Mill Creek Musings: The Sleeping Tiger (1954)

Dr. Clive Esmond (Alexander Knox) reacts strangely when he’s held up at gunpoint by Frank Clemmons (Dirk Bogarde). Rather than sending his attacker to prison, Dr. Esmond decides to invite him home… to serve as a guinea pig for Esmond’s apparent psychological “cure” for criminal behavior.

Dr. Esmond’s wife, Glenda (Alexis Smith), is just returning home from a trip to Paris when she discovers her new houseguest.

(Image: movies.io)
(Image: movies.io)

At first Glenda treats Frank as anyone would treat a criminal: with suspicion and caution. But as Frank spends more time at the Esmond home, her affection for him grows.

Joseph Losey directs 1954’s The Sleeping Tiger, a British noir based on a novel by Maurice Moiseiwitsch.

Unfortunately, the Mill Creek print of this film, appearing in the “50 Dark Crimes” set, is consistently distorted. There’s a clear shot here and there, but most of the film is peppered with heavy, popping grain and missing frames.

Despite the low quality of the existing version of the film, The Sleeping Tiger is still well worth watching.

The film is somewhat historically significant, as it was Joseph Losey’s first film to be directed and produced in England, where he worked under the pseudonym of “Victor Hanbury.” He had been blacklisted during the McCarthy era and had to go abroad to find work, so the intentional miscredit of “Produced and Directed by Victor Hanbury” makes the film an artifact of its era.

As for the film’s content, the premise itself is highly intriguing. It’s never a good idea to let a criminal into your home, but the Esmonds do so without much hesitation, and the viewer can’t help but expect it to go very wrong. For the most part, the film lives up to the potential of this premise. Everything plays out pretty melodramatically, but effectively.

The performances by the entire cast are pretty good, with the standout being Alexis Smith as the psychologist’s conflicted wife.

The relationship between Frank and Glenda is also a big positive for the film. It’s an incredibly nutty situation — a woman and her husband’s crime-committing mental patient carrying on an affair. It makes for a great amount of tension. Two crazies don’t make a good relationship, which is a lesson Frank and Glenda apparently haven’t learned, or are choosing to ignore!

Though there aren’t a ton of big surprises to the plot, The Sleeping Tiger is paced quickly enough that it never gets dull. The lack of major twists doesn’t bring the film down at all, and there are a few small ones mixed in here and there.

The drama picks up a whole lot in the final twenty minutes or so of the film, building up to a fantastic final scene. There are no unrealistically happy endings to be had here, which is always a wonderful thing.

The Sleeping Tiger isn’t one of the all-time greats of the noir genre, but it’s a very good watch and stands out as one of the best I’ve viewed from the “50 Dark Crimes” set thus far. The score: 3.8/5

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6 thoughts on “Mill Creek Musings: The Sleeping Tiger (1954)

    1. I haven’t had as many quality problems as I was expecting with these sets, but I was extra sad about it in this case since the film itself was quite good!

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  1. Alexis Smith to me was always one of the underappreciated of the golden era actresses. She didn’t often get parts that stretched her ability but even in bland “the girl” parts her husky voice, knowing persona and effortless grace made her memorable. When she was properly cast and given a decent role, Conflict, The Young Philadelphians, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, this film and a few others, she was marvelous.

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    1. I haven’t seen too many of her films but I’ll be seeking out more since I was so impressed with her here. I will make a point to track down those you mentioned. Thanks for reading :)

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      1. One you should keep an eye out for if you haven’t seen it is the highly amusing The Doughgirls which has besides Alexis-Ann Sheridan, Jane Wyman, as a very funny featherhead, and Eve Arden as a Russian soldier! It’s got some great character actors as well Charlie Ruggles, Alan Mowbray, Jack Carson and others. It all a bit of silliness but you’ll notice that, as was common practice at the time with studio female stars, no matter the time of day or their economic situation they are dressed to the teeth and dripping in significant jewerly.

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