Originally released in Britain as The Last Page, the title Man Bait makes this 1952 British crime drama sound like a femme fatale film noir, an aspect that director Terence Fisher emphasizes even as the script has other ideas.
The “man bait” of the title refers to Diana Dors, a curvy young blonde promoted as Britain’s blonde bombshell, but top billing goes to American actor George Brent, who plays John Harman, the proprietor of a London bookstore that specializes in rare books and collectible volumes. He’s married and faithful to his invalid wife, oblivious to the adoring looks of his assistant Stella (Marguerite Chapman). The 19-year-old Dors is the store’s receptionist Ruby, a party girl who is constantly late for work and only keeps her job thanks to the paternal affections of Mr. Harman. Those affections take a rather dangerous turn when a close-quarters work session after hours erupts in a passionate kiss. While Ruby is content to shrug it off after he pays to replace her ripped blouse (not torn by him, mind you, but on the corner of a file cabinet), Ruby’s conniving boyfriend sees the potential for a big payoff and his mercenary scheming leads to blackmail and murder. Peter Reynolds plays the seductive and ruthless Jeff, the ne’er do well who pushes the young and easily-manipulated Ruby, and Raymond Huntley is memorable as the fussy clerk with an unrequited crush on Stella.
Plays on TCM on Monday, June 16