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Hammer Suspense: The Snorkel (1958)

For most of The Snorkel, I felt as if the movie squandered its big gimmick in the opening scene. Paul Decker (Peter Van Eyck) constructs the elaborate murder of his wife so that it looks like suicide. He tapes the windows and doors in their big house’s sitting room, rolls up a rug and places it at the bottom of the door, then turns on the gas. He wears a snorkel with two long tubes that lead outside, so he can breathe fresh air while his wife lies on the couch and dies. Then, when the authorities arrive, he crawls under the floorboards to hide until they leave.


Seeing this all up front, there is no mystery. Would it have been more entertaining to learn later how this “perfect murder” was committed? Perhaps. However, since Candy Brown (Mandy Miller) doesn’t believe her mother would kill herself, especially without leaving a note, there is plenty of suspense created by her trying to get someone to listen to her. She’s not only certain that Paul did it, but that he also killed her father before marrying her mother. Paul is the only one who listens, and he searches for ways to tie up this living, breathing loose end.


That’s the entire movie, bookended by a scene where Paul lures Candy into the sitting room where he has prepared a similar trap for his meddling stepdaughter. There’s a delicious twist at the end where, if left alone, would have made The Snorkel a very different kind of story. Ultimately, though, it adds a safe coda that reinforces Candy’s character. This coda, coupled with the efforts of writers Peter Myers and Jimmy Sangster, make me realize this isn’t a story about a serial killer and where he might strike next. It’s a story about a young girl who knows a truth no one will believe and her journey to a happy ending.


Although there’s not more to this story, it’s entertaining. Candy is stubbornly persistent about Paul. When he first returns from his faked alibi, a trip to France, she immediately asks him why he did it. He sighs and tells her, “We had fun a long time ago, didn’t we?” She replies, “That was before you killed my daddy!” Later, when her dog dies, she accuses Paul, “I know you killed Mommy and Daddy, but why did you kill Toto?” She should have paid more attention to poor Toto. In the sitting room, he scratched at the trap door and in Paul’s bedroom, he retrieved his swimming mask.


Clues stare Candy in the face throughout The Snorkel. Across the street from the hotel where they stay following her mother’s death is a billboard showing a man in diving apparatus. During a trip to the beach, she puts two and two together. Watching a man put on a snorkel before walking into the water, she asks Paul about his swimming mask. Feeling like she’s finally got him on a hot spot, she happily runs into the water. Jean Edwards (Betta St. John), who’s come to take Candy to the United States, comments to Paul about her improvement in attitude, “It's like she saw you clearly for the first time.”


In one scene, the subject of suicide is approached. Candy asks Jean, “If Mommy did what they said, will she go to Heaven?” The two women talk about what drives someone to kill himself or herself and how you never really know what horrible things someone may be experiencing, even if only in their minds. This discussion doesn’t bring the movie down; instead, it reminds us about a serious subject and how suicide affects surviving family and friends. It adds just a little weight to a story that could easily have been exploitative.


Yes, it’s pretty dark. But just like the movie doesn’t end with a mean twist, neither does it ever drift completely into serious drama. Candy’s “good” nature may be momentarily questioned, but it won’t be denied. Director Guy Green and cinematographer Jack Asher present a visually interesting tale and produce a genuine scare around the midway point, after which Paul says to Candy, “You’ve been a naughty girl. I don’t like naughty girls.” I was surprised by what The Snorkel ultimately accomplished and recommend you give it a try.

Written by Peter Myers and Jimmy Sangster Directed by Guy Green Starring Peter Van Eyck, Betta St. John, Mandy Miller US Release Sept. 17, 1958 RT 90 min. Home Video Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

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