A little-known picture sporting an amusing title, The Snorkel yet reveals itself to be an excellent suspenser; a genuine sleeper that may be finding some latter-day acclaim thanks to the great-looking print in the Hammer “Icons of Suspense” DVD box set. Released in 1958 by Hammer Studios, shortly after the famed British filmmaking independent began its reign of the Gothic horror niche with that year’s The Curse of Frankenstein, the picture is a tale of murder and suspense without being an actual mystery. In the film’s very first scene, we are privy to the central murder and made aware of how the killer contrives to make his victim look like a suicide. Using the titular gizmo, Paul Decker (played with icy Germanic menace by Peter van Eyck) manages to stay alive in a sealed room while he asphyxiates his wife with gas. He then hides beneath a covered trapdoor in the floor, leading the local authorities in the French/Italian border region (the locale in the film IS vitally important to its plot) to automatically render that verdict of suicide. But Decker’s stepdaughter, Candy (14-year-old former child actress Mandy Miller, here in her final film), knows better, already suspecting him of having drowned her dad several years before. Too bad, though, that no one will believe her, including her beautiful nanny, Jean (Betta St. John, who many viewers will recall from the 1960 fright classic Horror Hotel), resulting in quite a nail-biting game of cat and mouse between Candy and the increasingly dangerous Decker. And this desperate standoff between the two turns more and more suspenseful as the viewer wonders just how – or if – Candy will ever prove her claim to the authorities before the killer manages to finish her off!
van Eyck, it must be said, is truly excellent as the cold-blooded Decker, while Mandy, appealing as can be, proves herself a fine little actress as well; likable, cute and effective. The film’s direction by Guy Green is gripping and often imaginative, and co-writer Jimmy Sangster (who seems to have been responsible for so many of these Brit thrillers) here provides quite the ingenious and clever story line. The film has been beautifully shot in B&W – the nighttime photography is especially gorgeous – and features any number of impressive sequences. My favorite: Paul tries to “save” (i.e., drown) Candy in the ocean. The film builds to an extremely tense windup, capped off by not one but TWO highly satisfying resolutions. Those viewers who had hoped for some kind of comeuppance as regards Decker will NOT be disappointed! In all, The Snorkel is surprisingly likable; indeed, I found myself enjoying it even more than the overly plotted 1963 Hammer film Maniac (also written by Sangster), which is to be found on the same disc. And oh … despite the Maltin Classic Movie Guide’s assertion that the running time for The Snorkel is a brief 74 minutes, the version that I just watched was more like 90. And that’s a good thing. With a film like this one – a real treat for young and old alike, and one that you’ll likely recommend to your friends – the more, the better!