A British film produced by William Hutter in 1931, 77 Park Lane may not be the most famous movie thriller revolving around high-stakes gaming, but it does bear a unique distinction. Prolific French-English director Albert de Courville, who averaged more than two films per year, shot three versions of the same film at the same locations, in different languages and using different casts.
So when 77 Park Lane was released for the English-speaking market, it was accompanied by the French version, 77 Rue Chalgrin. In 1932, de Courville completed a Spanish version, entitled Entre Noche y Dia. All three films tell the same story: of a young man lured into perilous straits by crooked gamblers, and his sister’s efforts to save him.
Aristocrat Finds Home Hijacked
The plot of 77 Park Lane plays out among London’s idle rich in the Roaring 20s, as they indulge in shenanigans reminiscent of the comedies of PG Wodehouse. Unlike the characters in Wodehouse novels, however, de Courville’s thrill-seekers run into more sinister hazards. The story starts with young Lord Brent, just arrived back in England after a spell abroad, looking for mischief among the revels of Boat Race Night.
On a whim, he buys an old taxi, and picks up a troubled young woman as his first fare. She is Mary, whose brother Philip has run up huge debts with a crooked gambler called Sheringham. Spotting Sheringham and determined to confront him, Mary hails Brent’s taxi cab to follow him. To Brent’s astonishment, they end up at his own house at 77 Park Lane, which he had left empty when he went abroad. It has been turned into an illegal gambling den.
Crooked Dice, Death and Blackmail
With remarkable equanimity, Brent gets over the hijacking of his home and settles down to play cards. In another room, Philip is being cheated with loaded dice by some of Sheringham’s henchmen. When he discovers this, a fight ensues, and in the struggle one of the henchmen’s gun goes off, killing him.
Philip panics, while Sheringham suggests the only solution is to dispose of the body, which would leave Philip forever under Sheringham’s thumb. As a price for his help, Sheringham also demands that Mary treat him more affectionately, and she tries desperately to suppress her disgust for him to save her brother.
Building to a Breath-Taking Climax
When Brent hears of the death, he rushes outside to where the crooks are about to drive off to dispose of the body. When he realises the man isn’t really dead and is simply part of a blackmail scheme, Brent stalls for time until it is too late, and too light, to leave on the corpse-dumping mission. The ‘body’ is instead stored in the cellar.
In the nick of time, the police arrive to raid the club, saving Philip and Mary. Sheringham flees to the top of the house, and after a knock-down battle with Brent, falls to his death. Brent and Mary, of course, ride off into the sunset together.