark the image takes on a very dupey appearance and there’s some colour bleeding. Fortunately, this only lasts for five minutes or so and I think it would be unfair to criticise the overall presentation based on that. There’s not much in the way of extras, save for the trailer and hard of hearing subs, but the film is something of a rarity and I’m just glad it’s available at all. I think it’s a cracking little movie and it should be a real pleasure for anyone who enjoys stylish gothic thrillers.