AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Alternate Title: John Galsworthy's Escape
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Dir)
Release Date:   Jul 1948
Premiere Information:   World premiere in London: late Mar 1948; Los Angeles opening: 30 Jul 1948
Production Date:   mid-Sep--early Dec 1947; retakes early Feb 1948 at D & P Studios, Denham, England
Duration (in mins):   79
Duration (in feet):   7,079
Duration (in reels):   9
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Cast:   Rex Harrison (Matt Denant)  
    Peggy Cummins (Dora Winton)  
    William Hartnell (Inspector Harris)  
    Norman Wooland (Parson)  
    Jill Esmond (Grace Winton)  
    Frederick Piper (Brownie)  
    Marjorie Rhodes (Mrs. Pinkem)  
    Betty Ann Davies (Girl in the park)  
    Cyril Cusack (Rodgers)  
    John Slater (Car salesman)  
    Frank Pettingell (Constable Bean)  
    Michael Golden (Penter)  
    Maurice Denham (Crown counsel)  
    Frederick Leister (Judge)  
    Walter Hudd (Defense counsel)  
    Jacqueline Clarke (Phyllis)  
    Frank Tickle (Mr. Pinkem)  
    Peter Croft (Titch)  
    George Woodbridge (Farmer Browning)  
    Stuart Lindsell (Sir James Winton)  
    Ian Russell (Car driver)  
    Patrick Troughton (Jim, a shepherd)  
    Cameron Mackinlay (Farmworker)  
    Molly Lumley (Elderly woman)  
    Lionel Grose (Guard)  
    Fred McNaughton (Guard)  
    Michael Mulcaster (Guard)  
    Stephen Jack (Guard)  
    George Merritt (Guard)  
    Cyril Smith (Policeman)  
    Ben Williams (Policeman)  
    Maurice Durant (Policeman)  
    David Keir (Sexton)  
    Alf Millen (Dart player)  
    Philip Merritt (Dart player)  
    Gerald Rex (Dart player)  
    Fred Griffiths (Dart player)  
    Joy Adams (Barmaid)  
    Michael Brennan (Truck driver)  
    Lyn Evans (Constable)  
    Michael Callan (Constable)  
    W. E. Holloway (Clerk of court)  
    Basil Cunard (Court usher)  
    Alvar Liddell (Radio voice)  

Summary: After visiting his friend Titch's aerodrome in Hendley, England, Matt Denant, a former RAF squadron leader, prepares to return to London. Rodgers, an employee of the aerodrome, asks Matt to place a sizeable bet for him at the racetrack, and when his horse loses, promises to send Matt a check to cover his loss. One evening, Matt is strolling in Hyde Park when an outspoken young woman strikes up a conversation with him. While they are talking, Penter, a plainclothes detective, arrests the woman for soliciting. Matt intercedes, and while he and Penter are struggling, the detective loses his balance and strikes his head on a park bench. Matt sends the woman away, but refuses to abandon the injured man, and the police arrive on the scene and arrest him. Penter dies, and Matt is convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to three years in prison. Matt swears that he will never submit to a verdict he considers unjust, and one night, while on work detail, he slips away in the heavy fog. The next morning, Inspector Harris calls on Sir James Winton, who lives nearby with his daughters Grace and Dora, and warns them about the escaped convict. Dora then enters her bedroom to find Matt devouring her breakfast, but conceals his presence from the police. Upon hearing his story, Dora gives Matt her fiancé's fishing clothes and directs him to a place to hide, an unused hut on a nearby stream. After Matt and the police leave, Grace tells her sister that she knows the fugitive was in their home. Meanwhile, in the village of Moorside, Matt calls the aerodrome from a public phone, and Titch agrees to leave a small plane unattended at the aerodrome so that Matt can use it to escape to France. Matt encounters a car salesman and asks to take a test drive, then forces the salesman out of the car once they are on the open road. He later has trouble with the car, and Grace and Dora, who are coincidentally out for a drive, stop to help. Dora warns him that there are roadblocks ahead, and over her sister's objections, insists on riding with Matt to help him escape. As they drive, Dora tells Matt that she does not love her fiancé, but is marrying him as "an investment." Meanwhile, Harris learns that Matt used the public phone, and is connected with the aerodrome. Rodgers answers the phone, and when he learns that there is a generous reward for the fugitive, reveals Matt's escape plan. Matt takes off just as Harris arrives at the aerodrome, but the fog is heavy and the plane crashes into some trees. An injured Matt sets fire to the plane and escapes on foot, eventually making his way to a farm and falling asleep. In the morning, he is discovered by a shepherd, and when the farmer, Browning, guesses Matt's identity and threatens to call the police, Matt knocks him out and flees. Meanwhile, Harris shows Dora and Grace the clothes he has retrieved from the burned wreckage of the plane, and Grace admits that they assisted Matt. After Harris leaves, Dora tells Grace that she wrote to her fiancé the previous night and ended their engagement. Dora then goes to the hut, where she finds Matt. She urges him to give himself up and serve out his sentence, promising to marry him when he is released, but Matt refuses. Hoping that Matt will change his mind, Dora goes to contact Harris, and Matt leaves the hut and seeks refuge in the village church. Matt and the parson engage in a philosophical conversation, and the parson reminds him that human laws are fallible. The police and a group of villagers surround the church, and Matt surrenders rather than allow the parson to compromise his integrity by lying for him. His faith restored, Matt goes with Harris, confident that Dora will wait for him. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century Productions, Ltd.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Dir)
  Roy Parkinson (Asst dir)
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck (Exec prod)
  William Perlberg (Prod)
Writer: Philip Dunne (Scr)
  Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Contr wrt)
Photography: Frederick A. Young By arrangement with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer British Studios Ltd. (Dir of photog)
  Russell Thomson By arrangement with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer British Studios Ltd. (Cam op)
Art Direction: Vetchinsky (Art dir)
Film Editor: Alan L. Jaggs (Film ed)
  Dennis Gurney (Asst film ed)
  K. Heeley-Ray (Sd ed)
Music: William Alwyn (Mus comp)
  The Philharmonia Orchestra of London (Played by)
  Muir Mathieson (Mus cond)
Sound: W. H. Lindop (Sd rec)
Production Misc: Frank Bevis (Prod mgr)
  Freddie Fox (Personal asst to prod)
  R. E. Dearing (Personal asst to prod)
Stand In: Richard Fulford (Stand-in and stunts for Rex Harrison)
Country: Great Britain and United States

Source Text: Based on the play Escape by John Galsworthy (London, 12 Aug 1926).
Authors: John Galsworthy

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 14/8/1948 dd/mm/yyyy LP2307

PCA NO: 12985
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

Genre: Drama
Subjects (Major): Accidental death
  Great Britain--History--Social life and customs
  Prison escapes
Subjects (Minor): Air pilots
  Airplane accidents
  False accusations
  Fox hunts
  London (England)--Hyde Park
  Moors and heaths
  Police detectives
  Prison guards
  Rural life
  Used car salesmen
  War heroes
  Wounds and injuries

Note: The onscreen title credit for this film reads "John Galsworthy's Escape ." The film begins with the following written quotation from Justice , a 1910 play by Galsworthy: "There is nothing more tragic in life than the utter impossibility of changing what you have done." The film ends with another quotation from the same play: "The law is what it is--a majestic edifice, sheltering all of us, each stone of which rests on another." In his autobiography, Rex Harrison recalled his admiration for a British-made 1930 film version of Escape , directed by Basil Dean and starring Gerald du Maurier and Edna Best. Harrison wrote that he personally approached Twentieth Century-Fox studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck and asked him to buy the rights to the play as a vehicle for him. According to documents in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, the studio bought the motion picture rights to Escape from Associated Talking Pictures Ltd. (which had obtained the rights from Paramount) in 1947, for the sum of ten thousand pounds, plus a fifty-pound payment to the Galsworthy estate. Contrary to regular studio policy, the rights were purchased for only a ten-year period and expired in 1957 when the studio elected not to renegotiate them.
       Escape was the first post-war American production to shoot in Britain under a special tax-settlement agreement between the two countries designed to revitalize the British film industry. The film's exteriors were shot in the village and heath near Dartmoor Prison in Devon, England. According to information on the film contained in the MPAA/PCA files at the AMPAS Library, the Breen Office rejected a first draft of the screenplay in May 1947 because "the story seems to condone and justify a certain type of lawlessness," adding that "those supporting characters who wish to help him make good his escape are presented to the audience as estimable and sympathetic." The PCA also insisted that the character of the "Girl in the park" not be depicted as a prostitute, as she was in the play: "It is sufficient for story purposes if she merely be suspected of being a prostitute." The scene in Hyde Park was reshot in Feb 1948, for reasons that have not been determined. Shortly before the film's release, Zanuck cut a major sequence in which "Matt Denant" meets a fellow fisherman who turns out to be a retired judge, and the men engage in a conversation about law and justice. The judge (played by Felix Aylmer, who had played the minor role of prison governor in the 1930 film), recognizes Matt but chooses not to turn him in to a passing policeman, explaining that if he himself has ever been guilty of an injustice on the bench, his inaction that day will help to balance his record.
       Escape opened to generally favorable reviews in New York in Aug 1948, although some critics objected to Galsworthy's sermonizing. "The picture has the cool logic of a syllogism and no more emotion than one," wrote the New York Post . The print viewed was from Great Britain, but according to the cutting continuity of the American release in the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, there are only very minor differences between the prints that circulated in Britain and America, and none are related to the plot. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   5 Jun 1948.   
Daily Variety   26 May 48   p. 4, 19
Film Daily   27 May 48   p. 6.
Harrison's Reports   29 May 48   p. 88.
Hollywood Reporter   26 May 48   p. 3, 17
Hollywood Reporter   18 Aug 48   pp. 8-9.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   29 May 48   p. 4183.
New York Times   16 Aug 48   p. 12.
Variety   31 Mar 48   p. 15.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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