AKA THE LAST PAGE
AVAILABLE ON R1 DVD
RUNNING TIME: 84 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
John Harman runs a book store. He has an invalid wife at home and takes out an insurance policy to pay for an operation abroad. He reprimands his sexy young clerk Ruby Bruce for being late to work. Later the same day Ruby catches small-time crook Jeff Hart, who is just out of prison, trying to steal a rare book. Instead of turning him in she accepts a date with him. When John has a moment of madness and kisses the flirty Ruby, she tells Jeff. He forces Ruby to blackmail John, and John’s life soon starts to fall apart….
In 1950, Hammer set up a deal with American producer Robert L. Lippert to make a dozen low budget crime thrillers in the UK, usually employing the talents of fading American stars [though George Brent was actually English], pretty starlets, and leading British character actors. The films, which were usually given more exploitative titles in the US, tended to go out on the bottom halves of double bills, though their extreme cheapness meant that they usually made lots of money. They’re rarely seen or talked about these days so I thank VCI for their Hammer Film Noir sets meaning I was able to view most of these rare films. This first effort was the first Hammer film to be directed by Terence Fisher, later responsible for many of the studio’s horror classics. He doesn’t really give Man Bait much flair, and in fact the whole thing is a bit staid and distant, though if you can get over the dull early scenes [not to mention Frank Spencer’s inappropriately jaunty main title music], it becomes relatively enjoyable, largely because of screenwriter Frederick Knott’s [Dial M For Murder] event-filled and often downright ludicrous storyline. In fact few of the characters behave in any way approaching normality. The hero hears the news that his wife is dead, so what does he do? He immediately attends to some minor business in the office, leaves for about an hour, then comes back and does more office work. And the day of his dearly departed’s funeral finds him at work first thing in the morning, clearly prepared to minimize any time away from the office.
It’s the familiar noir premise of a flawed [though it’s obvious Ruby initiates the kiss] hero having his life ruined by a femme fatale. Diana Dors [the poster bills her appearance as her first screen one but she’d actually been in several films prior to this one] certainly has a magnetic screen presence [though not much acting ability] as the bimbo-like Ruby, who may be a flirt but is really just an easily-led airhead who is quickly persuaded to become a blackmailer. The film is most interesting when Peter Reynolds’s Jeff Hart is onscreen. He’s a really smarmy sadist who is eventually revealed to be a psychopathic killer of women. It’s quite nasty when he suddenly puts his hand over Ruby’s mouth and roughly squeezes her arm, though overall the film feels a bit too genteel for some of its characters and happenings. The climax in a fiery room is over too quickly and there’s an undoubted awkwardness about the film, but it is quite entertaining, albeit sometimes more in an unintentionally funny way than intended.