I watched 1953’s The Large Rope on Netflix Streaming because I was attracted by “the large” at the front of the title. The world of noir LOVES titles containing “the big” (The Big Heat, The Big Knife, The Big Combo, The Big Clock), so I figured The Large Rope would be kinda in their mold, only British. I was dead wrong – it’s actually a paranoid pastoral piece effectively acted and wound tightly around a scenic English village. It’s no noir, but The Large Rope is a fantastic little crime film that addresses the persecuting powers of suspicion and rumor mills (in a small town that has an actual mill).
Donald Houston stars as Tom Penney, an ex-con returning to his quaint village in the English countryside after serving three years for an assault beef he didn’t commit. As people in the town would tell it, Tom was wasted one night and assaulted Amy Jordan, the town flirt. They never explicitly mention that this was a sexual assault, but it’s easy to draw that conclusion from the way townsfolk disdainfully leer at Tom when he returns.
Tom’s introduction is great. After hitchhiking into town, he cuts through the woods. It’s a scenic and serene atmosphere, the type of setting that possibly leads Tom to believe that everything is going to be alright. Then he comes across two pig-tailed little girls. When they see him, they scream and take off. This sets up Tom as the village boogeyman – the guy every bad thing in town is pinned on. Tom’s initial hopes of atonement and peace are shattered by the pig-tails’ shrill cries of retreat.
Twisting the thorn in his paw is his old friend Jeff, played by Peter Byrne, who went on to star in Dixon of Dock Green, the TV spin-off of the fantastic The Blue Lamp. While Tom’s been wrongfully locked up, Jeff’s been busy courting his former girlfriend, Sue (Susan Shaw). They’re set to be married the same day Tom arrives back. Secretly, Sue is still in love with Tom. Ain’t that a kick in the head?
Tom begins to realize some people in town are clamming up about who really committed the assault, but rather than set down the path of revenge, he decides to get on with his life. But before he can leave town, Amy Jordan is found dead in the woods. Being as he allegedly assaulted her three years before, Tom is the prime suspect. This poor bastard cannot catch a break.
What follows is a venomous rumor ball rolling down hill, headed directly for Tom’s mug. The townsfolk form an angry mob, calling for Tom’s head on a pike before he can kill again. The audience knows he’s innocent so we’re trying to catch the actual killer right along with Tom and the local police (who are refreshingly level-headed). The narrative strings along in a rather dry fashion, with only a handful of attempts at lightening the mood. Despite it’s lush setting, it’s a consistently bleak feeling film – much so because of Tom’s futile attempts to crawl out of the pit of persecution that town has dragged him into. Who’s going to believe someone who beats on a woman?
The Large Rope is a solid low-budget crime film that boasts terrific acting across the board. Donald Houston certainly steals the show as Tom, whose taken emotionally through the wringer several times until he’s nothing but a blank slate. He’s so full of hope in the beginning, but by the end he’s vacant, sucked dry by the badgering, blood-thirsty villagers. It’s a heavy performance to watch. Definitely give this one a shot before it’s yanked from Streaming (it’s available on Amazon Prime as well).