Cast & Crew
At Pearson's Bookstore in London, American manager John Harman informs his secretary, Stella Tracy, that he has finally received the insurance check that will pay for a clinic visit for his ailing wife May. Meanwhile, on the sales floor, Clive Oliver chastises young clerk Ruby Bruce for her perpetual tardiness. In retaliation, when she sees patron Jeff Hart steal a book, she does not report him but instead accepts his invitation to the Blue Club that night. There, Jeff charms Ruby to the point that she begs him to let her meet him the following evening. At the shop the next day, however, John asks her to stay late to help him catalog some new books. After everyone else leaves, Ruby changes into her seductive evening clothes and joins John in his office, where she notices the insurance check on his desk. She tears her sleeve while moving books, and when John touches the rip, she kisses him. He returns the kiss but quickly pulls away. Meanwhile, at the Blue Club, Jeff and his ex-girl friend, Vi, discuss his recent release from prison, and Vi grows jealous when Ruby arrives. The shop girl tries to impress Jeff by claiming her boss manhandled her, and, intrigued, Jeff punches her arm in order to leave a bruise and then coaches her to blackmail John by claiming that he attacked her. The next day, Ruby demands money from John, but after he ignores her, Jeff insists that she write a letter to May and show John. Although he sees the letter, John still does not respond, so Jeff mails the letter without Ruby's knowledge. The next afternoon, John is informed that May died while struggling to leave her bed to burn an anonymous letter. He then calls Ruby into his office and accuses her of writing the letter, and although Clive cannot hear them, he sees John grab Ruby's arm roughly. Ruby races to Jeff and tries to back out of his scheme, but he threatens to turn her in and sends her to the shop that night. There, John is working late in order to avoid going home, and when she once again pressures him for money, he throws bills at her in frustration. She takes the money downstairs to the locker room, where she is surprised by Jeff. When she yells, he puts his hand over her mouth, asphyxiating her. John looks downstairs but, seeing nothing, leaves. The next morning, Ruby is reported missing, and Clive realizes that although she left with her umbrella the previous day, it is now at her desk. He finds one of her shoes and then, learning that John worked late the previous night, calls the police with his suspicion that John murdered Ruby. Soon after, John moves a large crate of books to his house, and upon opening it, finds Ruby's body. Just then, the police knock at his door, and in a panic he races out the back door. Now in hiding, he asks Stella to meet him and, by piecing together various facts, they finally deduce that someone must have pushed her to blackmail him. Suddenly remembering that he saw some books moved in the locker room, John realizes that he must return to the shop to find vital clues and clear his name. Before they part, John confesses his love to Stella, who kisses him. She then asks Clive to help sneak John back into the shop, and although Clive at first declares his love and refuses to help, he eventually gives in. Meanwhile, Jeff gives Vi money to buy cigarettes, and when she pays, the bill is immediately recognized as part of John's insurance payment. At the police station, Vi admits that Jeff is staying with her and then reacts jealously to a picture of Ruby, tipping off the inspector that Jeff is involved. That night, Clive helps John sneak into the shop locker room but then calls the police. The inspector, however, now suspecting Jeff, helps John search the room for clues. Meanwhile, Stella remembers the name of the Blue Club and rushes there in secret. She finds Ruby and Jeff's names in the register and asks to meet Jeff. Pretending to be a friend, Jeff brings Stella to Vi's, where he forces her inside and attempts to strangle her. Before he can finish, however, he hears the inspector and John coming to question him. Jeff starts a fire in the apartment to keep them out, but John rushes into the flames and tackles Jeff. While Jeff is being arrested, John takes Stella into his arms.
James Hadley Chase
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
The low-budget crime drama was produced by Hammer Studios for American independent producer and distributor Robert Lippert. A quota law in Britain mandated that a British production play as the second feature to American films released in Britain. Lippert, who distributed his films in Britain through Exclusive (the parent company of Hammer), contracted Hammer to produce a series of thrillers to get a piece of the British market. Lippert supplied scripts and bargain-rate American stars to headline the productions and distributed the films in the U.S. Man Bait was the first film in the partnership and Lippert delivered stars Brent, who was a leading man in the 1930s but well past his prime by 1951, and Chapman, a talented leading lady who never made it into the top ranks. The script was adapted from an original story by James Hadley Chase, author of No Orchids for Miss Blandish, by playwright Frederick Knott, author of the original play Dial M for Murder. It was shot in Hammer's new studio, a temporary home built in a former country club in Essex that studio head James Carreras thought was "ideal for whodunits."
Man Bait was also the first Hammer production directed by Terence Fisher, who graduated from film editor and proved his facility with mystery and suspense with So Long at the Fair (1950), which he co-directed for the respected Gainsborough Pictures. Man Bait, a much more modest production, began an association with the studio that lasted over 20 years. "It was excellent for me in the early days because I was feeling my way, I was young in the game," recalled Fisher in an interview years later. "Being in a small studio one got to know everyone connected with it. The crews didn't change from picture to picture." After directing the Lippert-produced crime films, Fisher went on to forge the studio's signature Gothic style with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958) and became Hammer's top director, helming their most important productions through the 1960s.
The credits read "Introducing Diana Dors" but in fact the 19-year-old actress was a veteran of numerous films, including David Lean's Oliver Twist (1948), and had a somewhat notorious reputation, thanks to films like Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951) and a calculating husband who kept her name in the papers. He made sure she maintained a starlet's image with stories of wild parties in the papers and arranged for her to be the youngest registered keeper of a Rolls Royce in Britain (despite the fact that she couldn't drive). In the film Ruby is immature rather than malevolent, an accidental seductress who is pressured into blackmailing her boss and becomes increasingly anxious and guilt-ridden as it spirals out of control, but Dors plays her as a young woman who can't help but flaunt herself in the company of men. She even makes taking off a jacket look like the first act of a striptease. Her image--the sleepy eyes, pouty lips, curvy figure, and cascade of blond hair--dominated the posters on both sides of the Atlantic.
By Sean Axmaker
The Charm of Evil: The Life and Films of Terence Fisher, Wheeler Winston Dixon. Scarecrow Press, 1991.
The Hammer Story: The Authorised History of Hammer Films, Marcus Hearn and Alan Barnes. Titan Books, 2007.
The working titles of this film were Murder in Safety, The Last Page and Blonde Blackmail. Man Bait was released in Great Britain in May 1952 under the title The Last Page. The British release had a running time of 84 minutes. Although the opening credits read: "Introducing Diana Dors," she actually made her debut in the 1946 British film The Shop at Sly Corner.
Man Bait was the first film produced under an agreement between American producer-distributor Robert L. Lippert and British production company Exclusive Films, which was run by James Carreras and his son Michael, plus Will Hammer and his son, Anthony Hinds.
Exclusive began life in the 1930s as a distribution company, but during the war it produced several low-budget films. By 1948, Exclusive had gotten into full-time production and was using the names "Exclusive" and "Hammer Films" interchangeably. In 1951, they made their deal with Robert Lippert Productions, under which Lippert co-produced a number of their films and guaranteed to release them in America. The arrangement came to an end in 1954, and in the mid-1950s, Hammer stopped using the name Exclusive. Because the Exclusive and Hammer company names were used interchangeably throughout the early 1950s, the 1951-1954 catalog entries have been standardized to list Exclusive Films, Ltd. as the production company. Hammer is represented as "A Hammer Production," and Hammer Film Productions, Ltd. is listed in the additional companies index.