Little Red Monkey AKA Case of the Red Monkey (The)
R2 - United Kingdom - Network
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (8th March 2015).
The Film

Little Red Monkey (Ken Hughes, 1955)

A prolific director during the 1950s, handling a number of the Scotland Yard ‘B’ features (see our review of Network’s release of these films here) and a range of low budget crime films (including The Brain Machine [1955, see our review here] and Timeslip [1955, see our review here]), Ken Hughes delivered modestly effective thrillers. Like a number of British thrillers made that had one eye on the American market, sometimes Hughes’ films featured American actors like Arlene Dahl (in Wicked as They Come, 1956) and Victor Mature (in The Long Haul, 1957). Here, in Little Red Monkey (also released as The Case of the Red Monkey), Hughes works with Richard Conte.

Conte was an actor who, after being promoted as the ‘new’ John Garfield during the early days of his career, throughout the 1940s became increasingly associated with films noir and carried that persona into some of the crime films he made in Europe at the tail-end of his career, such as the poliziesco all’italiana pictures The Violent Professionals (Milano trema: la polizia vuole giustizia, Sergio Martino, 1973), Shoot First, Die Later (Il poliziotto è marcio, Fernandi Di Leo, 1974) and Violent Rome (Roma violenta, Marino Girolami, 1975). Initially under contract to Fox, during the early 1950s Conte broke his association with that studio and found that, for the rest of the decade, work came increasingly within ‘B’ features. In 1955, the same year of the release of Little Red Monkey, Conte turned in one of his most memorable roles, as the sadistic mob boss Mr Brown in Joseph H Lewis’ The Big Combo (1955).

Sadly, Conte’s role in Little Red Monkey is not one of his best, though this always-dependable actor delivers a strong performance. Conte plays Bill Locklin, an agent of the US State Department, travels to England for the handover of a top Soviet scientist, Leon Dushenko (Arnold Marlé), who has defected to the West. Locklin must co-operate with John Harrington (Russell Napier), of the Special Branch. Meanwhile, a group of East German agents led by Hilde Heller (Sylva Langova), who have already carried out the executions of a number of scientists (at the scene of which the titular ‘little red monkey’, in actuality a pet of one of the spies, has been seen), are attempting to track down Dushenko, penetrate his protective guard and murder him. Complicating matters is a tabloid journalist, Harry Martin (Colin Gordon), who threatens to reveal Dushenko’s location by publishing it in an article. Meanwhile, Locklin begins to fall in love with Harrington’s niece Julia (Rona Anderson).

The film was based on a six episode BBC television play (Little Red Monkey, 1953), written by Eric Maschwitz. One of the things that’s interesting about the film is the insight it gives into the lives of the assassins who have been given the task of exterminating Dushenko; the film shows these to be functioning effectively as a ‘sleeper cell’ (to use modern parlance), receiving their orders from overseas via wireless, and beset by doubts surrounding their plan. ‘You look tired, Eric’, Hilde tells one of her colleagues during one scene. ‘Tired of always having to someone else’s dirty work’, Eric replies. ‘This will be the last time, Eric’, Hilde assures him. ‘The “last time”’, Eric scoffs, ‘They said it was going to be the “last time” in Bucharest, Ankara and Berlin last month. We were supposed to go home after that. I was supposed to have a nice, quiet job behind a desk, instead of this’ ‘Eric, whenever any of the others hear you talking this way, they don’t understand you like I do’, Hilde warns Eric.

The fact that the enemy spies are headed by a woman seems to be used within the film as an index of their perversity. Hilde is utterly ruthless in her pursuit of Dushenko (‘Don’t worry: Dushenko will not leave this country alive’, she asserts). In one sequence, whilst Dushenko is under the protection of Harrigan, Locklin returns to the hotel and discovers a scene that suggests Dushenko has been killed by Hilde and her associates, shot in the head with a .22 pistol. ‘Is this what you call security?’, Locklin asks Harrigan sharply, ‘What were you guys doing while this was happening, picking flowers?’ However, it is soon revealed that Dushenko is in fact alive: the fact that Locklin was unable to recognise the dead body as not being that of Dushenko suggests (without showing on screen) the brutality of the method of execution (a bullet to the back of the head).

The film also seems to make a plea for restrictions on press freedom, in the name of national security. From the outset, the journalist Martin seems to present problems for Harrington and Locklin. Early in the film, Harrington tells Martin to ‘stick to the facts’. ‘They don’t sell papers’, Martin quips. ‘Not your sort of papers’, Harrington responds dryly, before telling Martin, ‘watch someone doesn’t make a monkey out of you’. Locklin and Harrington’s attempts to protect Dushenko are challenged by the economic imperative of the newspapers. ‘I think somebody ought to ram that paper down your throat’, a frustrated Locklin tells Martin during one scene, suggesting Martin should ‘print the truth for once’ (ironically, it’s the truth that Martin wishes to print that frustrates Locklin and Harrington). ‘As long as it sells papers. It very seldom does’, Martin responds. ‘Tell me something’, Locklin demands, ‘Don’ you ever get to dislike yourself, not even just a little bit?’ ‘Sometimes I positively hate myself’, Martin tells him, then adds, ‘except on pay days’. However, towards the end of the film Martin redeems himself through a selfless act that leads to his death. Nevertheless, the film’s implicit criticism of the press and its desire to exploit stories without consideration of the wider context seems to come through loud and clear.



The film was cut by the BBFC for its original cinema release in 1954. This DVD release runs for 71:03 mins (PAL).

Video

Little Red Monkey is presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which would seem to be its intended screen ratio. The monochrome photography is served well in this presentation, containing good, balanced contrast with strong midtones. It’s a remarkably clean presentation, largely free of debris and damage, other than some vertical scratches here and there.


Audio

Audio is presented via a two-channel mono track. Dialogue is audible throughout though the track is quite bassy in places. In a couple of scenes there is some background hiss but nothing that dominates the soundscape. (Though perhaps the less said about the seemingly perpetual organ grinder-type score, which seems to be metonymically connected to the titular monkey, the better.) Sadly there are no subtitles.

Extras

Extras include:
- an alternative beginning (6:46). This alternative opening sequence starts the film off more dramatically, with a scene set in a laboratory depicting experiments in nuclear fission.

- a series of trailers (9:34).

- a stills gallery (0:28).

-
the film’s script, as a .PDF file.

Overall

Little Red Monkey is an effective, modest Cold War-era thriller in which Conte plays a stereotypically hot headed American agent: ‘What am I supposed to do, sit around while you make a mess of things?’, he demands of Harrington at one point; and when Harrington tells Locklin, ‘Listen, Locklin. My instructions are to hand Dushenko over to you at the airport’. ‘How are you taking him?’, Locklin questions angrily, ‘In a coffin?’ Anchored by Conte’s performance, Little Red Monkey is a brusque, entertaining film which has received a solid presentation from Network.

For more information, please visit the homepage of Network and take a look at Network’s The British Film page.

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