ON DVD & BLU-RAY
No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948) Blu Ray (Indicator)
An abduction leads to a love affair
Lindon Travers plays Miss Blandish, an heiress who is ambushed by a gang of crooks after her expensive necklace. When the gang’s leader Riley (Richard Neilson) beats her lover to death in front of her, one of his cohorts is so appalled that he shoots him dead. In the aftermath of this violence, Riley’s right-hand man Ted (Leslie Bradley) decides to change tack and kidnap her to hold her for ransom.
Soon afterwards, a more powerful gang - led by Ma Grisson (Lilli Molnar) and her son Slim (Jack La Rue) - gets wind of this potentially highly lucrative crime. They invade Ted’s hideout, kill him and take her away to lock her in the upstairs of their nightclub. However, Slim has a change of heart when he and Miss Blandish fall in love.
Watch a trailer:
Is it still controversial today… or just bland?
No Orchids for Miss Blandish is an adaptation of a 1939 James Hadley Chase novel of the same name. In fact, it was the first of two big-screen adaptations that the story would receive, the second being Robert Aldrich’s The Grissom Gang (1971). This particular version was a British-made attempt to ape classic Hollywood film noir and gangster movies. It was also widely condemned at the time for its scenes of violence and implied sex but, over the years, has won a minor following as a “so bad it’s good” cult item. I, however, beg to differ on that score. Sure, it’s a pretty bad movie which happens to have a few points of interest (intentionally or otherwise) but, by and large, is simply tedious to watch.
To start off on a positive note, it’s solid enough in the visual department with some decent cinematography and production design, the art deco nightclub set being a particular highlight. Some of the hardboiled dialogue is also amusing, notably the following line spouted by the Grisson's enforcer Eddie Schultz (played by Walter Crisham):
“I never count my chickens ‘till I've wrung their necks.”
Unfortunately, the film finds wanting in pretty much about every other area. St. John Legh Clowes’ direction is flat and pedestrian. The actors try very hard but merely come across as a hammy collection of walking gangster-and-moll cliches. Jack La Rue probably fares best with his reasonable approximation of Humphrey Bogart but even he fails to embody the latter’s distinctive weather-beaten charisma. While the action scenes are indeed pretty violent for the era, they are staged in a laughably amateurish manner; I’ve seen more convincing impressions of people expiring during playground finger gunfights. The music sounds like it has just been pulled out of the studio archives and hastily dusted off.
Worst of all, the narrative is so murky, messy and muddled. The central romance between Slim and Miss Blandish (who develops Stockholm Syndrome-type feelings for the former) just comes out of nowhere with no explanatory motivations and hardly any evident chemistry between actors Jack La Rue and Lindon Travers. Since there’s no real reason to give a damn about their onscreen relationship, their scenes together (which take up a sizeable portion of the runtime) simply become boring. The various ongoing tensions between the numerous gangster characters here are equally confusing and unmotivated; for the most part, they only seem to be at loggerheads with one another so as to squeeze more violence into the picture.
Indeed, once you’ve got over the curiosity of seeing Sid James (who would later become better known for his regular appearances in the Carry On films) putting on a mock American accent and getting brutally glassed in the face, No Orchids for Miss Blandish is - if you’ll excuse the pun - rather bland viewing.
Runtime: 103 mins
Dir: St. John Legh Clowes
Script: St. John Legh Clowes, based on a novel by James Hadley Chase
Starring: Jack La Rue, Hugh McDermott, Lindon Travers, Walter Crisham, Lilli Molnar, Leslie Bradley, Richard Neilson, Sid James
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
Visually, this HD remaster looks reasonable, albeit a little grainy at times. However, the audio is rather wobbly and sounds like it is playing underwater.
The film itself can be played in two versions, one under its original title of No Orchids for Miss Blandish and the other under the United States release title of Black Dice.
We also get the following:
Interview with Richard Gordon and Richard Neilson
This archive featurette is presented by Joel Blumberg , a film buff and historian who hosted the radio program Silver Screen Audio (he sadly passed away in 2010). He interviews Richard Gordon (the film’s US distributor) and Richard Neilson (one of its stars).
Gordon talks about the difficulties in getting the film print past American customs officials and censors. It took him two years for it to get its US premiere in New York City because he had to make a number of cuts to it in order to appease the censor. It has only been shown uncut in the States on a recent rerelease. He goes on to discuss his subsequent career as the founder of his own production company Gordon Films. His brother Alex also chose a similar career path, co-founding American International Pictures with James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff.
Neilson recalls his role in the film, mentioning that he got £250 for ten days of work - most of which he lost playing gin rummy with leading man Jack La Rue. He also discusses his stage career, where he got to act alongside such greats as Laurence Olivier and Peter O’Toole. He was cast in the stage adaptation of No Orchids for Miss Blandish during part of its run. However, the production shut down during the time when he was supposed to appear in it because his star (Robert Newton) forgot to bring his gun on stage and was heard saying “I left my gun in the fucking dressing room” in front of a paying audience!
Miss Blandish and the Censor
An interesting 41-minute featurette presented by ex-BBFC examiner Richard Falcon, who takes a look at the controversy surrounding No Orchids for Miss Blandish. In the original novel, the character of Slim Grisson was an abject psychopath who kidnapped the titular Miss Blandish, held her against her will and raped her repeatedly. However, the filmmakers tried to get their version past the censor by softening Slim into a more noble anti-hero type who decides against imprisoning her, only for him to discover that she has fallen in love with him (a concept which, come to think about it, is arguably even queasier in retrospect). It did indeed manage to get past the BBFC (which was then undergoing a process of liberalisation under a new regime run by Arthur Watkins) with around 1 minute worth of cuts for an “A” rating (meaning that children under 16 would could only see it if accompanied by an adult guardian).
However, there was a lot of press hysteria in Britain at this time due to a post-WWII spike in crime. The film got caught up in this furore and many critics attacked the BBFC for allowing it to be screened. A number of local councils imposed further cuts of their own or banned it outright. As a result, the censorship body was put under heavy political pressure and severely curtailed its own plans for liberalisation during the following years, a notable example being their banning the 1953 Marlon Brando film The Wild One.
This 49-minute 1944 British Ministry of Information propaganda piece, mixing real-life WWII footage with staged scenes featuring fictionalised characters, was scripted by No Orchids for Miss Blandish director St. John Legh Clowes. It depicts life aboard a British naval ship on its way back from the North African front. We get some naval combat, corny comedy, flashbacks, ropy acting and a broad range of regional British accents. More of a curio than anything else.
The extras are rounded out by a collector’s booklet, two trailers and an image gallery.
No Orchids for Miss Blandish is a dull and badly-executed pastiche despite being fairly decent from a visual standpoint. The restoration is somewhat iffy in the audio department but the extras are well worth a gander.