Title: The Monkey’s Paw
Released: 1 November 1948
Director: Norman Lee
Cast: Milton Rosmer, Michael Martin Harvey, Joan Seton, Megs Jenkins
REVIEW BY DAVID SAUNDERSON
The Monkey’s Paw is a supernatural story written by W.W. Jacobs and published in a collection of tales, The Lady of the Barge, in 1902.
There’s been many versions of it – including this one from Christopher Lee’s Fireside Tales.
The tale is about a monkey’s paw (or hand) which is cursed to give its owner three wishes but with dreadful consequences.
As a short story, The Monkey’s Paw is eerie and shocking. Unfortunately, that said can’t be said of the 1948 film version.
The short story
Firstly, The Monkey’s Paw is a short story, so to fill a feature length film is a hard ask. Fortunately, this flick only goes 64 minutes but even then it’s stretched to the max.
(FYI: The original short story in a nutshell sees an ex-British army officer, Mr White, from India who receives a mummified monkey’s paw that is cursed. It grants the owner three wishes but with dreadful consequences. Mr White flippantly wishes for £200 to pay off his mortgage, and receives it in compensation when his son is killed in a machine at a local factory. Mrs White, so distraught over her son’s death, wishes him alive again. Shortly after, the dead son, in a mangled state turns up at the door, and in horror, the father uses his last wish to wish him dead again.)
It’s a terrifying and creative tale. But The Monkey’s Paw (1948) takes too long to tell it and pads it out with additional nonsense.
The Monkey’s Paw (1948), the film
The film begins with an antiquities dealer (Hay Petrie) begrungingly selling a magic monkey’s paw to another dealer (Sydney Tefler). The new owner is told it comes with three wishes but these wishes come with dreaful consequences. Later on, the monkey paw comes into the possession of the Trelawne family of Cornwall, who run a local shop.
Mr Trelawne (Milton Rosmer) is in great debt to a local bookmaker and uses the paw to make wish for £200 – in line with the original story.
Next thing we know his son, Tom (Eric Micklewood) dies during a motorcycle race, but posthumously wins the £200 prize. Ka-ching! (Interestingly, Alfie Bass (notable character actor, who appeared in The Fearless Vampire Killers 1967) plays the speedway manager.)
So it’s all very much like the original, but with an additional flashback from ridiculous local Irishman Seamus Kelly (Michael Martin Harvey) who tells us how he saw the paw lead to the death of a society woman in Dublin.
It’s all very convoluted stuff, though the final scene is actually quite atmospheric and scary. Pity that last bit doesn’t make up for the messy, uninteresting guff that came before it.
If you want classic British period horror from the 1940s, you’re better off watching Dead of Night (1945).