Eight O'Clock Walk (1954)

Eight O'Clock Walk (1954) is an anti-capital punishment limey-noir in which an innocent bourgeois is catapulted into the justice system after circumstantially being held to be the murderer of a small girl.

Directed by Lance Comfort and starring Richard Attenborough, Cathy O'Donnell, Derek Farr and Maurice Denham, Eight O'Clock Walk (1954) is a fairly solid example of how the British adapted common film noir themes to their own place, time and circumstances, with a taste of the post-war era and British theatrics in an extended look into the legal procedures of a murder trial than is usual in a film of this type.

Based on a true story, Eight O'Clock Walk is an anti-capital punishment film — the title refers to the hour at which executions were traditionally carried out — that highlights the danger of circumstantial evidence resulting in the death of a mistakenly accused prisoner. 

In cinematic fashion it is only by good fortune that the film's innocent protagonist (Richard Attenborough) is cleared of this murder. Audiences may have been invited to speculate on whether they would have been so lucky had it been them.

Unseen predator in Eight O'Clock Walk (1954)

Like the classic gangster film, noir deals with morality and usually with crime. In film noir at its best  the crime is not carried out by a professional criminal but by a citizen who is drawn to events by accident or a strange and fateful combination of factors. Here there is a professional criminal, a psychotic mercifully un-portrayed.

Unseen predator in Eight O'Clock Walk (1954)

This transformation of citizen into criminal is one of the great hallmarks of film noir, and raises the question of guilt and accountability. Film noir is not one monolithic item of cultural production however but is a broad selection of themes and genres, loosely collected under our stylistic and fashionable term — noir.

In short it is a large and diverse body of films.  In these films, crime is a major subject and hypotheses

about crime, the criminal and their relation to society are constantly reformulated. Sometimes there is a detective-style hero or a police investigator at the centre of a film noir, and sometimes these police are corrupt to the core — always a lot of fun in noir. 

Cabbie at large in Blighty in Eight O'Clock Walk (1954)

Then there is the example of the bourgeois who is either accused of crime, or turns to crime, or is somehow and otherwise involved in, sucked into and fatefully thrown into the lap of crime. This is very much the case in Eight O'Clock Walk. A final iteration of the individual thrust into crime might be the case of the drifter. But this can of course apply to a variety of non-respectable citizens.

Cathy O'Donnell and Richard Attenborough in Eight O'Clock Walk (1954)

It's the respectable citizens we are laying into here, and no mistaking it. Indeed, and talking of crime, the real criminal in this movie barely gets a look in, which is interesting. It almost shares some commonality with M (1931 & 1950) — certainly in its uncomfortable portrayal of child killing. 

There is no view however into the psychology of child murder — that is for other movies. The subject here is the psychology of the innocent.

Instead of psychology the iniquities of circumstantial evidence are explored.

"Wherein does the noir narrative consist? Why are gangster or social problem film like Scarface, You Only Live Once, The Roaring Twenties, Angels with Dirty Faces, High Sierra, in which we already find many visual features of film noir, not considered noir, while The Maltese Falcon is? Why is the gangster film of the 1930s, already dealing with crime, passion, and sexual obsession, not yet seen as film noir?  Sylvia Harvey notes that film noir offers examples of "abnormal or monstrous behavior, which defy the patterns established for human social interaction." But so does the gangster film! Both, gangster film and film noir, are films about crime. But in film noir, it is now the ordinary citizen who has committed the crime, or is suspected of having committed a crime or comes dangerously close to the world of crime. This, in turn, raises the crucial question of the guilt of the citizen turned criminal"

Crime, Guilt, and Subjectivity in "Film Noir" — Winfried Fluck
Amerikastudien / American Studies, Vol. 46, No. 3, Popular Culture (2001), pp. 379-408

Bruce Seaton in Eight O'Clock Walk (1954)

Common limey noir hallmarks are in evidence in Eight O'Clock Walk (1954), the main being in the music. British cinema in the post-war era never did allow itself to sink into the bleakness of what was as much a defeat as it was a victory — a moral victory at least over the forces of fascism had left an impoverished and damaged nation, as seen in the many bomb sites which feature in its movies — including this one.

Cathy O'Donnell and Richard Attenborough in Eight O'Clock Walk (1954)

The music however remains chipper — even in a film about child murder. It's as if they could not help themselves but tootle out optimistic and positive tunes for every film they made, no matter what the subject matter. 

Cathy O'Donnell in Eight O'Clock Walk (1954)

Say what you will about Hollywood noir — but it usually signals itself from the split second the screen comes alight with dark and aggressive music, shallow tones, bluesy or lowly slow or deathly chords, brazen jazz or a marital and melodic minor mean streets style music that lets you know — you're in noirsville.

Not so the British stream, however — and even as the child murder approaches in Eight O'Clock Walk (1954) there is still a lot of British pluck and blind orchestral hope pumping through the soundtrack.

Richard Attenborough in Eight O'Clock Walk (1954)

Eight O'Clock Walk (1954)
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