Death Is A Number (1951)

Numerology, eh what? There are some chaps, bonkers, the lot of 'em, who reckon that numbers profoundly affect our lives during our time on old Terra Firma.

Sounds like a load of old tommy rot to yours truly, but a chap's got to keep an open bean, don't you know.

Any road up, old man, one supposes one had better get on with the review. And all those of you chaps who wonder if their lord and master has taken a blow on the head, hence the dashed peculiar prose, worry ye not. This is how I always talk, honest Indian.

So it's pip-pip, one for the road, onwards and upwards, and Jeeves, can you fetch my coat and brolly I've got a dinner date with Aunt Agatha in half an hour and here's me still in my heliotrope pyjamas.

Death Is A Number is a dashed queer sort of picture, wherein everyone talks properly and looks absolutely perfect - vowels clipped, moustaches ironed, trousers waxed, chests out, stomachs in, feet planted firmly on marks. What's more, the sound is slightly off-synchronisation with the moving image, lots of pops and crackles can be heard, and there's a distinct amount of missed cues on offer. As was once the way, nothing is ever shown when it can be discussed at length, and very little happens. So why, you're all asking, has old Chris bowled us a googly and placed it upon his not-unendearing old web site thingumajig? "Come on, Christof," I can hear you exclaiming, "play the white man - we want reviews of films with blonde sorts proudly showing off what mother nature has generously endowed them with, or unstable chaps taking the gardener's hedge trimmer to their neighbour's wedding tackle! Queer old films about numerology interest us not one jot! Stop fornicating around and produce the goods forthwith!"

Well, bear with me chaps and chapesses, for not only have I realised that I've managed to burble on for roughly 350 words without starting the actual review, but Death Is A Number is a horror film (of sorts)…

The whole shebang starts with a greasy sort of chap (Charles Hungerford of Bergerac fame, if I'm not very much mistaken - ie. Terence Alexander) waxing lyrical to his chestacular mem-sahib (Lesley Osmond) about an old mucker of his who went by the monicker of John, and who he believes was the victim of a curse.

He mentions the lost art of numerology, and in particular, the number 9. Or, as he calls it: "The only number that can't be destroyed".

John, he tells us, "was very definitely a nine". What he was actually even more definitely, was a racing driver, a job he took up (as so many badly wounded chaps did) after The War To End All Wars. But the thrill soon faded, and old John became a recluse. Our man (whose name, confusingly, is Alan Robert) gets a call from John's worried butler, who tells him: "Something terrible goes on there sir, I'm sure of it." Good help is so difficult to find these days.

John (Denis Webb) has already confided in Alan that he believes his is the victim of an old family curse, but square-headed on-the-line old Alan dismisses this as balderdash. As he rushes to his friend's hideway in Sussex (also a "nine", by all accounts), he's assailed by dodgy weather (or, to hit the nail right on the head, some crackly old stock footage of storms).

"It seemed to me a natural expression of some great emotion," Alan tells us in voiceover. "I had heard of places being haunted, but never a whole region."

Bit of a bonce-scratcher, this. Not too sure how the chap has jumped from a cry for help from an old dependable into the whole of Sussex being alive with ghosts, ghoulies and things that go "ooh-yah!" in the night. But one digresses (as one so often does when telling this kind of stuff)…

This appears to be the case. No sooner has Alan arrived at John's haunted and half burned-out pile, than he meets a young popsy (Ingerborg von Kusserow, now there's a name to conjure with), who assails his ears with the tale of the ghost of Lady Beatrice. There follow spooky scenes of "misty vapour" roaming the mansion, and before you can say "barking mad", the sort has popped her melon and run off cackling. On meeting John, we're treated the same tale again, although this time more elaborated upon and the part about the family being cursed by a spurned gyppo gets centre stage. The chap's diary reveals a tale of ectoplasm, ghostly skeletons and spectral fire. Corking stuff, and not un-unnerving, if you catch my drift.

Back in the real world, and talked out of thoughts of family curses by his level-headed chum, John takes up racing driving again. But what's that on his bonnet? "The fatal nine…"

All a load of old stuff and nonsense, obviously. But a chap would be lying if he didn't freely admit that the tale sent a shiver down the old spine. Where's that fountain pen and Basildon Bond? I want to check what number I am…

Last updated: February 22, 2010

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