“Listen Jim, our job is to behave ourselves like perfect little gentlemen.”
So says Joker Finnegan (Basil Sydney), ringleader of a Chicago gang who decides to take a break from the underworld with his cohorts in London, England in “Crime Over London.” London seems like the perfect place to get away from it all, being in a country that is seemingly “too normal and too healthy minded” according to one of the gangsters. Yet as peaceful as London appears, there is also the opportunity to pull off everything from petty to grand larceny, which is exactly what Joker Finnegan has in mind for his gang. But instead of just going about it willy-nilly, he is smart enough to create a plan that he hopes will be successful while at the same time rendezvousing with Pearl (Margot Grahame), a gang moll love interest of his who also has a vested interest in Jim, one of the gangsters.
The movie opens with an ocean liner pulling into a British harbor, the gangsters landing, well dressed as Chicago gangsters would be from the 1930′s. But there is no Al Capone, Sam Giancana, or Lucky Luciano among them; instead, there is ‘Joker’ Finnegan who is with his boys to have a break from the hard and challenging work involved in crime. The underworld comes to London but not without warning when Finnegan’s legal file is wired to Scotland Yard and winds up in the lap of Inspector John Gary (Paul Cavanagh). John has a tough case to crack ahead of him while he is speaking to a gentleman from New York who happens to be of Russian heritage. Maybe it is the presence of Russians that increases the atmosphere of suspicion throughout the movie. One thing is for sure, however, and that is Sherwood’s Department store is the prime target of Finnegan and his gang, to take place on the store 25th Anniversary Jubilee.
Far from being bored in London, as one of the gangsters told Finnegan when they were on the train, opportunity for crime rears its head earlier than Finnegan expects when Jim (John Darrow) decides to rob Greenshaw Jeweler and steals a number of diamonds from a customers hand then uses tear gas to knock out both her and Mr. Greenshaw. True to form, Jim gives the diamonds to Pearl. Jim is in love with her even though she is really more of Finnegan’s love interest. She is even more easily manipulated by Finnegan when he gets her to confess that Jim plans to frame him during the department store robbery, something that he could not tolerate. Pearl does her share though, in the department store job and infiltrates it so that Finnegan and his gang can pull off the job successfully without too much suspicion from the authorities.
Back at Sherwood’s Department store, the employees prepare for the Jubilee. A model of the store, a typical high rise building, is decorated in garlands. This is a big model, big enough to have a miniature version of the store inside, and the two employees who are discussing the Jubilee speak very highly of their boss, Mr. Sherwood (Joseph Cawthorn). Being a generous, thoughtful store owner, Mr. Sherwood is seen making his rounds to the departments and the offices, giving his greetings and aiding them and the customers in any way possible. Even when one of the office workers mentions to Mr. Sherwood that his wife is ill, the store owner hands the man a paper with a recipe on it that will cure her quickly. The employee places the paper in a collection of other recipes given to him by his boss, sure to put it to good use. With the customers, Mr. Sherwood firmly believes in the motto “The customer is always right,” even if the customer turns out to be a priggish older woman who is requesting bath soap in the women’s toiletries department made just for her. The employee attempts to please her with a bar of lavender soap but that simply will not do; neither does a bar of Venus soap with the image of the Roman goddess on the wrapper please her since she feels that that is too immodest for her. But the incident provides fodder for sharing with Inspector John Gary, who is in charge of taking down Joker Finnegan’s plot to rob the department store. John is caught between a rock and a hard place while he is busy trying to solve the crime of a dead man and his relationship with Joan (Rene Ray), his love interest. Yet she also has another admirer, Ronald Martin (Bruce Lester) who is the nephew of Mr. Sherwood and works in the fur garments department of the store. Ronald would do anything for her; even get her a job at the store as a pianist when the regular pianist fails to draw crowds of people in to the store to show some interest in the merchandise. Joan is not only a talented musician but also far more attractive than the last woman who played the piano. Not surprisingly, men and women with disposable income are more inclined to shop where there is a pretty, charming young lady playing music to serenade their shopping experience. A shopping experience should be a pleasurable one, no matter how old the shopper is.
Hiding out at Pearl’s home in London, Joker Finnegan and his gang carefully plan the crime that will take place at the department store. Another American gang member by the name of Reilly (Joseph Cawthorn) is in London and is a dead-ringer for Mr. Sherwood meets up with Finnegan, who hires him to take the place of the department store owner. Reilly enters Sherwood’s department store on the day of the Jubilee once Finnegan has the real Mr. Sherwood and his hired help locked up in the cellar of his house. With Reilly posing as the man who is about to celebrate the store’s 25th anniversary, he will also play an important role in allowing the gang to have access to the cash room they plan on entering during the celebration. None of the employees suspect anything, and Reilly thinks he can play the part perfectly except for one small minor issue: on the day before the Jubilee, Mr. Sherwood tells Ronald that he want to make him a partner in the business. Ronald is so excited at the prospect of owning a share of the business that he calls up Joan late at night to tell her he has a surprise for her. He does not wish to give the details over the hone but would prefer to tell her in person at work the next day. Joan is of course excited and wishes good things for Ron since she cares for him very much.
The relationship Joan has with both John and Ronald is curious since she is clearly friendly with both of them, even appearing to be fonder of John at first, but eventually develops a special fondness for Ronald, especially when he brings her home from work one rainy evening. Joan enters her apartment and with the lights out, a shadow of what appears to be a man is in front of her, but is really a statue. With the presence of fear temporarily lifted, Joan finally tells Ronald that she thought there was a man in her room. Ronald just smiles at her and responds, “Well, isn’t there?” as he holds her close and kisses her. At this point, Ronald is sure that Joan loves him and wants to marry her, except for one thing: when Jim is shot dead by Finnegan, Ronald immediately becomes suspect by John Gary and is arrested under circumstantial evidence. John Gary does not even know about Jim or his identity, still trying to track down Finnegan to find out what he is up to. John has his hands tied with the case and employs the rest of the detectives in his division to visit the nightclubs and gambling joints to see if they can get any leads on the case.
At one nightclub, the gangsters play a game of poker. Everyone around them is simply enjoying themselves, even the man who is patiently sitting at a table and waiting for his wife to come join him. Sniffy (David Burns), one of the gangsters, tries to get the man interested in a game of poker, but politely declines the offer. This is a nightclub that attracts the wealthy and prominent citizens of London, as shown when a rather important guest arrives; a banker. The club’s manager, Mr. Finley (Torin Thatcher), tells one of the wait staff to “Find a nice table for Mr. Braddock.” Mr. Braddock eventually attracts the eye of a Miss Dupres (Googie Withers). Miss Dupres is a gold digger and decides to spend some time with the wealthy gentleman to see if he is someone she can easily pick up.
But the poker game is the central theme at this club, and soon enough, Finnegan has his pigeon: the nephew of the department store owner. Ronald is eventually persuaded to join the poker game, and finds himself being taken to the point where he wonders if he is playing with professionals; in this case, professionals being gangsters. The cards are marked, and the poker chips start to add up for Finnegan and his gang. Pearl fetches 10 pounds worth in poker chips for one of the gangsters before leaving the club and returning to her apartment. She strongly suspects that Jim is going to be a target soon and rings him up. Jim is half asleep in his chair by the phone, and by the time he does answer it, it is too late. Pearl hears the gunshot over the phone and screams. Ronald makes the mistake of visiting Jim to pay him for the money he owed him from the poker game, and is arrested by John. Joan is of course distraught when she hears what happened to Ronald and persuades John to release him, for she knows that he is innocent. Yet Ronald is also the only one who can help John Gary find and arrest Joker Finnegan, for he knows one small factual piece of information that Sherwood’s imposter Reilly knows nothing about: the fact that Mr. Sherwood offered a business partnership to him.
John visits the luxurious home of Mr. Sherwood and is welcomed inside, left alone with Reilly in his office. Reilly sits behind Mr. Sherwood’s massive, elegant desk, willing to take the risk of crossing Joker Finnegan by writing a short note on the whereabouts of the real Mr. Sherwood and giving it to John Gary. Maybe it is because Reilly wants to go straight (he still has 3 years to serve in an American penitentiary for a previous crime committed) or it could be that he no longer wants to associate with Finnegan’s gang (finding a real job at this point on his life might not be so bad; he could after all try asking Mr. Sherwood for a job at his department store). Whatever the case, John reads the note, takes it and puts it into his pocket but unfortunately for him, three of the gangsters see it happen, point their guns at him, and tells him to hand the note over to them. As with the real Mr. Sherwood, John Gary soon finds himself in the cellar of the house, locked up, trying to devise a plan of escape to prevent a much bigger crime from happening. Once John breaks out using items available to them – one which includes a large heavy metal can – everyone is free, and the investigator and Mr. Sherwood head towards the department store.
While Finnegan and his gangsters are busy up in the cash room of the store, the Scotland Yard police arrive, shuffling all customers out for the store so that nobody gets hurt. The only one who remains is Pearl, lingering by to watch the entire event unfold. The Jubilee shortly turns into a full-fledged crime scene with guns firing from both the toy and china departments, plates, cups and toys being targets like it is a shooting gallery at a carnival. Finnegan escapes the scene but not successfully; he goes out much the same way that Jim did, but at Pearl’s hands.
Even though “Crime Over London” takes place in London and has its share of British actors, a number of American actors also comprise Joker Finnegan’s gang: David Burns, Edmon Ryan, and John Darrow. Being from Chicago, it is only fitting that a few of the characters look and act like they are from the other side of the pond, especially with Darrow as the double-crossing gangster. Joseph Cawthorn manages to pull off a dual role successfully, manipulating his voice to sound like he fits in perfectly with the British. Directed by Alfred Zeisler and written by Ludwig von Wohl, “Crime Over London” is more of a crime/comedy blend rather than straight Britnoir in its plot. There is no moment of boredom nor shortage of humor in “Crime Over London” for the viewer and Finnegan’s gangsters are more likely than not to entertain those who appreciate films about mobsters and their activities both at home and abroad.