Unknown menace at la Belle Époque like a dead rat under silk veils. "Wouldn't it be lovely to go to one of those places in Montmartre?" "Wouldn't it be lovely to be poisoned?" Paris is all aflutter on the eve of the 1889 Exposition Internationale, the Eiffel Tower practically has its wrapper still on, the English gamine (Jean Simmons) arrives with hopes of adventure and an uptight brother (David Tomlinson). Morning comes and she's alone in the Hôtel de la Licorne, her sibling has disappeared and so has his room—surely there never was anyone else, insists the hotelier (Cathleen Nesbitt) attired like Mrs. Danvers. So begins the mounting sense of dread amidst the city's festive moods, a possible witness is a baloonist's fiancée who quite literally drifts away into the air and then up in smoke. "Quel dommage, elle est si charmante!" The tourist nightmare nonpareil, isolation and panic and key objects (a signature on a registration book, a brooch, a shilling tip for a surly bellhop) woven into an elegantly baleful grid by Terence Fisher and Antony Darnborough. Help comes the heroine's way as the expatriate painter (Dirk Bogarde) believes her plight, he's experimenting with "a sort of impressionism" and helps her smash through the decorously conspiratory wallpaper. (A choice deep-focus composition has the hotel watchman dozing in the foreground while the artist lies behind the counter with a bulky set of keys, followed by a reverse shot from inside the safe and a ringing bell.) Hitchcock's admiration surely stems from his recognition of The Lady Vanishes, and then there's Preminger with Yanks lost abroad in Bunny Lake Is Missing. Fisher, meanwhile, seizes the ending's Gothic note and heads over to Hammer horror. With Marcel Poncin, Honor Blackman, Betty Warren, Zena Marshall, Eugene Deckers, Felix Aylmer, André Morell, and Austin Trevor. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce