My buddy Kelly Greene and I started our film noir double feature yesterday with this one, THE LIMPING MAN, a 1953 British crime thriller starring American actor Lloyd Bridges. We clearly saved the best for last as the second film we watched, THE BLACK ANGEL (1946) was the better of the two.
LIMPING starts with American Bridges returning to London six years after the end of WWII. He hopes to reconnect with a woman he met there during the war. As passengers deplane and file across the runway, the man in line behind Bridges is shot and killed by a sniper, a mysterious "limping man" who has a rifle built into his cane.
When Bridges is eventually cleared by Scotland Yard, he goes to meet Pauline French (Moira Lister). He's still madly in love with her but she's a bit standoffish and wishes that he hadn't come to London. As things progress, it turns out that Pauline was involved in a smuggling ring with the man who was shot at the airport. She has letters to prove her complicity, letters which are now in the hands of a vicious blackmailer, Helene Castle (Helene Cordet). Bridges tries to help Pauline, find out the identity of the limping man and recover the incriminating letters. There's a surprise plot twist in the third act and things come to a head when Bridges battles the Limping Man in the balcony of a London theater. The Limping Man appears to have the advantage over Bridges when something inexplicable happens.
SPOILER WARNING: Bridges wakes up and he's back on the airplane from the beginning of the plane. He's been dreaming all of this. The man seated behind him and poking him with a rolled up magazine to wake Bridges up, is the actor who played the killer, the Limping Man. The pilot and co-pilot of the plane are the Scotland Yard inspectors while the flight attendant is the blackmailer, Helene. When Bridges deplanes, Pauline is waiting for him with open arms.
Neither of us could figure out why the cheat, "it-was-all-a-dream" ending was necessary when, with a little bit of work, the screenplay as written could have ended on a positive note. There's clearly no viable reason to use the dream ending and it mars what was otherwise a modest little B movie crime thriller. Granted, THE LIMPING MAN still wouldn't have been a great film with a more traditional ending but the dream nonsense makes me give this one a thumbs down.