Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It, third in a trio of lighthearted British detective movies, was retitled Mail Train for release in the United States. Made in 1941, this low budget film was designed to keep English audiences laughing during wartime.
Veteran actor Gordon Harker starred as Hornleigh while Alistair Sim (whom I know best as the ultimate Mr. Scrooge) played his bumbling assistant, Sergeant Bingham.
As a villain described them, “One of them is tall, bald, looks intelligent and isn’t. The other one is short with a sour face, doesn’t look intelligent and he is.”
Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It opens with an on-screen reassurance to the British public: “The mail train incidents in this story are entirely fictional. G.P.O. safeguards would preclude any such happenings. No reflection is made on any member of the post office staff.” Whew, that’s a load off my mind!
The two main characters are assigned to go undercover as privates at an army base to root out scroungers nicking supplies for the black market. Instead, they stumble on a ring of spies, a much more exciting challenge, and hare off in pursuit of the ringleaders.
Army sequences allow Sim free rein to mug for the camera, while later scenes include many elements that were probably standard for all the Inspector Hornleigh films: the Sergeant chatting up pretty girls, the inspector assuming different voices and personas, and their colleague Inspector Blow making sarcastic remarks about them.
“What do you want us to do, consult the stars for you?” asks Hornleigh.
“I’m not interested in your usual methods of solving crime,” snaps Blow.
All of the action moves to the mail train for the last 10 minutes of the film, giving us a glimpse of how the postal system worked 70 years ago—mail bags yanked off hooks as the train roars past and clerks slotting letters in the mail car, working through the night to deliver the post.
Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It is an obscure little movie, but makes for an entertaining 80 minutes..
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