Sunday Matinee: The Fake (1953)

Lobby card for the 1953 film The Fake
Lobby card from The Fake (1953)

Another early morning movie with a noir tinge and an art scam — I’m staying on brand for once! I watched another neo-noir last night but am mulling over whether I want to write about it. Yes, two films in a 24-hour period. Who am I? The key is working around dad’s schedule (also ear buds for later films) and visiting my ACNH island earlier in the day.

The Fake makes its story plainly in the title, though it should perhaps be The Fakes as it deals with a trio of Leonardo paintings (ACNH players will be expecting a fake when they see the ferret, but alas no sign of Redd).

Screen capture of text saying the producers wish to thank the board of trustees for allowing permission to film in the Tate Gallery
Thanks Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain) for allowing us to film a movie about art theft!

Straightforward plot: brash American Paul Mitchell (Dennis O’Keefe) has come to the Tate expecting it will be the site of the third caper in which a real Leonardo is stolen and replaced with a fake. He’s distracted by a fetching Tate employee Mary Mason (Coleen Gray) whose dad Henry is an overlooked painter, played by the impossible to overlook John Laurie. She of course does not have a Scots accent which they take a few seconds to explain instead of trying to make her do a cod accent (*cough, current filmmakers, looking in your direction*).

We’re a whole 23 minutes into the film before anyone utters ‘guv’nor’! But we do have a joke about British money and how crazy it is for poor Americans to understand. They restrained themselves from making a joke about tea, so on the whole it was not so bad in that regard.

Guy Middleton plays the British agent (appropriately named Smith) helping O’Keefe. Hugh Williams plays the snooty Sir Richard. Billie Whitelaw appears in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as a waitress. The music is adapted from — wait for it! — Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. There’s something to be said for the restful fun of watching a film that is almost entirely surface. Especially after the evening film which just about turned itself inside out trying to be clever or trying to satirise being clever. I haven’t decided which. There’s something wonderful about films that reward careful attention, but the reward should be worth the attention.

There are some fun foot-chase scenes (this is 1953 in Britain after all, every penny pinched and each bob accounted for), including the dockyard getaway at the start and over the roof of the Tate. I loved the final work painted by Mason, which may be the thing I think about most.

A man regards blank canvases where paintings ought to be
What is art when it is not present?