AVAILABLE ON REGION 1 DVD
RUNNING TIME: 90 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Paul Decker murders his wife in her Italian villa by drugging her milk and asphyxiating her by gas, using a scuba snorkel connected to tubes on the outside to breathe during the ordeal. He cleverly locks the bedroom from the inside and hides inside a trapdoor in the floor until after the body is discovered by servants. Decker’s stepdaughter Candy suspects him immediately, especially since no suicide note was found, and is also is convinced that he murdered her father years before, but her accusations fall on deaf ears….
Now here’s an underrated, even obscure, little gem that may be the best non-horror or non-science fiction movie I’ve seen from Hammer so far in the course of doing this series of reviews. It’s often claimed to be based on a story by cult Italian filmmaker Antonio Margheriti because the tale is credited to Anthony Dawson which was the name of Margheriti’s alias, but the author is more likely to be the Dr.No/ Dial M For Murder actor of the same name. Double billed in the US with The Camp On Blood Island, The Snorkel, filmed mostly on location in the Italian Riviera, is an extremely suspenseful movie that could maybe have done with a couple more exciting scenes but does keep up the tension rather skillfully. Unusually for the time, the killer is revealed straight away, going for, as Hitchcock used to say, “suspense over surprise”. After the superb opening sequence, the movie does become very talky, but never loses the uncomfortable edge provided by its premise [re-used in the 1972 giallo Smile Before Death] of a teenage girl who knows her stepfather killed her parents, and the killer knows it too, but nobody else believes her, and it winds up with a very effective climax looking forward to the one in Wait Until Dark and a really amusingly dark finale reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe at his best [though the film would have been better if it had omitted its very final scene which was possibly filmed at the behest of the censors].
Along the way director Guy Green [a generally undistinguished name better known as a cinematographer], helped by Jack Asher’s typically meticulous cinematography proving he was as adept with black and white as he was with colour, expertly stages some moments like a tense house search and an attempted beach murder, and often has Paul appear quite unnervingly, especially when his cigarette smoke appears first behind Candy. Peter van Eyck, soon to be Dr. Mabuse, is a very sinister killer and 14 year old Mandy Miller very sensitive in the role of Candy. Gregoire Alsan is the usual incompetent cop you tend to get in these things and there’s a wonderfully cute dog who sadly pays the price for being so intelligent. Composer Francis Chagrin’s name doesn’t appear on the titles but his score is appropriately gloomy at times while often holding back so we hardly hear any sound at all. The film’s main gimmick – the murderer using a snorkel mask to breathe through long hoses feeding from outdoor connections – is absurd, the hoses being so long it would take someone with the lung capacity of a whale to draw fresh air through the long tubes, while there is some back projection that even Alfred Hitchcock would have rejected, but overall The Snorkel is a very worthwhile ‘B’ thriller, far better than I certainly expected.